Social Media As A Tool for International Student Engagement

May 19, 2023


Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, revolutionizing the way we communicate and share information. Universities worldwide have recognized the potential of social media in connecting with international students and enhancing their engagement. This article explores various strategies and platforms that higher education institutions can leverage to effectively engage international students. Understanding the target audience, using visual content, creating content in multiple languages, utilizing popular social media platforms in their country, engaging with the audience, and providing relevant information are key strategies discussed. Additionally, the article provides an overview of popular social media platforms and their primary purposes. Furthermore, it offers insights on developing a consistent posting schedule through content calendars, determining the best posting times, repurposing content, automating posts, using a variety of content types, and monitoring results. By capitalizing on social media and implementing these strategies, universities can create a welcoming and inclusive environment for international students, fostering cultural exchange, academic collaboration, and overall student satisfaction.


  • Rayna Tagalicod|University of Hawaii
  • Maria del Mar Aponte Rodriguez | St. Mary's University (San Antonio, Texas)

In today's interconnected world, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It has revolutionized the way we communicate, interact, and share information with each other.

Universities across the globe have also recognized the potential of social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, WeChat, QQ, and Sina Weibo offer international students an opportunity to stay connected with their family back home, while also fostering new connections with peers, professors, and the wider university community.

According to GWI, the leading audience targeting company for the global marketing industry, the typical internet user now spends more than 2.5 hours per day using social media platforms. More than just a place to connect, increasingly students are using social media to build networks, learn new skills, interact with peers, and find answers to their questions.

While you might hope students are visiting your website, it’s more likely they are receiving immigration advice from TikTok channels like @SDimmigrationlawyer. Therefore, this article explores some ways in which social media can be leveraged as a tool for international student engagement. We will examine available social media platforms and the strategies that universities can adopt to effectively utilize social media to enhance the student experience. From promoting cultural exchange to facilitating academic collaboration, social media has the potential to transform the way international students engage with their academic communities.

Capitalizing On Social Media Use:

Although the purpose of social media was originally to promote social interactions, higher education institutions soon recognized its value in connecting with students (Cassidy et al., 2011). Social media can be beneficial in educational settings because it allows for easy and accessible sharing of content (Williams et al., 2012); provides online opportunities for peers to interact (Selwyn, 2009); facilitates communication amongst students and teachers (Lambić, 2016); provides visual or written opportunities for students to participate in class who may otherwise be hesitant to verbally participate (Blankenship, 2011); enhances student engagement and interest; and allows students to take more control and responsibility for their education (Blankenship, 2011). Social media is also popular for use in higher education because it is not restricted by location or office hours (Chan & Leung, 2010).

Although a number of benefits of using social media to connect with college students are identified, there are also some disadvantages. They include time spent on social media serving as a distraction for students from their studies (Firat, 2017); and risks of lack of professionalism or data protection (Chan & Leung, 2010). Since some students perceive social media as a platform mostly for social, leisure, and entertainment (Lu et al., 2016), they may also not think of connecting with their institutions via social media or consider it as information overload (Chen et al., 2012).

Despite the disadvantages, the use of social media to engage with college students is projected to increase in the future (Blankenship, 2011). As such, offices should be deliberate in creating their social media plan. If possible, having a specialist to oversee all office/campus social media would be ideal. However, if that is not possible, the following section outlines suggestions to maximize efforts.

Social media provides a great opportunity for higher education institutions to connect with international students and engage them in their programs and services. Below are some ways to best capitalize on social media use to engage with international students:

  1. Understand your target audience: Before creating any social media content, it's important to understand your target audience - their interests, values, language, and cultural nuances. This will help you create content that resonates with them and makes them feel welcome and included. One strategy you can implement to better understand your target audience is by surveying your students and learning more about their needs. Another strategy is to create content based on your student population and ensure you post about specific holidays that might be important so students feel connected to your social media content (i.e. Diwali, Ramadan, Passover, Women’s History Month…etc).
  2. Use visual content: Visual content such as images, videos, and infographics tend to perform better on social media and can help capture the attention of international students who may be browsing social media in their free time.
  3. Create content in multiple languages: Creating content in multiple languages can help make your institution more accessible to international students who may not be fluent in the language of instruction. You can create content in the languages commonly spoken by your target audience, such as Mandarin, Spanish, or Arabic.
  4. Use social media platforms popular in their country: Different social media platforms are popular in different countries, so it's important to research which platforms are popular in your target audience's home country. For example, WeChat is popular in China, while Line is popular in Japan.
  5. Engage with your audience: Engage with your international student audience by responding to their comments, sharing their posts, and asking for their feedback. This can help create a sense of community and build trust and loyalty.
  6. Provide relevant information: Provide relevant information that international students may be interested in, such as visa requirements, scholarships, housing options, campus resources, and extracurricular activities. This can help them make informed decisions and feel supported throughout the admission process.

By capitalizing on social media use and implementing these strategies, higher education institutions can effectively engage with international students and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for them.

Social Media Platforms And Their Purpose:

Social media may be generally defined as “a group of Internet-based applications that [… ] allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). Although a plethora of social media platforms exists, research demonstrates that the most popular are those that provide networks with others that share common characteristics (Duggan et al., 2015), and those that allow users to express themselves via photos, recordings, or written or oral form (Hamid et al., 2015). Amongst traditionally-aged college students, they include Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube (Carbone, 2020).

Zhu and Chen (2015) developed a classification system for social media platforms based on the type of connection (profile based versus content based) and the level to which messages may be customized. According to this classification system, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are considered creative outlet platforms that are content based and allow users to share their interests and creativity. Facebook is considered a relationship platform that is profile based, featuring mostly customized messages.

Each of these platforms has its own unique features and user base, and they can be used for a variety of purposes depending on individual needs and preferences.

Here is a breakdown of popular social media platforms and their primary purpose:

  1. Facebook: A general social networking platform that allows users to connect with friends and family, share photos and updates, join groups and events, and follow pages of their interests.
  2. Instagram: A photo and video-sharing platform that focuses on visual content. It allows users to share photos and videos, follow other users, and interact with their content through likes, comments, and direct messages.
  3. Twitter: A micro-blogging platform that enables users to share short messages or “tweets” with their followers. It is often used for news and information sharing, real-time updates, and conversations around trending topics.
  4. TikTok: A short-form video sharing app that allows users to create and share short, entertaining videos with a global audience. It is particularly popular among young people.
  5. YouTube: A video-sharing platform that allows users to upload, share, and view videos on a wide range of topics. It is the second-largest search engine after Google and is used for entertainment, education, and marketing purposes.
  6. Snapchat: A multimedia messaging app that allows users to send photos and videos that disappear after a short time. It also features filters, lenses, and augmented reality features.
  7. WeChat/QQ: A messaging app, designed for relationship building. Users can chat with friends instantly via voice messages, texts or images. It is the top messenger app in China. QQ is an instant messaging software platform, primarily for Chinese users. It is primarily used for online messaging, casual video and voice calls, document-sharing, and social networking.
  8. Sina Weibo: A micro-blogging platform, similar to Twitter. Although the majority of users are from China, there are users from other countries. It is used to connect with friends, keep updated on news, and share experiences.

How To Create A More Consistent Posting Schedule:

Developing a consistent posting schedule is a critical aspect of social media management but it can certainly feel daunting. Posting content regularly not only helps keep your followers engaged but also improves your social media visibility and algorithm ranking (you can use the Instagram dashboard to track followers and views to better target your efforts). Here are some tips to help you develop a more consistent posting schedule:

  1. Create a content calendar: Planning and organizing your social media content in advance can help you stay consistent. Use a calendar to map out your content ideas, topics, and publication dates for the week or month ahead. An ideal time to work on developing your content calendar could be during the summer when it is typically slower for offices.
  2. Determine the best posting times: Use analytics tools, such as the professional dashboard on Instagram, to better understand when your followers are most active and engaged on social media. Based on this information, schedule your posts to be published during those times to reach the maximum number of students.
  3. Repurpose content: You don't always have to create new content from scratch. Repurpose your existing content into different formats like videos, images, or infographics helps keep your feed fresh and saves time.
  4. Automate your posts: Use social media management tools to automate your posts and schedule them in advance. This allows you to post consistently without spending all day on social media. Instagram allows you to schedule posts now in advance. Here are instructions on how to schedule your posts for Instagram.
  5. Use a variety of content types: Mix up your content with a variety of formats like videos, images, text posts, stories, and polls to keep your students engaged and interested in your content.
  6. Monitor your results: Keep track of your social media analytics to understand which posts are performing well and adjust your posting schedule accordingly.

By implementing these tips, you can develop a consistent posting schedule that will help you grow your social media presence and engage with your students more effectively.


In conclusion, social media has become an essential component of our modern-day lives and its impact on higher education has been profound, especially in the context of international student engagement. Universities worldwide have realized the potential of social media to connect international students with their peers, professors, and the wider university community, enabling them to stay connected with their home countries while fostering new connections and friendships. As social media usage continues to rise, it has become an indispensable tool for international student engagement, providing opportunities for cultural exchange, academic collaboration, and skill-building. By leveraging social media to its full potential, higher education institutions can build stronger relationships with their international student communities and enhance the student experience on campus.

Quick takeaways:

  1. Determine Your Platforms Remember, quality NOT quantity. Choose 1-2 platforms where your student and scholar population spend the most time and where you can accomplish your social media objectives.
  2. Build Your Audience Use large events or key points of the year such as orientation or International Education Week to host social media challenges that encourage your student and scholar population to follow and engage with your account.
  3. Post Consistently Social media is all about engagement. If you don’t keep a consistent posting schedule with engaging content, the algorithm will be less likely to push your content to your target audience.
  4. Capitalize on social media platforms Work smarter not harder in determining which platform will work best for your student population.


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