Chinese marketing 101 for education providers

Business & Technology

Western educational institutions will need to implement China-specific communications and marketing strategies to build their brands and attract top talent from China. China's internet continues to diverge from that in the West in terms of the platforms and means of communications that are popular with young people, and China-specific digital marketing cannot be an afterthought.

For most education providers, Chinese students make up one of their most significant international student groups, but Chinese social media platforms are still lacking for most universities and schools. PingPong Digital surveyed 122 Chinese students who are studying (and/or previously studied) at colleges in the U.S. and found that most would like to see a WeChat or Weibo account from their university. In all, 82% said they would like to see better engagement with Chinese students from universities, and 70% said they would like their university to have a WeChat account to communicate better with them, and 95% of alumni wanted to follow their university’s WeChat and Weibo.

COVID-19 has brought new communication challenges and uncertainty for universities looking to recruit Chinese students in the fall and beyond. Many news media outlets in China have been highly critical of the way the U.S. has handled the current coronavirus situation, and many parents are expressing concern over the health and wellbeing implications of their children should they study overseas.

Because of these issues, it has never been more important to be able to directly communicate with Chinese students, parents, alumni, and industry leaders through official university channels.

With this in mind, what should an education provider be looking to do right now?

WeChat & Weibo

We all know WeChat, and getting an official verified account should be a priority, but WeChat verification can take some time in China. Verification for education providers must go through a separate government approval process, which often causes delays and can take a few months to complete, so it’s best to begin this sooner rather than later.

So what is Weibo?

Weibo is the Twitter and Instagram of China, with around 450 million active users. Unlike WeChat (which is a closed platform), Weibo is where you will manage your public presence and persona, and will be your priority channel for crisis management and to tag and engage openly with alumni, partners, and industry.

How can you use these platforms?

WeChat is your email newsletter-style communication in China, low frequency but high-quality content. Weibo is your central rich multimedia platform for social interaction and engagement; it’s about microblogging and trends. It’s also extremely important that the content we post is in Chinese; you want this content to reach as broad an audience as possible, and show that you take the Chinese market seriously.

Can you use your U.S. content for China?

Not always. This can be a sensitive marketplace, and it’s important to tread lightly with this (or use experts such as PingPong Digital). One misstep and you can cause a controversy that can be very costly to recover from. Having a sound Chinese social media comms strategy is vital to the success of these platforms, and with Chinese students taking up the largest demographic of the international student population, it is certainly an area worth investing in.

Are there other platforms?

Yes, you can use other digital channels in China: Bilibili has been gaining a lot of attention recently, along with Douyin (TikTok) and Toutiao (the Apple News of China). However, we prefer to treat the suitability of these on a case-by-case basis, and depending on what your goals and objectives are, there will be different platforms that warrant your attention.

So is it only WeChat and Weibo?

Outside of these two social platforms, other must-haves are a Chinese website. This website should not be just a translation of your existing website (and please never use the Google translate plugin), it is best to create a micro version of your website that is optimized for China. Going beyond a micro-site, you can also look to develop social media optimized pages (called H5). PingPong Digital has created successful H5s for Harvard University and Purdue University, among others, as these create great performance-driven campaigns. These sites must be hosted and optimized for access inside of China because we need Chinese parents and even grandparents to have access to this content; let’s not assume everyone speaks English, especially key decision-makers or industry leaders.

Paid media

There are several paid channels we can use in China. Outside of social media, there are search engines, blogs and forums, news outlets, influencers (KOL’s), as well as other online verticals. Pretty much all of these have one thing in common, you need to be verified to use these features, so before you can even begin to look into these options, we first must get you up and running with a verified account. This is where an agency partner can really help.

PingPong Digital is an award-winning full-service Chinese digital marketing agency that is recognized around the world for its expertise in helping brands to scale and succeed in China, and is the only Western company to be a trusted partner of Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, and Toutiao. PingPong Digital has flagship office locations in New York, London, and Birmingham, UK, and Shanghai. A leader in the education sector, it has worked with over 100 education providers on their Chinese marketing activities. With an annual growth rate exceeding 100% year on year for the past five years, PingPong Digital has proven itself to be the go-to agency for expertise on the Chinese market.