The impact that COVID-19 had on the international education sector is often making headlines. One of the less-discussed issues though is the fallout that international travel restrictions and border closures had on a related sector: purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).
There’s no doubt that PBSAs had an extremely tough year due to the shift to remote learning and the majority of campuses remaining closed for much of the last 18 months. Yet, given the progress of the vaccine rollout in the US, UK and Canada, as well as easing restrictions, there’s reason for optimism that onshore international student numbers will soon rebound in these countries.
Choosing a place to live has always been a critical decision for international students, yet even more so in the aftermath of the pandemic. Information about health and safety protocols as well as access to support in the case of an emergency will be ranked higher than usual on the priority list and PBSA providers who adapt their messaging to meet the changing needs are going to come out ahead of their competitors when it comes to attracting international students.
When and how Chinese students research their accommodation options
PBSAs have a natural advantage over other sectors reliant on the international student market, particularly when it comes to China.
A University of Technology Sydney (UTS) study that was run both pre and during COVID found that looking for somewhere to live in a new country is one of the most important decisions in settling in, with most international students (63%) finding their accommodation before arrival. Additional analysis showed that an even higher rate (74%) of students from North-East Asia were most likely to have pre-organised their accommodation.
Crucially when it comes to PBSAs, social networks (including social media) were important to finding a home—students from Southern and Central Asia were most likely to use one of these social networks (61%).
With over 1.2 billion active monthly users, there’s no doubt that WeChat needs to be part of the digital marketing mix for PBSA marketers wanting to attract Chinese international students. A staggering 33.5% of WeChat users are younger than 24, while 19.1% are over 41 years old. This means WeChat is not only the place PBSAs to reach Chinese students, but also to attract the attention of their parents who play an important role in the decision-making process. Here are some tips on how PBSA marketers can get the most value out of their WeChat official account.
The basics of WeChat marketing for PBSAs
There are four basic principles when using WeChat in your Chinese student digital marketing.
1. Create content that resonates
Putting time and energy into WeChat content that resonates with students is key and creating this content also increases brand engagement, with our own research showing content that offers practical advice offers great cut-through. Given housing brings up so many practical questions for Chinese international students, this bodes well for using WeChat to market your PBSA.
Build an editorial calendar that addresses students’ most frequently asked questions and that eases the concerns of their parents. You could even get current students involved and ask them to share their personal experiences via your WeChat official account. This approach does not only make your content more engaging but also helps you to build trust with prospective students through this authentic perspective.
2. Use QR codes
While QR codes may have become something the West is now embracing to help manage COVID-19, they have long been used in China and are a great way to connect with Chinese students who are highly familiar with them. QR codes are also a core part of WeChat’s functionality. Include a trackable QR code to your WeChat official account on other on- and offline marketing material in China to grow your following and understand the effectiveness of different channels.
3. Build relationships
WeChat can assist you in building relationships with students while encouraging positive word-of-mouth. A great example of this is users using WeChat to resolve issues quickly, making it the perfect platform to provide fast and convenient customer service. For instance, WeChat chatbots can be configured to provide an instant response to frequently asked questions. It’s a feature that’s not only relevant to prospective students but also those currently living on your premises.
4. Invest in ‘Moments’ advertising
WeChat’s Moments advertising targeting features provide you with the opportunity to reach Chinese students and their parents with messaging that speaks to their needs. The WeChat tagging does not only allow you to target ads by geography and demographic but also based on their interests with education being one of the targeting options, meaning that you can get your message across to an audience who is actively researching degree options.
WeChat Moments advertising is critical for PBSAs to grow their following and ultimately take advantage of the potential viral effects of the app’s content sharing features. This being said, we usually recommend to our clients to wait with running paid media promotions until some content has been published on their WeChat official account. This means visitors acquired through paid activity are more likely to follow the account as they can get a sense of the type and quality of content they can expect to receive.
Getting started with your WeChat marketing journey
Sinorbis is always available to help PSBAs with their China digital marketing via our purpose-built software designed specifically to navigate China’s digital ecosystem. Reach out today and let’s begin the process of seeing rooms in your facility once again filled with students.