Instant Messaging Apps for Higher Education Marketing and Communications: WeChat

By Posted in - China & Content & Higher Education & Instant Messaging & Mobile & Social Media & Social Networking & Student Marketing & Student Recruitment & Tools & University on October 29th, 2014 0 Comments

The next generation of students applying to university have been brought up glued to their smart phones, so engagement through these devices is essential for successful education marketing and communications. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the obvious platforms that come to mind, but what about instant messaging (IM) apps? How can universities use them to interact with their students?

In a three-part blog series, Emma Harley and I will be looking at WeChat, SnapChat and WhatsApp and what these apps have to offer a university.

To kick off, I am exploring WeChat, an innovative IM platform which gives you access to so much more than just conventional chatting.

WeChat currently holds the title for the fastest growing IM app in the world. Launched in China in 2011, it now has 438 million monthly active users, with the majority of those customers residing in Asia. Its popularity may be due to its large range of bespoke features, which create a fun and diverse messaging experience.

Several universities have already started to tap into WeChat’s wealth of users and are using it to communicate with students.

British institutions Birmingham City University (BCU) and London South Bank University (LSBU) have both recognised its presence in China, which has 355 million daily users alone. On their recruitment pages for Chinese students, LSBU asks students to connect with them on WeChat, whereas BCU wants students to strike up a conversation with them through the app.

Michigan State University (MSU) is using WeChat to enhance their international community on campus. Through WeChat, MSU send out news bulletins and inform students about campus news, parties, trips and cultural events. Although this approach isn’t directly aimed at recruitment, it creates a “shop window”, allowing prospective students to see what an internationally friendly campus the university has.

Alongside the established chat, group chat and video call features, WeChat boasts a variety of interesting attributes that universities can use to create simple yet unique campaigns to draw in WeChat users.

A screen grab from WeChat's website showing their feature buttons

Here are a few of my favourites and some ideas to get you started…

Unique ID
Set up your own unique ID so students can find you easily. You can then add this ID to images to share on your social media platforms which will help create awareness of your new WeChat account. QR barcodes can also be created and scanned, to make finding your account easier.

Comparable to the familiar Facebook Wall, Moments is a feed where you can share pictures and statuses with your friends. Create a relationship with your students by interacting with them on their Moments feed and replying to likes and comments on your own.

WeChat’s newest feature allows you to take a quick six-second video which you can post directly into a group chat or your Moments feed. Give loyal followers behind the scenes access to events by teasing them with exclusive video clips.

Walkie Talkie
This does exactly what it says on the tin. The feature allows members of a group chat to talk like you would on a Walkie Talkie and the voice message is played in real time. Group chats are limited to 30 members, but why not offer an exclusive group of people a live Q&A with a visiting lecturer, business employer or admissions officer.

Shake connects with people who are around you, needing location data to work. By simply shaking your phone you can find other people ‘shaking’ as well. Run a competition and get students to go to a place on campus at a certain time and shake. Those that are in your proximity can win an exclusive prize, which might be a discount code or free tickets to an event. Create hype about the WeChat Shake event through your social media platforms by posting clues about where the event will be happening.

Take it back to the old school like BCU and LSBU. Your students will be a long way from their natural environment so make them feel welcome by having an open door. In a regular chat conversation, welcome questions from newcomers and have your staff answer any queries they may have about settling in. Simple, yet effective.

Some other things you might want to take into consideration…

You need to set up a business account
There are two account options to pick from. The Service account is for universities that want to access to better WeChat features or there is the Subscription account which allows you to send more content. Choose which one is most suitable for your university and then send off your business proposal. You can do that here.

Get verified
To get verified you need to collect 1000 followers. You can get the ball rolling by running a competition on your other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to create excitement and awareness about your new app. And hit that all important follower target. Don’t forget to share your Unique ID and barcode so students can find you easily.

Image of CUCAS WeChat landing pageReally utilise what the app has to offer
China’s University and College and Admission System (CUCAS), a platform to help international students to apply to Chinese universities, allows students to track the progress of their application, make a dorm room reservation, transfer money and arrange a pick up service, all through WeChat. Create your own tabs that are customised to your students and their needs.

WeChat may be currently dominating mainly in Asia but Westerners should take note of the platforms potential and it’s rapid expansion rate. This app could soon become global so be ready for it to take root in your soil and don’t be left lagging behind.


Find out more about how Pickle Jar Communications can help with planning your approach to using digital technologies, working out what’s best for you and how to use it.  

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