The Crowd, Social Media and Study Abroad

I originally posted this article on LinkedIn.

The book:

I recently read the book by Alex Daly, The Crowdsourceress: Get Smart, Get Funded, and Kickstart Your Next Big Idea (2017). It is really an amazing book, and I realized again that using social media is one thing, but engaging through social media is a completely different matter all together, the latter being the more impactful aspect of social media usage. I definitely recommend that you read the book – it also includes practical tools and tips.

Here are some general important take-aways:

  • The power of a built-in Audience (p. 34 – 35): “The number one thing I learned in my first crowdfunding campaign is the power of the fan base – the built-in audience.” And further: “To engage your built-in audience, you need to make them aware of and connected to your campaign.” For example, in the book Alex refers to a crowdfunding campaign launched for a film about a famous “free form” radio station. In the case of the crowdfunding campaign of the documentary, the built-in audience is the fan base of the radio station. Obviously, it is important to engage the fan base, so that they become a built-in audience.
  • Be truthful, be yourself (p. 47): “If you go against who you are or what your project is trying to be, it won’t work.”
  • Crowdfunding as a marketing tool (p. 99): “Crowdfunding truly is a robust marketing tool – especially when you go the extra mile with your content (like with fantastic design and exclusive updates).”
  • You need influencers (p. 149): “With nearly every new campaign, we lean heavily into an influencer strategy to leverage social media to grow our audience, get more eyes on our campaign, and ultimately drive funding. Often, influencers can really help start a movement (…)”

Finally, I realised this again:

  • Our perceptions about what is impactful is in many cases wrong. We really need to do proper research and test / questions our own perceptions.
  • Just posting adverts on social media – in terms of an advertising campaign, is not the correct way to use social media. Social media is about building a community, around and beyond your built-in audience. Daly says (p. 142): “Social media, in all its forms, for all its flaws and powers, is a tool for forming community. That’s what makes it so important to the success of your campaign.”

Bringing it back to Study Abroad and International Education:

Let’s get back to what I do, namely being an international education practitioner. International education practitioners do more than just provide student consultations or fulfill a daily amount of administrative tasks. In our daily tasks, we are also responsible for knowledge and information management, but also specifically content management. Content can refer to many different things, but I think, in the context of this article, it refers specifically to content generated by our study abroad students – that can be used to the benefit of study abroad students.

I think this is a super important skill and, if used correctly, the content produced by our students, whether it is photos or videos or blog postings, can be an important resource for prospective students and the local study abroad or student mobility office. Students can be both your “built-in audience” and “influencers” on your campus.

I want to focus on a specific aspect of content management, and that is blogging. (Yes, I prefer long form. I am also bit of a WordPress-groupie.) Blogging on its own has its benefits (for example, having students writing a reflective blog post about their experience is very important for personal growth and realizing the value of an international experience), but it is even more powerful if you use it as a resource for social media and media in general. I think blogging can pay it forward if you use it wisely. This is what we are trying to do at SU International, but also many other international or student mobility offices are trying to do the same. This not something new, but maybe framing it differently could add more value to its use.


We are requiring our students to give feedback on their return to Stellenbosch University via a survey, but they must also write a comprehensive blog posting and provide five photos of their experience. We will then post the blog postings on our WordPress site. However, it does not stop there: because of the large database of blog postings and photos, we can use it for various other things as well – kind of paying it forward, or using it to build a crowd around what we do. For example, we use blog postings and pictures for:

  • Content on our website and other publications.
  • It serves as a database of self-help / support material for students who would like to go abroad and are in the process of making a decision to go abroad. Or, it can be used by students as a guide in terms of how they should prepare for an upcoming study abroad experience and manage their expectations accordingly.
  • The photos of students also provide you with a database of photos that we can use for marketing material.
  • The blog postings have helped us to increase our social media footprint – because the postings are distributed in various ways via our other social media platforms – and can strengthen the message we want to convey to our campus.

It took quite a while to be able to do this, but focusing on two things specifically helps to make this work. Create a workflow that works for students and colleagues. For example, the workflow in terms of how you collect the blog postings and distribute it is super important. So, you must think in terms of who is going to do this? Also, by what means are you going to do this, and when? Currently, I think we are good with collecting, but still learning in terms of distributing the material. Secondly, we need to incentivize students to provide good content. This can be done through monetary means, but also the opportunity to showcase their experience.

Yes, this whole process takes time, but I really think it can used to create influencers out of our students. And also to help students to recognize that their interactions / perceptions are important, that their experiences matter. It is not a perfect process, but I think the idea and process can be tweaked to improve it over time.

Tools we use:

  • The brief for the blog postings are provided via an Everlytic newsletter, and it also appears on our Moodle module for study abroad students. The learning management system is supported by the university, and is named SUNLearn. (Our 101 Study Abroad & 102 Study Abroad modules still need some work.)
  • Collecting Blog Postings and Photos: At the moment we are using Dropbox’s file request functionality to allow students to upload their blog postings and photos. The reason why we do this is to ensure we are not flooded with emails.
  • Blogging platform: We use WordPress. The university supports the platform which makes it an easy choice. Also, WordPress has an impressive ecosystem and great support. I think the learning curve in terms of using WordPress is not steep. Here is our blog.
  • Social media platforms: We use the content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • For editing photos, converting them into posters and other forms of media we use Visme and Canva. I found that the latter platforms give one a quick turn around time.

These are just some tools we use, but there are different variations of these out there and one needs to find, at the end, something that works for you and your larger ecosystem.

Header image: Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

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