Weibo has become the most popular microblogging site in mainland China. Having realised the influence of Weibo, more and more overseas universities have started official accounts to broadcast news and some have tried to adopt this platform for marketing and communication with potential Chinese students. But it can be an experiment and quite difficult for many of the universities as there hasn’t been any standard practice out there to follow.
Following my work with Nick Pearce (@drnickpearce) on UK universities’ use of Weibo, I attended a training session by a team of marketing experts from Sina Weibo on June 2013 in London.The speakers included Jason Ge, Managing Director of Sina Marketing Department and Business; Lisa Wang, Project Director of Sina Weibo College & Senior manager of Sina Weibo Marketing and May Huang, Education E-Marketing Manager China, British Council.
Here are some notes of the highlights of the training session.
- Have an organised Weibo account—how to organise mass information—there must be a structure behind it.
- Introducing your universities—not just releasing things about yourself—but use other people’s resources, for example, influential people’s impression of your universities—alumni, students and parents’ talk about you in a good way.
- People are sending their only child abroad for boarding school, high school, universities, Master degree, etc. Weibo account is like a brand– it takes time to accumulate and occasionally it will get negative comments. Word of mouth—slowly defines how people think of you.
- Interact with and influence the parents of the students to build a good reputation with a group of parents.
Talk with students’ parents and through the students’ profiles to find their parents to communicate with. By communicating with the parents, the parents would have a good reputation of your universities.
For example, students might come to visit universities with their parents before choosing which university to attend. You could invite them for events and invite them to collaborate with you to marketing and promoting yourself.
If you are good, Chinese parents are very willing to tell others that their children are doing well. When they see their kids are being independent, the parents would be proud. If a few parents say your universities have good quality, good service, the following business will continue. The parents might tell their friends who also think about send their children to UK, a lot of good things about the universities. This influence could increase recruitment of students.
In order to have the potential customers (parents) to identify you as one of them, who care about children, you need to design the story—how you would like your kids to spend their time in the UK from the parents’ point of view.
- The essential information you need to deliver on your Weibo is to encourage people to interact with you.
You need to think about who your targeting audience are. If they are the potential students and you want them to think of you in a good way, you not only release things about the universities, but use other people’s resources—invite parents, organisation, governors, inviting influential bloggers to experience something, organise events for parents of students and let them distribute information about you on Weibo.
Successful co-operators not only tell a story, but collaborate with users to make stories.
Many Chinese people only have one child and as parents, they don’t know the difference of various universities. Thus Weibo is very important to release personality type of information about the universities instead of just about the degree which are on University official site. If Weibo release information about students participating volunteering activities and such outside their courses, parents would have a good idea of what their kids would experience.
Design social experiences, to encourage your customers to follow you and share content. For example, you could campaign a ‘photo on the go’ activity which encourage your current students to take pictures of the campus and town, then share on Weibo. You could also have a food journey for parents who are visiting UK and parents can share on Weibo.
The influential followers are more likely to repost your messages to more people. These could be current students, alumni, media celebrities, successful business owners, etc. Find the influential people (usually with a yellow V) and ask them to repost your messages.
Congratulate on students who have got offers and write Weibo post about it.
When students comment on something and @other students, you can interact with them (better than inviting them) because they already showed interest—interact, message, comment to build strong relationships.
You could also send private messages to students: hello, we are xxx, we hope xxx
You could build a students/alumni group and add them in your list. Then they will be part of your official account.
Invite students join offline activities to get them follow online.
Have a competition and incentives to encourage involvement, such as the photo on the go competition. The incentives can be something meaningful rather than expensive.
- Have a personality for the Weibo account—it should be a person with a personality.
You are a person instead of an organisation—for users, they are expected to see characteristics, speak same language & share same interests. You need to decide the image/style of your account–gentleman or down-to-earth? It should have a personal voice with character and down-to-earth instead of being the authority.
For example, China Merchandise bank’s Weibo account has the personality of a young female, easy going, a bit tempered and sentimental, as they are successful for their service.
A post having your voice as a person with a sense of humour, will be more likely to be reposted.
- Use and promote the use of # for themed topics; Use QR code for Weibo account—print them, promote them, put them on official site- make it more visible for more people to follow you.
- Link a few verified Weibo accounts to collaborate together.
Link lecturers, student, members of staff, organisation and departments Weibo profiles together if you have the man power, time and resources. If not, focusing on one official weibo account and interact with others can be successful too!
- Always be up to date with the current hot topic in China.
Use # of hot topic is likely to get your message visible to more people. For example, many UK based individual accounts got popular last year because of Olympic as Sina were pushing those topics for marketing.
Always tap into current topics, but not related with politics.
- Quality is more important than quantity!
- Subject Ranking, university ranking, tuition fees are important, but parents and students care about other issues— whether the city is good and safe to live, whether there is opportunity for internship, whether they can find a job afterwards, etc.
- A reliable resource (real people, friends’ friends, trusted celebrities) give accurate information and reasonable yet unbiased suggestions, they are more likely to be influenced.