City University London: A Weibo Case Study
Weibo is the biggest social network in China, and many universities are already using it to communicate with Chinese audiences. Matt Baron is Digital Marketing Executive at City University London with responsibility for international marketing. In this Q&A, he explains some of the lessons they’ve learnt from using Weibo at City.
Why did you decide to set up a Weibo account?
City’s population of staff and students has always reflected the multicultural nature of the capital. Around 25% of staff are from 50 countries beyond the UK. Our student population is even more diverse, with approximately 50% of City students coming from more than 160 countries. The global feel of the University is in no way a coincidence.
One of the reasons we set up a Weibo account was because the University’s Strategic Plan places a strong emphasis on internationalisation and the recruitment of some of the most able students from around the world. A great deal of that responsibility falls to the International Recruitment team, part of the University’s Marketing & Communications department.
How do you manage it? Who posts the content and how do you work with them?
As our profiles need to be regularly updated with content of interest to the Chinese audience, we decided to hire our first ever Chinese social media assistant, Bei Shi (known as Claire). Claire has been working with the Digital Team team since January 2014 and is a current City University London student. She ensures that all the latest news at City is shared with our Chinese followers whilst responding promptly to any general enquiries from potential students.
Who are your followers?
Sina Weibo is one of the largest social platforms available in China, with more than 500 million registered users it is the Chinese equivalent to Twitter and Facebook.
Initially the majority of our followers were current students who discovered we had a profile on the microblogging site. After our first Weibo anniversary we discovered our follower base has slowly been changing from current to potential students with the majority of our visitors being from mainland China providing potential opportunities to target new markets.
How do you decide what to post?
Our social media assistant Claire posts the latest news from City to our followers. These updates include a variety of topics that potentially appeal to current or future students. It’s important to be aware of the cultural differences between the UK and China, posting content that reflects why people come to London and study is vital as it will appeal to the target market.
With such a large Chinese student community this provides us with the perfect opportunity to portray the life of a student through Chinese eyes. This can include current student’s blogging about their experience at City University London or creating video content in Mandarin to engage with the local audience.
As a University we are lucky to have several Chinese-specific clubs and societies who organise a variety of events at the University and around London encouraging engagement within the community. Our China Future Leader Society won a prestigious prize and is now endorsed by the one of the biggest TV channels in China, CCTV (Chinese Central TV). Keeping your content varied will enable you to keep your audience engaged.
What content seems to work best for you?
Due to our location in the heart of London we have some fantastic content right on our doorstep! With images or video content using London as our backdrop we can capture the imagination of our users by providing an insight into what life is like at the University.
We post content every day – this can simply be advice on how to join the University or providing help and guidance about visas, scholarships or funding options.
What have been the biggest challenges?
In China, many typical social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are banned; therefore all content has to be tailored to a Chinese audience. For example we are currently in the process of creating Mandarin-specific videos as many of our current ones on YouTube cannot be played due to the ban and we have uploaded them to YouKu; the Chinese-specific platform.
The biggest challenge whatever you are doing in China is the red-tape, with so many Government rules and regulations it’s often difficult to operate in the same way you would with a typical Social platform. For example you cannot join Weibo unless you have an office or official based in China.
As Sina Weibo is predominantly used in China, the majority of content is in Mandarin. A younger Chinese audience tend to love all things Western, and whilst some companies post in English, we believe to get the right level of engagement it is essential to post in the local language.
With many universities chasing the same students it is often very difficult to stand out from the growing crowd of UK institutions trying to appeal to Chinese students. With Chinese education standards rapidly improving, this also provides another challenge to tempt people to study abroad.
What advice would you give to other people thinking of setting up an account on Weibo?
Sina Weibo require all companies to either be based in China or have an office/official based in the country, therefore if you are thinking of setting an account up it might be wise to investigate your options first.
Once you’ve established if you can create an account we would highly recommend hiring a fluent Mandarin speaker, this can be done using a current student or via an agency. This is important so you are portraying the right message on your account, knowing your audience is key. If your message doesn’t appeal to the right market you’ll soon discover that you’ll have very few followers.
It’s essential when creating content in a local language for it to be verified, this can be done via an agency or a native colleague. As a University we are lucky to have several Mandarin speakers who can check the accuracy and content of the messages.
If you are interested in finding out more about Weibo, or creating a strategy to engage the Chinese market, you might be interested in speaking to our Chinese social media specialist, Altman. Or you can take a look at our recent blog posts: