The international higher education sector has become a big business due to increased student mobility. Strict immigration policies and other political uncertainty in the UK and the US have opened new opportunities for other, less recognized higher education destinations to recruit more international students. Ireland, an English-speaking country with relatively relaxed and inclusive immigration policy, has largely benefitted from this.
Universities are investing a lot of resources in marketing. Social media offers universities an excellent opportunity to reach and connect and influence the decision of potential students across borders. While businesses are consciously trying to measure the return on investment from their marketing spends, most of them overlook the traffic recorded by private messaging applications, also known as dark social, which restricts them from getting critical insights regarding the success of a marketing campaign.
This study was therefore undertaken to understand the role of social media marketing and dark social in the increasing number of international students coming to Ireland. This study used a sequential exploratory mixed method design for data collection and analysis. Qualitative data was collected through semi-structured interviews with marketing representatives of four Irish higher education institutes. A survey undertaken by 110 international students from different universities in Ireland was used to collect quantitative data.
The findings indicated that Irish universities relied on their agent network for raising awareness and used social media as second fiddle for providing detailed information to international students. Electronic word-of-mouth over private channels known as dark social also has had a significant role in the increase of international students coming to Ireland. After analysing the role of social media marketing and dark social in attracting international students to Irish universities, this thesis also provides recommendations for Irish universities to further exploit social media marketing for better student recruitment by overcoming the challenges, they faced.