Blog Post

Research on international students' digital & information practices reinforces many things we know and should be doing when planning for hybrid service delivery

The recently released Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) report The Student Voice - National Results of the 2021 CBIE International Student Survey (2022) provides some useful insights on the information practices of Newcomers. With a focus on pre-arrival information sources and decision-making, it also echoes some findings and recommendations from the 2014 World Education Services (WES) report Bridging the Digital Divide - Segmenting and Recruiting International Millennial Students.

I encourage you to read both in-depth. Building on the combined high level findings and recommendations here are some things all Immigrant and Refugee-serving organizations should keep in mind. There's really not much new here. We've seen these trends studied over time. And the fact that a report from 2022 echoes findings from 2014 suggests we should be much better prepared for hybrid service delivery than we actually are in our sector.

And if you think you shouldn't be paying attention to international students, keep in mind that even before coming to Canada 38% of international students are interested in applying for Permanent Residence, according to CBIE's survey. As we know, that number increases after they're here:

"A substantial majority of respondents (72.6%) indicated they intended to apply for a post-graduate work permit. At the same time, 59.4% of respondents indicated they intended to apply for permanent residence, 8.1% had no plans to do so, while approximately one-third were undecided. 43.3% of students plan to work for up to three years in Canada and then pursue permanent residency. Another 18.8% planned to work for up to three years in Canada and then return home. While 28.4% of student respondents indicated that they planned to work for a period of time and then resume their studies, 20.9% expected to continue their studies either at their current institution (20.9%) or at another Canadian institution (17.8%)."

While the sector continues to advocate to be able to serve international students under IRCC funding, you may eventually see many of them as clients, or as Newcomers who need your information and guidance. And, as international student numbers continue to increase as they are projected to, you need to understand these prospective and new Newcomers.

Chart of changing rate of transition to permanent residency among international students between 2000 and 2019.

If you take anything away from studies like these it is that you should:

1. Adapt to newcomers' technology usage

Your audiences increasingly use a smartphone to search for, consume and share information. Mobile devices play a large role in their information-seeking journey. Step one is to ensure your information, websites, and online services are more mobile friendly.

2. Tailor content to communicate your value proposition to Newcomers

People online, in general, are more likely to consume online content than produce it, including responding to or commenting on generic information. This highlights the importance of generating relevant, quality content to engage with your audiences. In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a useful guideline for your content sharing. In an internet community, only 1% of the users actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk. This is changing with social media, where everyone becomes a content producer, albeit in more informal ways, within social networks (WES research indicated that 90% of millennial international students consumed online content, while 61% contributed). What you produce for one or a few have a lifetime for many. Reuse, repurporse and reshare content.

At the same time, when information feels personalized, or individual interactions occur online (such as through messaging or email), interactions will increase. This creates the perception of a relevant service for the newcomer, but also means more data for you to analyze to create better services.

3. Use different information channels to reach different immigrant segments

Ultimately, any project implementation should be grounded in an understanding of which Newcomers use which channels and how best to reach out to them.

4. Embrace network & influence marketing

What are the online networks that exert the biggest influence on skilled immigrants' decision-making processes in terms of employment information-seeking? You need to identify and form strategic relationships with these stakeholders and have them interact with prospective clients via digital technologies. This can include online newcomer networks, language or country-specific online professional networks, immigration consultants/lawyers, pre-arrival settlement information providers, regulatory bodies, academic institutions, employers, employer networks, sector/industry networks, etc.

5. Mobile, go mobile, be mobile-friendly

In October 2016, mobile and tablet internet usage exceeded desktop for first time globally. It is simply a reality now that mobile internet usage is the norm for Newcomers.

Mobile connectivity has become integral in the lives of people from all regions in the world, not just enabling us to communicate with our friends and family, but track our health, interact with our government, entertain ourselves, and even help earning a living. Mobile internet leap-frogging fixed internet use is a phenomenon across the world, from developing to developed countries. It is a trend that is your service reality. If your information and services are not mobile-friendly and accessible on mobile devices (and I'm not talking about apps here) you are not an accessible service provider. Period.

6. Take a quick Canvas approach to create any new service

You have little time to grab audience attention in today's online information overload. I created the Nonprofit Services Canvas to help you figure it out quickly. It's based on The Lean Canvas approach, which is based on Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. It's a quick 1-page business model that takes under 45 minutes to create.

Optimized for nonprofit ideas, it is a useful starting point for thinking through an online service model. It forces you to distill the essence of your service, who it is for, and why it is needed. What's key is that the Newcomer drives the idea, and the Canvas. That means you need to know your customers/clients/audience inside and out. Not assumptions. Not general information.

Actual knowledge based on surveying, interacting, following online and direct engagement.

It also forces you to break Newcomer client segments into smaller ones. For example, skilled immigrants is too broad for your services. When you try to market/serve everyone, you end up serving no one. Get more specific. It can be by region/country of origin, profession, landing city/region, etc. Start with your strongest customer segment to create the initial canvas.

As WES' 2015 Considering Canada: A Look at the Views of Prospective Skilled Immigrants report suggests, “Survey data about this immigrant population can support the development of effective, streamlined service delivery and information flow at the earliest stage possible. This information also contributes to an ongoing discussion about best practices for coordinating and delivering services and support to immigrants.”

Key to success is building services that are relevant for a targeted, core audience. Key to ensuring the services are relevant is to determine your audience needs and wants.

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