Fast economic development leading to an increasing income enables more and more middle class families in China to send their children abroad for better education and job opportunities.
According to China’s Ministry of Education, the number of Chinese who went abroad in 2018 was 662,100 – up 9% from 2017. What has been found is that studying abroad is no longer reserved for the elite few but rather most who want to go, can go.
Chinese students account for over one-third of all foreign students studying in the United States. Almost 90% paid their own tuition costs; these students, while in the US, spend approximately US$11 billion!
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To compete for Chinese students, foreign institutions shouldn’t passively wait for students to approach them or let all the discussions, reviews, feedbacks about them float freely in China social media world.
The robust development of digital platforms and a huge number of Internet and mobile users in China create opportunities for Western schools and universities to establish their brand names online, more quickly and less costly than traditional methods such as events, fairs, visits…
This article is dedicated to suggesting and explaining the most suitable platforms as well as how to maximize them for the branding purpose of foreign schools, universities, and institutions in China.
1. Toutiao – The leading news and information platform
Toutiao is one of the most popular news combined with short video platforms in China. Different from traditional news portals such as Sohu, Tencent, Sina or 163.com, Toutiao uses AI technology, which analyzes users’ unique browsing histories, locations as well as smartphone mobiles to bring them a very well customized feed of news, articles and videos.
Since Toutiao owns a large base of the young audience from 18 to 30 years old, a good portion of what it provides is bite-sized and Buzzfeed-style stories along with cartoons, GIFs, live streaming shows, short videos and interactive Q&A channels to keep people entertained.
The homepage of Toutiao, with news recommendations from the AI
By March 2018, the Toutiao App’s daily active users reached over 200 million, with an average opening it 9 times per day and using it 76 minutes per day.
Known as the No. 1 intelligent content distribution platform in China, it has got over 1.1 million publisher accounts, which update over 380,000 pieces of contents and achieve 4.2 billion views per day.
Marketing on Toutiao
1. First, open an account
Toutiao created the function of ‘Toutiao Hao’, which is, companies can register an account to post articles on the platform to gain followers.
They are reportedly achieving higher read rates than typical WeChat accounts, likely because Toutiao is not a closed network, users don’t have to be connected first to view content from an Official Account.
Various renowned news firms such as CCTV news and People.cn have joined to seek greater exposure through the platform.
Universities should establish an official account to publish contents frequently on Toutiao to gain more exposure. Since Toutiao is very good at distributing the right contents to the right people, you can reach out to people who are looking for information like what you are providing, gaining them as potential students for your schools.
Read more about how to create an official account on Toutiao here: https://www.marketingtochina.com/how-to-register-a-toutiao-business-account/
2. Advertisers benefit from targeted push content
News apps such as Toutiao have a wealth of data on users preferences for content, news, articles and conversation topics. Users select specific categories based on preferences.
This is a powerful tool for advertising, simply because your ad can be pushed to a users feed, it also appears in-line with relevant news & entertainment content that is TAILORED to the end-user, this results in a more TARGETED ADVERTISING.
What are the main benefits?
• Pushed Ads to more targeted Users
• Ads appear in-feed, they are therefore more qualified and newsworthy
• There is a strong culture of clicking on ads on Toutiao. Ad content can be linked-to HTML5 contact forms for lead generation OR be used to drive traffic.
Ad inserted into the feed based on targeted content for the user
In July 2016, Toutiao launched a new channel called Q&A, an open discussion community. Registered users can share their experiences and opinions in specific fields under questions and interact with other users.
Toutiao will recommend answers to users in the news feed and Q&A channel.
Toutiao Q&A matches questions with interested users using natural language processing and user profiling and automatically invites them to answer certain questions.
Such Q&A forum allows you to:
- Research to understand what Chinese users are talking about when it comes to studying abroad
- Answer related questions in your field to enhance your school credibility
- Boost engagement with the targeted audience
2. Douyin – The leading short video platform for Gen Z people
Douyin (English name is Tiktok) has attracted a lot of attention from marketers and the media. This is the go-to platform if you want to target Gen Z.
Considering that university students are actually Gen Z people, Douyin is the platform that your schools should focus on.
Douyin is a short-video platform where users can create and publish their 15-second or fewer videos.
From the content creator perspective, Douyin offers extensive tools from background music, clips from TV shows to limitless filters, enabling users to create videos at their fingertips.
From the user perspective, Douyin is full of funny and interesting videos pushed by algorithm learning from your engagement behaviors. And the video contents are mostly entertaining, grab your attention and end in less than 15 seconds leaving you an itch of wanting to see more.
From the brand perspective, Douyin can help brands access Chinese Gen Z. Till mid-2018, it had reportedly hit 500 million global monthly active users, most of whom are young people aged from 15 to 22-year-old. In China, 85% of its users are under 24-year-old and over 60% are female.
Marketing on Douyin
1. Make creative videos about your school
Douyin is more about fun and connection than information. So, you can think of making short videos about your schools such as the beautiful campus, extra activities, student life… to engage Chinese youngsters as well as provide them with some overview of the atmosphere at your schools.
Chinese young people are very hungry for new things, new discoveries. That’s why even random videos about life in rural areas in China are popular. Your videos can also be viral on Douyin as long as you bring the audience fresh, fun and creative videos!
2. Hashtag challenge
You can engage Douyin’s users to create contents for you through hashtag campaigns.
Michael Kors is the first luxury brand working with Douyin. In The Walk Shanghai event in 2017, MK invited a group of Douyin KOLs to create a series of Douyin-style short videos showing them doing a catwalk in Michael Kors apparels and started a “City catwalk” hashtag challenge to encourage other users to upload videos using the custom Michael Kors video filter.
MK’s challenge achieved over 5 million times playing of the videos posted by the KOLs and 30,000 user-generated videos under the hashtag.
This type of hashtag challenge is a major feature on Douyin and also an effective way for schools to engage young target consumers.
3. Douyin-Style Commercial ads
Apart from the hashtag challenge, Douyin is also inspiring a new style of video commercials with its cooperation with brands.
These commercial videos look just like any user-generated fun videos on its platform and thus are not regarded as an interruption on Douyin, but become the content itself.
Their Douyin-styled ads change the audience’s perception of commercials and create lots of buzzes.
3. Wechat – the leading social media and China’s No.1 Super APP
Wechat is the most powerful and multi-functional app in China with more than 1 billion users.
It’s a messaging app (like Whatsapp), has social newsfeed feature (like Facebook) as well as online payment and links to numerous 3rd party platforms where you can perform different other activities such as food ordering, buying movie tickets, calling a taxi, online shopping… and pay immediately by its online payment tool Wechat Pay all within the app.
Marketing on Wechat
1. Create a Wechat Official account
There are two most popular account types for business: WeChat Subscription account and WeChat Service account.
Each has different characteristics and set up process.
You can read more here: https://www.marketingtochina.com/rules-for-wechat-official-accountcontact-us/
2. Content marketing
Like any social media, your Wechat account can push articles or news to your followers; however, with Wechat, articles are sent under the message form into fans’ inbox.
This creates a sense of intimacy and captures more chance of followers seeing and reading your content.
The contents you create should be interesting, useful and different enough to maintain and convert the interested audience. Or else, they would just easily quit following an account if they think the account is not providing any special value.
With Wechat official account, universities should frequently update prospective students and their parents about the positive aspects of your university and city. Think local news, cheap living costs (properties, cheap food, etc.) and prestigious awards – anything that shows prospective students why they should travel all the way to your city!
3. Wechat Mini-programs
WeChat Mini Programs are sub-applications within the WeChat ecosystem that allow users to access any Web App by without leaving WeChat. It can also be seen as your website or your app but its mini version which can operate within Wechat.
Education is the third of the top 5 Mini Program Categories
Compared to the fixed interface of Wechat official account, Wechat Mini-programs can be designed to be more interactive, more beautiful and better organized.
Constant updates on Official Account and mini-programs keep users informed and newly released information can be spread rapidly through sharing on WeChat Moments and group chats.
4. Creative campaigns with H5 pages
H5 is an interactive platform that allows brands to create interactive campaigns. This can include games, invites, animations, mobile shaking triggers, and many other interactive platforms.
Schools and universities can think of quizzes, Q&A session, games… to entertain and engage users, making them want to share the campaigns with their friends and thus schools can gain more awareness and new followers.
Education can be not-boring at all if you are creative enough! Don’t forget to couple your campaigns with prizes and gifts to attract users. Exploration trips to your schools/ universities, e-books on certain topics, e- postcards, or even hongbao (lucky money in China) can be interesting.
4. QQ and QZone are Popular Among Students
With almost 1 billion active monthly users, media conglomerate Tencent’s QQ is one of the world’s largest social networks.
QQ provides users chat forums, music streaming, emails, and instant messaging. Universities could send targeted promotional materials to potential Chinese students, like what schools in the Western world are doing on WhatsApp.
Colleges can use Qzone to share photos and videos. It is also popular for blogging, with many users posting every day; universities could easily use their own blog articles on the site after translating the content to Chinese.
They could go further by inviting current Chinese students to contribute content and share their study experiences.
5. Weibo – A social media for viral content
Sina Weibo is often simply called “Weibo” (the Chinese word for “microblog”), is a leading micro-blogging platform in China.
Not only does it serve as an efficient channel for netizens to create, distribute and discover content, but also as an effective information center for the latest topics and social issues.
With more than 462 million monthly active users on the platform, many international companies have registered for Weibo official accounts to promote their brands in China.
Marketing on Weibo
1. Open an official account
Weibo official account is another home of your brand where followers can find the latest information about your schools/ universities as well as reviews about them.
2. Content marketing
With the official account, companies can improve brand recognition and loyalty by posting information about the latest product launches and launching promotional campaigns and can improve customer service and engagement by interacting with fans.
To compose an engaging message, businesses can make use of the media-rich nature of Weibo to create multimedia content including things like videos, pictures, live streaming, and adding emojis in their posts.
Besides, the “@tag” function enables users to tag relevant parties in the posts, while the “#hashtag” function leads users to a dedicated page that garners all posts with the same topic. To lead users to a specific website, you can also insert a link in the message.
3. Creative campaigns
Different from Wechat where your campaigns can only be circulated around who have already subscribed to your account and depend greatly on whether your followers will share them to their friends or not, Weibo is a more open and public platform where non-fans can also see and interact with your campaigns.
You can get creative with different kinds of campaigns such as encouraging ex-Chinese students to share their experience with your schools/ universities to receive prizes, or quizzes, re-post campaigns, events, lucky draw …
4. Weibo advertising
As a social media platform, which earned 1.5 billion in marketing and advertising revenues last year, Weibo has done very well in providing advertising solutions for businesses on the platform. It has introduced several advertising packages which include display ads, search engine promotion, newsfeed ads, and video ads, which are popular among companies in different industries.
Advertising is a great choice to push your content to the bigger base of the targeted audience, especially when your official account is still new and focusing on gaining more followers.
We wrote in details about this area: https://www.marketingtochina.com/guide-weibo-advertising/
6. KOLs marketing, A Must-Have Marketing Tactic
KOL marketing is one of the most effective marketing tactics in China regardless of what industry you are in.
In education, there are also thought leaders and high-achieving individuals whose opinions can influence the choices of millions of Chinese young people.
Especially in China where hosted-outside-China websites are not loaded easily and quickly as well as the contents from abroad are strictly regulated, it is not convenient for Chinese students to research and learns about a foreign school unless that school has already a quite good establishment in Chinese online world. Therefore, opinions from others and influencers are critical to making decisions regarding overseas education.
You can get KOLs who have studied at your university or spent time in your local city to promote your university and provide a direct link between your students and you! They can answer questions, upload posts and ‘survival guide’ videos on how to get the most out of your overseas program!
Influencer marketing helps your schools/ universities quickly reach the mass number of targeted customers as well as build trust. However, finding the right KOLs as well as cooperating effectively with them requires experience and understanding into the market. For China, it is even more challenging.
KOLs in China typically sign deals with agencies to lock in pricing and find consistent work. A large amount of KOLs in China operate under these types of arrangements.
In many cases, the easiest way to get started with KOL marketing is to work with an agency. In reality, though it’s often better to work through an agency than to try and go it alone.
Brands can actively communicate to the agency their unique KPIs and Goals and allow the agency to find the best KOL for the job. They also will manage the campaigns to ensure it goes smoothly, potentially saving brands from some major headaches in the execution process.
7. Zhihu – The leading Q&A platform
Zhihu is a Chinese question-and-answer platform similar to Quora. Its motto is “Share your knowledge, experiences, and thoughts with the world.”
As of June 2018, it had 180 million registered users and 35 million monthly active users.
This is where users get on to ask and answer questions about more “serious” topics rather than just entertainment, game shows or celebrities…
There are many questions and answers happening on this platform related to overseas education.
Marketing on Zhihu
1. Q&A Campaigns
University lecturers can set up accounts and answer any questions prospective Chinese students and parents might have. By offering help and guidance, you will create a positive experience and awareness for your university for those reading the reviews.
2. Zhihu Live
In May 2016, Zhihu released “Zhihu Live,” allowing eligible individuals, brands and organizations to conduct online presentations on specific topics. Zhihu Live creates opportunities for you to provide in-depth knowledge, have a discussion and communicate with users in a more direct way.
3. In-depth articles
With Zhihu Column, individuals and brands can publish articles with in-depth, professional knowledge to offer more values and attract potential customers.
8. Baidu – The leading search engine
Baidu is the leading Chinese search engine which owns nearly 80% of market share.
More often, potential students will search for top universities on Baidu. They are unlikely to search for a specific university. That’s why it is crucial for you to come out as a top search result.
SEO is the ultimate way to increase your presence on Baidu after a user has entered certain keywords or phrases.
Read more here:
SEO in China would take at least 6 months with multiple keyword-optimized contents in the local language as well as other techniques which are not the same as Google.
In return, appearing as top results on Baidu for related keywords can get you high-quality traffic, who really care and have the intention to study abroad.
We are a digital marketing agency specializing in the Chinese market. If you want to take advantage of opportunities in the Chinese education market, we can support you in your projects. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information.
Our specialties: the e-reputation of your school, the optimization of your website on Baidu (the first search engine in China), lead generation, and digital solutions (social networks, website creation, and content marketing).
NB: No need to invest 6.5 million dollars! We adapt to all budgets.