How to use social media in China to recruit Chinese students: Marketing on WeChat

How to recruit Chinese students? The Chinese market is of significant importance to Western universities, with nearly half a million Chinese students choosing to study at higher education institutions in the UK, America and Canada in particular. However, successful marketing to this large and diverse market requires expert strategy conceptualisation and execution, along with mastery of distinct and localised social media accounts. Remember that Google, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram aren’t available in the country, and the local alternatives for social media in China require specific expertise to master. WeChat – the leading in-country social media platform – is the obvious focal point, but a high degree of knowledge is required to master the channel.

Mastering marketing to Chinese students on WeChat

WeChat is called Weixin in China and it is the No.1 social media platform in the country with a billion monthly users. This makes it a hugely powerful potential marketing platform for Western HE institutions wishing to engage with both Chinese students and their parents. Social media in China is already particularly sophisticated and popular and WeChat offers far more functionality now than it did upon launch in 2011 where it was largely akin to WhatsApp in the West. Key things for Western HE institutions to know about the platform are:

1. WeChat is the biggest social media platform in China and the biggest mobile content provider.
2. WeChat is more than ‘just’ a social platform. For example, it allows its users to shop online and even to make restaurant reservations and book taxis through its WeChat Pay system – and new, rich functionalities are being added all of the time.
3. Although WeChat is the fifth largest social media platform in the world after Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, its users spend the most time on WeChat – more time, in fact, than on Facebook, Twitter Instagram and Snapchat combined. A third of WeChat users spend four hours a day on the platform.
4. With access to the necessary knowledge, Western brands can now set up their own WeChat official account in order to make use of WeChat to market to Chinese students.

Top tips to engage Chinese students & their parents on WeChat

1. Arrange your WeChat official account setup

Until recently it was extremely challenging for a Western brand to set up a WeChat official account. Happily, in July this year, WeChat updated its policy to allow over 100 non-Chinese countries (including the UK, the US, European countries, Canada etc.) to open branded WeChat official accounts via an overseas business licensing scheme. The administration involved in the process is still more complex than many Western organisations are used to and more onerous than with Western social media equivalents, but a specialist Chinese marketing agency can make the process far easy by applying their local knowledge and expertise to facilitate the set-up. After all, for most Western HE institutions wanting to recruit Chinese students around their application calendar, time is of the essence and time must not be wasted on administrative delays!

2. Craft your WeChat marketing strategy

WeChat is valuable for brand building, campaign delivery, advertising, PR and engagement – but it can be complex for Western HE institutions to immediately understand the diverse needs, wants and aspirations of a vast potential Chinese audience with varied customer segments. Sensitivity towards local customs is vital, with consideration made towards factors such as language, localised customs and values, social norms and so forth. Professional Chinese marketing expertise from a specialist agency can be a wise investment in this regard, firstly in order to navigate complex requirements for Western brands to market on Chinese social media (often acting as barriers), and secondly to ensure that subsequent marketing campaigns are well-received, appropriate and effective.

3. Devise your WeChat content plan

Content is key to social media in China, and a successful HE marketing campaign to Chinese students and their parents will require a carefully crafted WeChat content plan with a schedule of weekly posts. Different types of media should be used – such as video, podcasts and text, in order to build followers, engage your audience and to generate quality application leads. All content must be optimised for mobile and content types must be well thought out and have specific purposes. For example, universities will want to promote the rankings, quality and calibre of their institution, the employment outcomes, exam results and prestige of having their institution’s name on the student’s CV. They will want to include content that talks about the rankings,  learner experience, the pastoral care and the support for onward career paths. Remember that Chinese students and their parents are interested in courses at prestigious, highly-reputable institutes which lead to excellent employment outcomes.

4. Set up WeChat advertising campaigns

Three types of advertising are available on WeChat – WeChat banner advertising, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) promotion and WeChat moments advertising. Banner ads are displayed at the bottom of article pages and they are performance-based, allowing for mid-campaign adjustment for optimum results. HE bands can direct users to follow their page, sign up to a customised recruitment page, download an app or request a brochure, for example. Moments are video or display based and like the Facebook newsfeed, blend with user content. These can work well for showing off beautiful campuses! KOLs use celebrities or influencers to provide trusted endorsements and they can be utilised by HE institutions if a well-known Chinese personality is a former alumnus or working to support the brand. Remember that regardless of the advertising approach you use, your institution will need a strong Chinese language website that is built around Chinese student and parent user personas. In all circumstances, a Chinese marketing agency can offer expert guidance and advice to optimise your campaign results and conversions in a timely, results-driven fashion.

Master marketing on WeChat with the experts

To find out more about how marketing on WeChat and other types of social media in China can help you to effectively recruit Chinese students to your higher education institution, contact the experts at MarketMe China. Our expert team have a rich pool of local knowledge and experience in the field and can help you to effectively optimise your marketing recruitment strategy for desired conversions and an attractive ROI.