International digital marketing for universities and education export
Recently, the topic of credibility has been discussed more and more on various expert platforms in the field of university management. Experts are wondering: how to make parents, scientists, authorities, entrepreneurs trust universities? And that's why I would like to speculate on how to make a university credible at the international level, using digital marketing tools.

Why is this important? On the one hand, the decision to go to study or work in another country is not just about educational or career trajectory — it is also about environment, relationships and lifestyle for several years ahead, and this choice is associated with a high level of risk. It is about the marketing concept of decisions that we make once in a lifetime. The most important thing for students when making such decision is not the content that the university creates for itself and places in its own digital channels, but the content about the university created by its internal stakeholders and external partners.

On the other hand, according to recent studies, in many countries of the world (including Russia), credibility of digital platforms already exceeds the credibility of the state, and it is going increase further1! And this means that the main way to build trust to the international brand of the university is digital marketing.

The only question is: how to make sure that the international digital brand of the university is credible? I see at least 10 positions that we should manage based on the cultural characteristics of our target markets. The time when we could create a beautiful brand image of the university on the Internet has passed. Now it is time to create university brands together with students and staff. Let me elaborate.
  1. Which brands the students trust more: scientific or educational? All over the world, strong positions are occupied by research universities with strong scientific potential, and where more than half of international students receive a master's degree or PhD. However, if we speak about Russian education export, almost 85% are bachelors. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the credibility of the scientific brands of Russian universities is not high enough?
  2. Which communication style should a university choose? There are two polar styles: "imperial", when a university strives to tell the whole world about itself, and "client-oriented", when it tells about how it can best meet the needs of students or employees. Depending on cultural characteristics, the level of trust in different styles will differ.
  3. What channels should a university work in? Having a university account on respectable educational and scientific portals promotes confidence. It is important to make sure that the content in different portals is identical. Therefore, it is necessary to manage digital communications "from above" and avoid situations when different departments post different data. Not because they are wrong, but because they think differently.
  4. How should a university position itself? The credibility of the university's international brand is also influenced by what we call the "brand identity" in marketing. This is the answer to the question of choosing a university. Russian universities prefer to show that they belong to the Russian higher education system. This may well contribute to brand credibility in countries where the historical memory of the USSR higher education system is strong. Universities that have similar positions in world rankings with the Russian ones tend to reflect their uniqueness and often focus on the needs of target audiences and their own corporate culture.
  5. How to build a dialogue? Brand identity in digital marketing has its own voice — an expression of how the brand thinks, acts and speaks. A comparison of the "brand voices" of technical universities in Russia and Europe showed that our universities usually present themselves, and European ones use stories told by students and employees; we position student life and bachelor's degree programs, and in Europe they value scientific stories and postgraduate studies; we focus on internal environment news, European universities focus on scientific news. It is not about how to do it right. It is about the fact that the brand voice affects the credibility of the university in different ways from different target audiences.
  6. What content should a university post online? Today, the target audience with its own needs and peculiarities of content consumption is the benchmark. The focus should be on information request. This will make user engagement rates increase (and this is relevant not only for social networks, but also for educational fairs and online events). And if such indicators go to zero, it means that the university is talking to itself, and either the target audience is not interested in the university, or the university is not interested in the target audience.
  7. Who creates a digital brand? Brand credibility is influenced by mass media, partners, graduates, opinion leaders who create online content about the university.
  8. How is the third mission of the university reflected in digital channels? What is the relationship between the university's third mission and positioning level (regional, national or international)? Is it true that if the university claims to be a world leader, then the third mission should be considered at the global level?
  9. Positioning strategies. There is a rule in marketing: the stronger the organization in the market, the higher the level of positioning strategy. That is, due to the key factors of choice (the quality of education, the reputation of the diploma among employers), only the leading universities of the world can afford to position themselves. And if a small university which is not a world market leader is positioned due to key factors, there is a decrease in the credibility.
  10. Brand identity. All of the above will not work for the trust in the university from external target audiences, if such trust is not formed within the university. Identification of the internal environment with the brand occurs when students and staff share the goals and values of the university, respect its tangible and intangible heritage, participate in the implementation of the mission and strategic goals. At least they know about all these things. And this helps with managing digital brand communities.

In conclusion, I would like to note that the main mistake of modern marketing is narcissism, i.e. marketing communications focused on making content about the company, not for clients. Only if a company makes sure its content is client-oriented, creating a long-term trusting relationship with the client becomes possible. High-quality content contributes to the credibility level of the brand. Marketing today has turned into the art of engaging in dialogue and building trust.
Olga Bakumenko, Ph.D. in Economics, HSE — Saint-Petersburg. Expert on International Digital Marketing for Universities. Olga has been working in the field of administration of university's international activities since 2008. She got her degrees from leading Russian and international on international marketing, internationalization of universities, scientific journalism, and digital marketing. She is an author of courses on digital marketing for higher education and developer of digital international marketing for universities.