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Recruiting Intelligence

Tie Your Message to Your Audience: Using Chinese Social Media

Social Media use in China is important and relevant for U.S. universities recruiting students in China. If you are a regular reader of Intead Insights or our blogs, you will not be surprised by this message. Hanover Research published a concise and very readable summary, "Social Media and Web Marketing in China," reviewing the main social media platforms in China and incorporating compiled research highlights from Zinch, WES, The Guardian Network, the College Board and other sources.

The authors' summarized findings resonate with our experience. Here's your abbreviated primer on what to do:

  • Institutions should amplify their reputation as being highquality, and should also take care to thoroughly explain application processes to less prepared applicants (international and English as a second language students) who may not understand the basics of admissions protocols in other countries.
  • Particular aspects that should be emphasized in marketing materials and social media posts include ranking and reputation (particularly for wellregarded academic programs), overall quality, safety, and the opportunity for an international experience. It goes without saying that you have to deliver on your promises or social media word of mouth will quickly overtake your marketing message, and not in a good way.
  • While social media marketing is intended to reach applicants themselves, institutions must understand that student’s parents are likely to have a critical role in decisionmaking. Parents are more interested in qualities such as employment prospects upon graduation, social and emotional support services, and the range of academic programs offered.
  • Figure 5 (below) from the report lists the plethora of social media platforms in China. Most institutions use more than one social media site, and Sina Weibo, Renren, and Youku appear to be the most common. It is also common for institutions to use a messaging or telephone programs such as QQ or Skype.
  • Build a library of material appealing to the targeted Chinese audiences (e.g. dream projects, rankings, lifestyle).
  • Have a dedicated person/team within your institution to maintain the Sina Weibo accounts; appoint a substitute to the “account manager” to ensure continuity of service in case of absence; build standardized processes to convey messages via dedicated channels.
  • Remain uptodate on the developments within the chosen social media and more importantly outside of the chosen media (e.g. understand the implications of WeChat for the institution's communication strategy). Understand that forecasting the usage levels and popularity of Chinese social media in the medium term is extremely hard.

Lastly, the authors highlight the distinct need for content creation and messaging suitable for the Chinese market.

Figure 3 (below) identifies the key influencing factors for Chinese parents and students interested in international education. There are differences here that are important for your messaging on different channels and for each audience (parents vs. students).

We like to reiterate to our clients that messaging for international audiences requires specific material on your website and print material addressing prospects' concerns that can differ significantly from the marketing approach and messaging U.S. institutions use for domestic student recruitment.

You’d be surprised by what we’ve seen out there. If your literature and your table at international student recruiting fairs includes a football and cheerleader pom poms you may want to re-evaluate your marketing approach. The same holds true for your posts on Chinese social media.

If your internal stakeholders don't understand this reality, maybe we can help you share the data that will give them important perspective and help them become stronger allies as you seek to diversify your campus and hit your international recruiting targets.


Topics: Insights