A case study of UK Universities’ use of #Weibo accounts

3 07 2013

Sina Weibo is the most popular microblogging site in mainland China, considering Twitter is blocked there. According to Sina executive Jason Ge, 33% people in China are social media users and Sina Weibo has 536 million registered users.

Having worked as a freelance researcher and consultant, I managed the Weibo account for Durham University and I am currently monitoring the Weibo account for Aston University to releasing news in Mandarin and communicating with both current and prospect Chinese students.
aston page
It all started with a project with Nick Pearce (See @drnickpearce) from Durham University. We looked at UK universities’ use of Chinese social media site Weibo. I created a Weibo account for Durham and got the account verified. I then looked at many other Universities’ Weibo accounts and did some comparative analysis to explore good practices by those early adopters.

I explored the top 6 universities in terms of Weibo follower numbers—University of Huddersfield, University of Central Lancashire, Kingston University, University of Sheffield, University of Westminster and Bristol University. I compared two universities’ Weibo posts and followers on two dates, namely 27 August 2012 and 17 February 2013. They are University of Sheffield and University of Westminster. Both of them are active Weibo users with many followers and many posts. Westminster’s posts increased the fastest from 535 to 3830 by 616%. They had a blog and often posted summary of a blog post and the link to the blog, introducing study abroad information or information about the university. Sheffield’s posts increased from 1263 to 2000 by 58%. However, Sheffield’s followers increased from 6333 to 8932 by 41% and Westminster’s followers increased from 6097 to 6918 by 13%. So why Westminster’s increasing post had not brought them as many followers as Sheffield who posted way less often?

The answer seems to be ‘interaction’. After exploring the contents on Sheffield’s Weibo page, it is clear that their Weibo account has actively interacted with students and kept it down-to-earth. They have many posts and reposts showing activities in campus and students lives, such as speed-dating event, students eating dinner together and job fair. When students asked for a question regarding to a post, the official account replied in detail. It gave the sense to other student readers that University of Sheffield (account owner) care about them and would communicate with them if they try. Another strategy is to ask question to their followers. For example, Sheffield posted a picture and asked ‘who knows where this is?’ Many students replied. It fostered interaction—not only Sheffield official account interacted with followers, but followers also interacted with each other as they saw there was a relaxing environment when people could discuss things freely.

Bristol’s followers also increased fast in 6 months as their official account actively interacted with students. For example, they congratulated a particular student’s graduation by replying to her post. On Bristol’s account’s message board, they commented on almost every message, thus they had got a lot of questions from students. Kinston only got 3 messages at the time of 17 February 2013. This is probably because Kingston University outsourced their Weibo work to an agency while they only released news rather than communicating with students.