When it comes to education providers like universities, one of the biggest difficulties is developing an effective content marketing strategy that speaks to all their different audiences. Universities have to market to prospective students, parents, education agents, current students and alumni, all of whom have very different needs and will be interacting with the university in completely different ways.
If that wasn’t complicated enough, imagine these audiences speak an entirely different language and operate in an entirely different digital landscape. This is what universities marketing to Chinese international students are contending with. Inevitably, one or more of these groups tends to get overlooked, which at best limits the university’s exposure, and at worst creates a negative impression among students and alumni.
It’s no wonder, then, that once we have helped universities set up their official WeChat accounts, we often get this question: how do we develop an effective WeChat marketing strategy for education?
In this post, we’ll reveal how WeChat can help you communicate with your key audiences, no matter what stage of the journey they’re in.
But first things first. Before you jump on to WeChat, it’s essential to have personas.
One of the first steps to developing an effective content marketing strategy for WeChat is creating well-developed, highly detailed personas – fictional characters that encapsulate a certain target group or audience, based on market research and real data.
Not only do personas help to ensure each target audience receives the information and messaging that is most relevant to them at each stage of the student journey, but the work that goes into developing personas gives you a great insight into what type of content and topics would resonate most with those audiences, making putting together a content plan a breeze.
We would recommend that universities start with a minimum of three personas:
- Prospective students
- Current students
Once you feel like these personas are well in hand, you could then move on to other relevant groups, such as:
- Parents of prospective students
- Education agents
Let’s take a closer look at the first three personas, and how universities might interact with them on WeChat.
You might think the most important audience in that group of personas is prospective students, and indeed this is where most universities tend to invest most of their energy and resources. But for established institutions, it can actually be more beneficial to focus initially on alumni.
A highly active alumni community can contribute to the health of the university in many ways, financially, in the way of monetary donations, and otherwise, via things like positive word-of-mouth and mentorships.
Of course, alumni aren’t going to feel particularly generous with their money or time if the university only calls when they want something. It is up to universities to regularly engage alumni in university life and earn their loyalty and support. So how do universities do this using WeChat?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Keep alumni informed about alumni events
Alumni events are a key means of keeping alumni actively involved in the university, and WeChat is a great way of letting alumni know about these events via messages, moments ads or official account pages.
Create WeChat content based on alumni success stories
Successful alumni are the university’s best advertisements. Consider approaching some key alumni about becoming ambassadors for the university and telling their success stories for WeChat posts and videos (as well as for other assets like the university’s website and alumni magazine). Not only is this very flattering for the alumni in question, but these real-life stories are very powerful ways of connecting with prospective students and showing them what might be possible if they choose to enrol in your institution.
Create WeChat groups where alumni can advise prospective students
The other benefit of alumni is they’ve gone through exactly what prospective and current students are going through now, and are therefore excellent sources of information and advice. You could use WeChat to set up groups where prospective students could ask questions to alumni directly about the application process or the university experience, or where current students could seek advice about employment or postgraduate education.
Create WeChat groups around topics of interest
Tap into alumni’s passion for certain subjects by creating forums for alumni and students to discuss shared areas of interest, whether that’s science, history, commerce, and so on. Alumni get the opportunity to share their knowledge, while prospective students get a taste of what it might be like to be in a stimulating educational environment.
Message alumni directly
Universities can also use WeChat to talk directly with alumni to seek advice and stay in touch. You could, for example, survey alumni about what type of events they wish they had seen when they were prospective or current students, or about the types of events alumni themselves would enjoy, or you could ask alumni to provide positive reviews for the university that you can then use in marketing collateral.
As you can see, there are myriad ways alumni can help generate and spread positive messaging about your university to prospective students in particular – which is why they should be a vital part of your content marketing strategy.
While the typical B2C customer journey is relatively straightforward – people become aware of a product, they consider purchasing it, and then they do purchase it – the journey to becoming a student is much more complicated. This is not surprising – the institution and degree you choose can have significant ramifications for the rest of your life, so students of course want to think long and hard about this decision and carefully weigh up all their options.
The student’s journey to enrolment can roughly be broken down as follows:
- Accepted offer
It’s crucial that university marketers address Chinese international students at each stage of this journey – and WeChat can be a great asset when it comes to reaching them.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage of the journey and how WeChat can help:
At the awareness stage, students are putting out feelers, and starting their research into potential destinations and institutions. Even at this early stage, the type of things they might look into can differ greatly. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, for example, might be more interested in the cost of living and scholarship opportunities, while students from higher socio-economic backgrounds may be more focused on global rankings and universities’ reputations.
During this stage, up to 72% of students use social media – including WeChat – to learn about particular institutions before making an initial enquiry. Universities therefore need to ensure their WeChat account has plenty of information in the way of blog posts targeted to students at this stage. Here are some examples of topics students might be interested in:
Information about the destination
QS Enrolment Solutions data suggests that while most university students at this stage of the pipeline will have decided on a preferred subject and course of study, less than half will have chosen the country they want to go to, and only a third will have settled on a preferred city. Their data also suggests that students are highly influenced by three factors:
- Hospitality – how welcoming and safe the destination is to international students; its reputation as a place of study
- Quality of institutions – how well-ranked institutions in the destination are
- Affordability– what the cost of living is like, what the cost of studying is like, how much available work there is
Information about the university
QS Enrolment Solutions data also suggests that only a third of students will have settled on an institution, so content about the university is of course also crucial. Three concerns are especially important to students:
- Graduate employment record – how likely students are to get jobs once they’ve completed their degree
- Student satisfaction – how happy and fulfilled students at the institution are
- Prestige – ranking and reputation are highly influential factors to Chinese students
At this stage of the journey, students are narrowing down their options and potentially reaching out to institutions to make direct enquiries.
Gated content is ideal for prospects at this stage of the journey, as it does not require significant levels of commitment on the part of the student while still giving institutions the opportunity to capture contact information, allowing a dialogue to begin. This content might delve deeper into the topics mentioned above, and/or collate it all into a single publication that is easier for students to peruse.
Universities should also ensure that students can chat with a representative directly on WeChat – this type of attentiveness can do much to set you apart from your competitors.
Application and accepted offer
At these stages, students are preparing their application, and the lucky ones will be receiving offers. It makes sense, therefore, that much of the content they’d be interested in is of a more practical nature. Some topics that would resonate with students at these stages includes:
Application information and tips
Detailed instructions on what is required for applications and how to submit applications, and tips on how to help ensure a successful application
Information on industry links and work placements
Where and how to look for jobs and potential openings (for students who might need to support themselves through their degree)
Information on accommodation
Information on university accommodation, how to secure placements and alternative accommodation options
Information on visas
How to apply, what documentation is required, and where students can seek help if needed
Students at this stage are preparing themselves for university life. As this is a big transition for Chinese international students, many of whom are moving far away from family and friends, information and support for making the move smoother is highly appreciated. Here are some topics that might resonate with students:
Information about aspects of the university that will allow the student to make the most out of their experience, including (but not limited to) English language courses, clubs, university amenities and unions.
Information about and invitations to freshers’ events, where first-year students have the opportunity to meet each other. These events are fantastic opportunities to get students to post their own positive WeChat content hashtagging or referencing the university, and students can be encouraged to do so using incentives like discounts. WeChat could also be used to connect students to other first-years via group chats, so they can start forming their own social circles.
Information about things in the local area, such as restaurants, bars and pubs, fitness centres and entertainment venues to help students feel at home in their new city or town. One great way to get students out enjoying the area is offering them discounts and deals to local businesses – again, these could be distributed via WeChat.
Like alumni, current students make great advertisements for the university, and students who are having a fulfilling experience at the institution and who feel supported by the university are much more likely to post positive content to their own WeChat accounts and recommend the institution to their friends and family.
Evidence also shows that students who use WeChat regularly are likely to continue doing so even after they’ve lived in a new country for a while, so it remains an important point of contact with students.
Universities need to consider how to keep these students engaged in university life, and how to help them get the most out of their education. Some topics of interest to current students might include:
Information about how to access counselling services and advice on things like how to complete assignments and how to cope with big workloads. Universities might even consider offering a confidential messaging service on WeChat, where students can message a qualified professional if they feel they might need assistance.
One thing Chinese international students often struggle with is integrating into the local culture, and many often resort to largely hanging out with other Chinese students. While this is a natural instinct, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, students will likely get more out of their experience by interacting more with students outside of their culture. WeChat can be used to invite students to events with other international and local students, and as well as to connect them to students who may share similar interests.
Students needing to support themselves through their degree, as well as students nearing the end of their degrees and looking for graduate positions, will appreciate any help finding employment that the university is able to offer.
Areas of research
Your staff can be great content resources. Connect with tutors, lecturers and professors about creating content based on their areas of research. Not only is this helpful to students studying the relevant degrees, it also continues to promote the university’s excellence in those fields.
As you can see, when it comes to connecting with Chinese international students at every stage of their journey, WeChat can be a powerful tool on your content marketing toolbelt.
Still confused about how to go about developing an effective content marketing strategy for WeChat? We’re here to help – just get in touch.