Abroad101 Providers Newsletter – Fall 2016

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We appreciate you opening this newsletter and taking a few minutes to check-in with the latest news from Abroad101.

The Secret to Abroad101’s Listings Display

Abroad prides itself as a review website, as the largest in the field, people come to us looking for reviews.  We have designed the site to display programs based on their review relevance using a proprietary algorithm that looks at multiple factors.  This approach is applied anywhere you see programs displayed: on your provider’s page, on university pre-approved program pages and in each of the city, country and subject directories that serve prospective students.  The algorithm scores each review and lists the programs based on a point system.  Points come from the freshness of reviews, the completeness of reviews and an adjustment for candor (standard deviation).  Programs benefit from review volume as well as review quality.

People Don’t Trust Perfect Reviews

People use reviews in a number of different ways and human nature as it is, most come looking for something wrong.  The reviews with a critical tone get more views than the reviews with “the best 4 months of my life” and similar titles.  As it turns out, people find that some criticism is reassuring and it’s ironic that slightly negative reviews have more positive impact that overdone, glowing reviews.  Abroad101’s Social Media Editor uncovered some research that indicated that in a free market, when it comes to reviews, “the only factor that had a greater influence on sales was price” and “the indication that electronic word of mouth has actually overtaken more traditional sources of information.”  Read more of Caleb’s analysis.

The research used in Caleb’s article looked at retail purchases.  As we know, study abroad is more complex than this so this data should be taken with appropriate disclaimers.  That being said, it is a new generation of students on study abroad and a new generation of parents.  What does it say when you have NO reviews?

Moms & Dads Use Abroad101

The target audience for Abroad101 is American college students looking for a semester, summer or short-term away from campus.  In addition, parents and advisors that support students end up being a sizable portion of our traffic.  Based on Google Analytics data, we estimate that 20-25% of the visitors to Abroad101 are parents, searching on the keyword “reviews” and trying to learn more about the options their children are considering. 

Parents are not looking to discover new programs, but are looking to become more familiar, and in a number of cases validate what they hear from their children.  You should be aware of this and use the in-depth reviews on Abroad101 to your advantage.  Consider referring parents to reviews when they call in, and certainly have your customer service folks be well aware of the reviews that are online and any associated concerns they may identify.

Directing parents to reviews will help them become more comfortable with study abroad and help them set expectations on what lies ahead.  Review may also be quite helpful in moving a student inquiry toward an enrollment as reviews do have an impact on conversions. 

Why Advertise?

Advertising on Abroad101 is designed to bring you more inquiries, improve your conversions and raise the brand and visibility of your programs, all at a price that won’t blow your budget.  Advertising is also the only way we fund Abroad101.  Featured Listings match by program in our directories (city, country, study subjects) and cost $500/year.  Display advertising can highlight your organization or specific programs.  We offer cost-effective “bundles” designed to bring you both value and performance.  Over the course of the year, as an average, Abroad101 is generating inquiries in the range of $40-$75 each, and from what we hear from our clients, Abroad101 inquires convert to enrollments at a rate ranging from 5-10%.  Remember that our core audience is currently enrolled, American college students looking for a semester, summer or short-term abroad, then returning to campus to finish their degree.  By reaching parents and advisors as well as students, Abroad101 is uniquely positioned as a place for your advertising dollars.

How to Get Students to Write Reviews?

As we stress, your presence on Abroad101 is greatly enhanced by reviews.  So often we hear that it is hard to get students to do anything, let alone spend 20-30 minutes on a review.  This is especially true when students feel that the activity has no benefit for them.  We find that students ARE inclined to share their experience if the exercise gives them a chance to tell their story – exactly what they do on social media for hours a day!

If the student believes the review is good for them, they will generally participate.  That takes some groundwork before they go abroad and as they prepare to return.  One idea to get more engagement is to incorporate a review in your end-of-term programming and use the review process as a step toward preparing the students to share their experience with others.  Just like career counselors who tell students to prepare a good resume for a job search, we hope that study abroad staff will help their students prepare for their return home by guiding them to submitting a thorough and candid review.

We’ve published some articles with messages that should resonate with students, including:

Why Should I Write a Study Abroad Review

Top 5 Reasons to Write an Education Abroad Review

Getting More from Abroad101

Like you, our goal is to see more students going abroad and getting the most from their experience.  We also want those that go to be better informed beforehand and we want to help them turn that experience into a career building stepping stone when they return.  The Abroad101 team is happy to answer any of your questions by email or phone.  We also welcome the opportunity to walk you though the system with an online demo of the back-end features of Abroad101 to see if our free program evaluation tool is right for you.  The demo will show how you can see reports, compare your results with other organizations, and more. 

As we approach our 10th anniversary, we’d like to say THANKS for all your support.

 

Mark Shay | Abroad101

Abroad101 Newsletter for Providers – April 2016

Abroad101-reviews-logo-webFirst, a reminder to invite returning students to submit a review through Abroad101.  We recommend you use the Invite Tool in your Abroad101 account, you can also tell your students to start here: http://www.StudyAbroad101.com/reviews/new

While the impact of online reviews is still a topic of debate in higher education, there is little debate that reviews influence consumers who shop online.  How important are customer reviews to shoppers?  One recent survey reports 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

What do the Scholars Say about Reviews?

While we’re pretty confident reviews do matter, Abroad101’s Social Media editor Caleb House went to work to uncover some evidence.  In “How Online Product Reviews Affect Retail Sales: A Meta-analysis” published in the academic “Journal of Retailing”, Caleb discovers that: “the only factor that had a greater influence on sales was price” and “the indication that electronic word of mouth has actually overtaken more traditional sources of information.”  Read more of Caleb’s analysis.

The article looked at retail purchases and what would be considered transactional sales.  Study abroad is more complex than this so this data should be taken with appropriate disclaimers.  This being said, it is a new generation of students on study abroad, what it says when you have NO reviews?

What about Bad Reviews?

The most common objection we get to fully transparent publishing of student reviews is a concern about how a negative experience will impact a program or the institutional stakeholders.  In the complex world of social media and online transparency, the opposite is often true.

People often come to review sites to validate their choices and to search for the negative. Reviews of student struggles and reports of negative things will actually help future students prepare and set their expectations.  In an odd twist of logic, they go to review sites to relieve the anxiety about what happens when things go wrong.  Reviews also provide a practical balance to the always-positive websites, brochures and on campus presentations.  For those, like parents, who may not be present in Q&A sessions, reviews provide a welcome reality check.

Taking some best practices from the tech sector, it is ironic to discover that negative reviews actually have a positive impact.  We suggest you read “You Don’t Want A 5-Star Review

Alumni Ambassadors and Beautiful Reviews

This “always sunny” concept is something that savvy marketers are concerned over.  Study Abroad providers are increasingly using Alumni Ambassadors in their marketing efforts.  These are typically very satisfied students who have demonstrated great affinity for a program and are fantastic spokespeople.  When they are tasked with writing a review, human nature kicks in and we have noticed these reviews being too promotional and “too good to be true.”  In looking at the traffic these reviews generate, they get less page views than reviews with lower overall ratings.

It is worth noting that Abroad101 modified our page display algorithm to adjust for any one-sided approach to reviewers.  We welcome Alumni Ambassador submissions and in your training of them we hope you’ll reinforce the need to be candid in their stories so the review will be viewed as legitimate and credible.

The Latest Study Abroad Rankings:

For the fifth year, Abroad101 has tallied student reviews and produced “The 2015 Study Abroad Rankings.”  The rankings recognize the study abroad programs and locations rated highest by American students who have studied abroad in the last year. The rankings also reflect the dynamic nature of study abroad and identify up-and-coming destinations and program types in addition to top programs and providers.  From this years data we found that:

  • Big cities are in
  • Programs are touring
  • More students are on programs through their home universities.

 You can read the press release or view the full rankings.

For Top Programs, the threshold for inclusion was 15 reviews, or 10 reviews if they came from 3 different universities.  For Top Providers, we needed 20 reviews from at least 3 different programs or from 3 different universities.  Read details on the rankings methodology.

Each review counts toward the rankings and contributes insight about the whole of study abroad: from academics to food and from cost to the friendliness of the destination.  Please remember, rankings are an indicator of quality, not a measure of quality, and it is in the spirit of transparency and strong demand from parents that we publish the rankings. 

Reviews as a Re-entry Exercise:

Several universities have described a process where they engage the students in a final day exercise that describes the review as part of the re-entry process.  Using the review as the student’s official personal statement makes it their point of pride.  It’s a productive exercise if they can put into words their feelings about their discoveries, growth, maturity and overall gains during the time abroad.  Abroad101’s 38-question review can serve as the means to do this.  Asking the students to bring their laptop, tablet or smart-phone to class is one way to assure high or full participation in the process.

Paper Evaluations into Online Reviews:

We recognize that even with today’s tech savvy youth and Wi-Fi enabled campuses, capturing evaluations/reviews online has its challenges. 

  • It’s OK to collect your data via paper
  • It’s NOT OK to store your data on paper
  • It’s JUST WRONG to share your data on paper

If you have paper evaluations, we suggest you allow us to turn them into Abroad101 reviews.  For a modest account management fee and a very reasonable per evaluation fee, we will oversee this process and take a big step to modernize your evaluation process.

Introducing Abroad201, A New Addition to the Product Family

At Forum, we introduced Abroad201, a combination of software and services that provides a wide range of customization and options for your program evaluations.  With Abroad201 you can:

  • Convert paper-based forms into meaningful data
  • Manage the publication of some, or all evaluations as reviews
  • Publish wherever you want and share with whomever you want 
  • Turn the results into reports, benchmark them as you choose
  • Greatly enhance your reporting capabilities. 

Modernize your program evaluation process, reduce survey fatigue among your students, better serve your partner schools and get better data with the expanded line of program evaluation software and services we call Abroad201.

Abroad201 is cloud-based software and services with fees that vary depending on the level of service.  Abroad101 is free software that will remain standard in function and purpose.  Pick whichever tool meets your budget and your goals.  Visit the Abroad201 product website for details

We’re Working FOR You:

Whether it’s cost effective direct to student/parent advertising and promotion or better ways to capture your student evaluations and work with partner universities, Abroad101 is here to help.  Call, write or come visit us at NAFSA, booth #1133.

Thanks you for taking the time to read this and for considering Abroad101.

Abroad101 Update – Reviews are More than Marketing Content

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Here’s the latest update from Abroad101 for program providers and host universities.

Software Upgrades:

We’re please to announce these recent enhancements to Abroad101, the first and largest study abroad review website and program evaluation software platform:

Custom Questions Now Available For Providers:

Universities who pledge to use Abroad101 with all their students have always had the option to supplement the standard set of questions with ones unique and specific to their needs.  We have added that same functionality for providers and host universities willing to make that same pledge.  Use Abroad101 as your official program evaluation software and you can customize a significant portion of the questions you ask.  With Abroad101 you can also export the completed evaluation and use the individual reviews in other systems or tally those for required reporting.

Scholarship Directory:

Host universities can now add scholarships to the Abroad101 scholarship directory.  You’ll see a link called “Scholarships Available” on the left side of your account dashboard under University.  Please remember these are for US students that you might designate as “Free Mover” “Visiting Students” or “Direct-Enroll”, attending semester and short-term programs, not pursuing a full-degree.

Changes to “Would Return” Question:

We recently made a modest change to the “would return” question.  Students were asked: “If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same program?” The answer had been displayed as a green check for yes or a red x for no at the top of each review.  To better clarify a student’s thoughts, we added a text field “Please Explain” and moved this answer as a summary to the set of star rating questions displayed in the “Review your program” block.

Updates to Cities List:

We have updated the list of cities to optimize our directories for search.  With more than 1,000 cities, we have plenty to choose from.  If a single city or region doesn’t work, we also have some general categories for you to pick:

  • Multiple = operating in multiple locations in a given country (2 or 3 locations)
  • Traveling = program travels around a country or series of countries (4 or more locations)
  • Field = program operates in a remote or rural setting

As a reminder, for Quality Control reasons, the Abroad101 team adds new programs, changes titles and adjusts cities.  If you would like additions or changes to your listings, please send details by email to support@abroad101.com

Why Reviews?

Think about the last time you booked a hotel, chose a movie or show in a theater, picked a restaurant, or bought a product online.  Did a review help in your decision?  For most Americans, reviews help reinforce an initial interest and help set expectations.  If you use reviews to guide your decisions, then you can imagine how reviews can impact program selection in education abroad.  Since 2007, Abroad101 has been guiding students, parents and advisors while at the same time helping promote study abroad.  We’ve processed over 3,000 new study abroad reviews from just the last semester with more coming every day.

Universities are Lagging Behind:

Every day in our outreach to universities there is at least one story of a university that triumphantly states, “we have a successful paper-based evaluation process that we’ve had in place for well over a decade, and we don’t need to change.”  It’s true, they don’t need to change, but they should. 

Collecting and keeping the evaluation results in secret is against the principles of transparency and does little good.  Putting paper copies of evaluations in binders on reference library shelves is not sharing in the Internet era and certainly not student-friendly.

Providers Can Take the Lead:

As program providers and host universities you can take the lead and help universities break out of this archaic practice by encouraging, even requiring your students to complete evaluations and publish them.  As you have taken the “Duty of Care” you can demonstrate transparency and move study abroad program evaluations (reviews) into the modern era.  We hope you’ll choose Abroad101 as your platform to do this and we give you a rich set of tools to manage this leap of faith.  Reviews are not just for marketing.  Recently we shared these sentiments in our Advisors newsletter and asked a number of risk managers “Who’s Looking at Your Reviews?

Why Abroad101?  Re-Entry in a Box

The Abroad101 review is 38 questions in length and is designed to walk students through a reflection of who they were before they left, who they are now and what they hope for their future.  As part of this process, they will rate 9 different aspects of their program and provide some insight and tips for future students.  Taking 20-30 minutes to complete, the review can help students put their feelings into words and start the process of communicating their experiences in concise and coherent ways. 

Each Abroad101 Review becomes a web page.  A notification of the review goes to the student’s home university advising team. 

  • You get noticed when this happens.
  • You get important feedback. 
  • You get performance data. 
  • You take charge of transparency.
  • You get recognized as a market leader. 

Candor is Key

Reviews are very influential in today’s consumer market and study abroad is no exception.  People come to review sites looking for balance to the always-positive websites, brochures and in-person presentations.  They know things aren’t perfect and want to understand what may be imperfect about a given location, program or host.  Quite often the visitors to Abroad101 are coming to validate their earlier discoveries and because of this, we see a significant portion of our traffic from parents and other adults who support students.  Students may be drawn to the ratings and comments about food and social aspects of a program, while parents see value in ratings and comments about safety and cost.  The 38 questions in the Abroad101 review give everyone something to discuss with plenty of examples to engage in a meaningful dialog and hopefully break some stereotypes about other people and other parts the world.

If you are worried that negative reviews will negatively impact recruiting, think again.  For review websites, criticism draws traffic and attention and for the most part, complaints are about things beyond the programs control – weather, crime, cost of living and attitudes of local students.  For marketers, this goes against your natural instincts, but the negative does get people to buy.  We suggest you read “you don’t want 5 star reviews

Transparency vs. Exposure and Risk

The concept of transparency is the prime reason to publish your evaluations. This does worry many in the university community who fear that unpleasant experiences will chase away future students.  We strongly believe that the risk of non-disclosure and suppression of a student’s story is a greater risk than any possible adverse affects of a negative review.  Failure to publish these accounts in today’s review-focused world is more telling than publishing stories of a few unhappy participants.

There are organizations lobbying government to mandate transparency and accountability and we strongly believe that using Abroad101 as your platform puts you at the ahead of this issue.  Publishing shows integrity and may well mitigate your legal risk if complications arise in the future. As the old slogan goes, “an educated consumer is the best kind” and when it comes to education abroad, it is riskier not to prepare students for the unknowns they face.  Using the Abroad101 system is an effective way to better prepare students and their families for the experience and lessen your liability for not disclosing past details.

Data, Data, Data

When you use Abroad101, you also harvest a wealth of data from your students and you can use Abroad101 to compare it to other programs.  With our reporting you can see graphs on how your students rate their experience in those 9 categories and you can compare, even benchmark this other programs in the host country plus other providers as a whole.  One Dean recently told us about his use of Abroad101 stats in his university’s regional accreditation review.  He is using Abroad101 to benchmark his students’ education abroad experiences against others with the Graphs report from his Abroad101 dashboard.  We intend to help this practice spread.

Customize the Abroad101 Platform for you.

As mentioned at the beginning of this report, Providers can now add custom questions, so we ask you, why not make Abroad101 your official program evaluation software?  We understand that you might collect your reviews on paper, but that doesn’t mean you can’t publish them.  For less than $5/evaluation we can take a paper evaluation and turn it into a published review.  You get the ability of collecting the evaluations on site and get the power of data managed in the Abroad101 platform.  Call us and ask us how.

The basic software is free, the training is free, the support is fast and the process is easy.  Cost effective custom solutions are available if you need more functionality.

We hope you’ll call us for a no-obligation demo of the Abroad101 software and use it to advance education abroad at your institution.