Why Chinese content marketing for universities is the single most effective strategy for recruiting students from China.This guide will give you a complete overview of how and why Chinese content marketing for universities is the single most effective strategy for recruiting students from China. It will also provide details of what subjects you should lead with, and how to maximise use of Chinese social media.
What makes Chinese content marketing so effective
Chinese content marketing is so uniquely profitable because prospective students from China, and their parents, undertake exhaustive research to find the right course and campus. They are looking for you. Content marketing is the perfect bridging point.
The audience is looking for content that you can provide – your targets come to you, and if you engage with them successfully they will follow you, and become advocates that recruit for you. Communication feels natural, organic, and audience centric to create connections that move prospects down the recruitment funnel, emitting sales messages and answering vital questions along the way.
A comparative study of Chinese social media output coming from the UK higher education sector identifies poor messaging in nearly every case. More than 2,500 UK education institutions were found to make recruitment posts on Chinese social media every month, yet content was consistently similar with little variation that stood out, and no compelling information or calls to action.
Successful use of content marketing will make you stand out from the herd. It will enable you to establish authentic authority for serving the Chinese student community.
Organic engagement of this type outperforms all other forms of sales and marketing when selling to Chinese enrolment targets. There is simply no comparison in terms of bang for marketing buck.
In China, social media is the primary form of online research, not search engine, and both future students and their parents spend years planning, and building up to the point of enrolment at overseas universities. Their demand for information is insatiable, yet reliable information and good communication with universities is in short supply.
Last month, a well known Scottish university used Weibo to post details of hamburgers on its lunchtime menu. This type of messaging does nothing to sell the benefits of the institution. In particular, it shouts to the audience that we do not understand you, and we do not care.
Therefore, if you do generate relevant information, both prospective students and parents will know you care, and because you inform you will build positive reputation, and grow followers.
What good content will do for universities
Reach large target audience numbers
Builds brand authority
Creates individual engagement
Creates community engagement
Establishes thought leadership
Drives peer to peer recruitment recommendation
Generates high levels of assurance
Drives enrolment conversion
The mistake many universities make with content marketing is making social media channels the central focus. This usually centres on deciding to use Weibo or WeChat, or both, and looking at additional options such as Zhihu or Bilibili. While decisions about platforms need to be made for sure, they should never be the subject of the main focus. We will address what channels to use later on.
Before anything else you have to know your best targets. There are huge numbers of young people in China seeking to study abroad, and some are a perfect match for you. Your audience may be a minority of the whole, yet they will still number more than enough to make targeted marketing the best option.
Socrates said, ‘To know thy self is the beginning of wisdom,’ and this could not be truer when assessing university USPs for Chinese student recruitment. Very few universities in the UK, or elsewhere for that matter, know with certainty how they are truly perceived in China, and their best potential positioning, yet it is essential information.
What do you look like, what are your selling points, what are your weaknesses, what makes you stand out, what is your appropriate ideal branding, how can you achieve it? There is no substitute for an audit find out.
You cannot properly self audit. Despite the convenience of taking opinions from agents, and sales representatives in China, or current and past students, it will not do. Resulting information will be skewed by experience on the one hand, and self-interest on the other.
Because you cannot afford to compromise on the information that should form the building blocks of all Chinese recruitment sales and marketing, an audit should be undertaken by Chinese market research specialists. It will pay for itself many times over in the short, medium and long term. A backroom agency will present you with a report for a fee, but the task is too important for compromise.
At the same time, it is worth obtaining an assessment on who your closest rivals are, and what marketing is working for them. This enables you to keep one step ahead of your nearest opposition, and you can adapt and improve on the successful practices they employ – it is highly unlikely they will do the same back.
You need information based on thorough investigation. Apart from essential big picture information, it will identify important subjects you are likely to be unaware of, but can be quickly changed to make a major difference. This could be something as simple as recommending amending the methods of payment for courses, or the benefit of highlighting existing work opportunity partnerships with local businesses.
What may seem irrelevant can be a major barrier, or lost opportunity, and small incremental changes can lead to big outcomes, yet lack of knowledge will mean they remain unaddressed.
When producing Chinese social media content for universities, you need to concentrate of three key subjects in order to get the best return:
How to use content to convert students that hold offers
How to make current students social media advocates
How to make alumni social media advocates
If you master these subjects recruitment results will radically improve.
I have written a separate guide to the importance of offer conversion (link here). But if you have not read it, here is why it is so important.
In most years future Chinese students hold between four and six offers before deciding where to study. It means that 80 per cent of the time, the investment that goes up to and into the final stages of attempted recruitment by universities is completely wasted.
However, many prospective Chinese students that planned to enrol this autumn have deferred, and now want to ensure a place for next year as quickly as possible. The normal intake of 2021 is acutely aware of this, and fear the prime places will be snapped up. The result is a race with many individuals already holding between six and nine offers. Therefore, this can equate to a nearly 90 per cent recruitment wastage rate, and this is without accounting for those candidates that did not get as far as obtaining an offer.
To avoid being victim to high attrition, marketing should be aimed at successful conversion of offers. Because so few universities focus on offer conversion, and even fewer know how to do it, the opportunity is very considerable.
Along with alumni, the Chinese students studying at your university are your greatest marketing asset. Research consistently shows that family and peer recommendation followed by social media research are the most influential factors in deciding on where to study, and far more effective than alternatives such as education fairs or use of agents.
Leveraging current student experiences into Chinese content marketing makes it possible to achieve the perfect recruitment formula. You utilise the two most influential recruitment factors as one. To do this social media content should include the positive experiences of students, and when possible, match your established key selling criteria. But currently messages also need to incorporate reassurance about Covid 19, and related welfare subjects.
Persuading students to comment on their lives on social media is not a major task. Every Chinese student will already be undertaking a daily running commentary on several channels.
You will not be talking to the unwilling as long as you are open and genuine, and avoid being seen to indulge in any form of coercion.
Similar to using current students as ambassadors that promote their positive messages, alumni should also be used. However, there is an opportunity to extend the depth of information with alumni. It is possible to create a community in which members can broadcast the qualifications they acquired, what they learned and how experiences at university have helped in achieving success in their careers, and life overall.
Creating a library of success stories is a very powerful way to demonstrate the advantages of attending a university, and it will appeal to both prospective students and parents.
What is more, creating an active and growing alumni group is a highly identifiable way to illustrate not only the academic and career success stemming from study at university, it can be used to illustrate whole life experiences, including key activity such as cultural learning and travel opportunities.
Whole life experiences are increasingly important factors in the higher education decision making process, and endorsement of them from alumni speaks volumes. It is worth considering establishing a WeChat mini programme to host an alumni community to maximum effect.
There are a growing number of social media platforms applicable to the student recruitment marketplace. As well as Weibo and WeChat, you may consider use of Zhihu, Biilibili, and for promotion of post graduate courses, LinkedIn.
The general assumption is that the use of one or more new platforms does not equate to the need for more content output. You simply extend the same messages to other outlets. Fine in theory, except it does not work. It makes content look lazy and shallow, and reflects similarly on the university. New channels mean new content, not more of the same.
A practice that is even worse is translating copy from Facebook or Twitter and pasting into Chinese media. It cannot be stressed enough – the audience is extremely social media aware, and will instantly identify translations for what they are. It says we are dumping material on you whether you find it useful or not, because we do not value you enough to talk to you properly.
Content has to be specific to the audience every time. If it is not it will be recognised, reputation will be harmed, and followers you do have will unfollow.
Despite the additional effort involved in the use of new Chinese social media platforms, you should use them if they are being used by recruitment prospects. There is a simple reason for this. At least one rival university will be utilising it. If you do not, it will have free reign on some of your best candidates, which should not be allowed. You should be ahead of the game, not playing catch up.
Create your personality
This is a secret unknown to most university marketers. Their institution has a human like personality in China. If there is a presence it will have one, they just do not know what it is. But you can change it to make it interesting, match your branding goals, reflect your USPs, and encourage students to talk to you. A university personality can be selected from a broad range of personas ranging from being a well considered upperclassman, very British gentleman, to humorous scholar.
Choosing a personality profile is important. The right one will make the university stand out for all the right reasons. It will add meaning and resonance to everything you do. If you are unsure of what is right for you, and or how to establish it, consult a Chinese higher education marketing professional. Ask them to find the right characteristics to match your brand. Ideally, this should be done as an extension of your marketing audit.
Due to the traditional focus on ranking of universities, there is tendency to reference it frequently in marketing content. Yet it is of lesser importance in the Chinese recruitment market than it used to be.
It is whole life opportunities, and day to day experiences - even small details - that can make students from China feel welcome, and are such a good content topics.
For example, having a kettle in the library for making hot water drinks will resonate effectively on Chinese social media. Many Chinese people drink plain hot water, and providing the means to obtain it while studying shows understanding as well as care.
Highlighting lots of little wins that make students proud will generate a huge amount of positive social media interaction.
Culture and daily life in the UK holds a positive fascination in China. Much of this derives from English drama and history based films, and television programmes. Equally, future students want to understand what they will experience when they come to live here. They need to know what is expected of them.
Creating content on the rules of behaviour – the hidden ones particularly, and funny idiosyncrasies are guaranteed to trigger hot discussions. Funny or quirky story angles on UK life always result in positive extensive coverage that feeds on itself.
Quoting student feedback and comments publicly is a great way to successfully engage prospects through Chinese students currently studying with you. It is considered an honour to have opinion selected and used in official university accounts, and will trigger comment and discussion in a highly positive way. Rebroadcast messages will be picked up by recruitment prospects.
Soft skills are now key decision making factors that often supersede traditional selection criteria.
Soft skills can incorporate additional learning and experience opportunities such intern and work experience placement specifically for Chinese students, charity work, learning entrepreneurship outside of the course curriculum, and visits to companies.
The important criteria for soft skills are that they should enhance employability both in the UK and back home.
If in doubt ask, how would it look on a CV? If the answer is positive, it will probably be considered positive by future students, and should be used in content marketing.
Chinese understanding of Covid 19 in the UK is to a large extent, based on rumour. Fighting in shops over toilet paper, and nobody wearing masks is typical of the information circulating. It is therefore essential to reassure by creating a true picture of life in, and outside of campus.
In addition, social media content should include information based on three important subjects:
Future students and their parents, should understand what safety precautions exist to remain safe on campus. This includes the protocol for lockdown.
Beyond Covid 19 itself, there are a great many uncertainties new Chinese students face that many domestic counterparts take for granted. How to buy food online, how to register with a doctor, obtain prescriptions, obtain bedding on arrival, transfer from the airport to the university. Details of the welfare and wellbeing support provided by the university should be explained. These are all important subjects.
Producing guides for use on arriving in the UK, settling in, and living safely not only meets welfare requirements, it will attract high levels of social media attention, and generate effective positive branding.
Current regulations based on the geography of the university, and where students may have to travel should be given in full. Additionally, information should include rules about shops, transport, bars and restaurants, and public spaces such as libraries.
Content relating to Covid 19 may seem counter to the idea of selling, yet it is not. Future students and parents accept the realities of the desire to study overseas. What they want is to know is how to prepare. Fulfilling the information gap is a selling point.
Successful Chinese content marketing works so well because information resonates, and is compulsive to the target audience. The key factors are to be relevant, engaging and useful at all times. The audience must get value from it. If it does, you will build a large following, establish strong brand equity, and become a market and thought leader.
If you are going to do Chinese content marketing it is essential to commit to doing it to a very high level. It is not the environment for half measures. You will be on a very public stage, and have a very big target audience to showcase all your best features. Perform well and Chinese recruitment is transformed. It will create followers who will draw in lookalikes. It will move prospective students down the recruitment funnel to enrolment, and establish a social media information legacy to be seen by future students for years to come.