How to put yourself in front of your target market.
GUEST COLUMN | by Sid Krommenhoek
The number of Chinese students coming to the United States from China has tripled in the past ten years, with a significant growth in self-funded students coming for undergraduate study, and the trend looks to be going nowhere but up. According to British Council’s The Future of the World’s Mobile Students to 2024, China and India will account for two-thirds of the international student growth in the United States from 2011 to 2024. If history is any teacher, understanding your target market, and even more importantly, knowing how to put yourself in front of them, is of paramount importance. The days of attending an education fair and reaping strong results are gone. Students have become extremely technology and world savvy, and fairs are at the bottom of their list of influencers (Zinch China 2013 Student Survey).
The Internet has become the number one most influential resource for students in the overseas college search process (Zinch China 2013 Student Survey). Knowing the right online platforms to connect with and influence students is going to become increasingly critical as the rising generation is being raised in a fast-paced Internet and mobile world. Remember, though, that your well-oiled US-based online platforms are going to have a difficult time penetrating the China market. Here we find ourselves entering a new world of Chinese Internet resources, including the increasingly in7fluential social media platforms.
Getting Started with Chinese Social Media
Internet penetration in China has risen dramatically in the last seven years, which is affecting all aspects of Chinese life, most importantly students’ lives. A strong push has taken Internet penetration from just 8.5% in 2005, to 42.1% in 2012. This significant increase has brought with it the demand and supply of means for connecting with each other, including popular native social media platforms. If you are not aware, China has tight regulations on foreign social media that restrict the use of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Users have adapted to China’s equivalent platforms, with the most common being Renren and Weibo, the equivalents of Facebook and Twitter, respectively.
While nearly anyone can get started on these platforms, institutions that wish to obtain the coveted institutionally verified accounts are often faced with lengthy and complicated applications. The process will be easier if you have a Chinese student or faculty member help you gain access to these platforms. Or, look to third parties that can help you with the process (due to unique partnerships with Renren and Weibo, Zinch China can help you obtain verified accounts at no cost). Before you jump in, though, be sure you have the resources to maintain your presence. Setting up accounts then letting them go stagnant will do nothing more than hurt you when students find nothing of substance.
Best Practices & Tips
Running a US-based social media platform may be second nature for you, and while the following recommendations may seem overly simplistic, they are important. Keep these best practices and tips in mind to create a social media presence that will not only attract students, but engage them.
- Language – You are using a Chinese social media platform trying to connect with Chinese students. So, do yourself a favor and post in Mandarin. Your messages will be better received, re-posted more often, and have a more significant affect than if you post in English. Whatever you do, avoid posting in Mandarin with a translation service like Google Translate.
- Timing – Be aware of when your audience is online so your messages show up at the top of their feeds. As you get started this might need to be a shotgun approach until you have enough information to analyze user trends, which are available through back-end tools on the platforms. As a general rule of thumb, though, be aware of time differences and don’t post while your audience is asleep.
- Consistency – Once you get started, don’t stop! Don’t let your travel schedule, vacation, or other events stop your momentum. The market doesn’t rest, and neither should you. If you need to, assign multiple people to manage the accounts.
- Varied Content – Avoid posting only words. Keep it fresh with pictures, videos, and links.
- Strategic Following – Don’t wait for students to come to you. Proactively follow thought leaders or other influential individuals within the platform to put you in front of more students and build a stronger following. Don’t forget to connect with your alumni, either!
With over 80% of your target market using China’s social media platforms, it is worth your time to explore your institution’s ability to manage your own presence in these spaces. You will be surprised how excited and engaged your current and former Chinese students will be.
Be a pioneer. Do something new. Break out of your shell. China is waiting.
Sid Krommenhoek is International Business Leader at Chegg, an online textbook rental company. Sid is also a leader in the edtech industry and an experienced entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience in China, sales, startups, and leading winning teams. He is the founder of Zinch, a Chegg service. Find him on twitter @krommenhoek Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org