We are now arguably in the ‘golden age of education’ in China. With growing levels of wealth, rising disposable incomes and 350 million middle class citizens comes a greater focus on quality education. The education gold-rush is underway with a 20% increase in international schools and services setting up in China in 2016 when compared to the previous year.
There are however a host of obstacles for international education players to overcome. Here is a run-down of the key problems for new institutions building themselves in China.
In China You Start Over Again
The Chinese market place, whilst opening up to overseas investment and business like never before, is still a unique and different proposition. For education companies this means re-marketing and branding yourself to the Chinese in a specific way.
Everything is digital now, the online advertising and marketing industry is now worth $320 billion and is the key area to focus upon for student lead generation and return on investment. In China you effectively have a closed ‘intranet’ that is ring fenced by the ‘Great Firewall’.
Chinese platforms dominate and regardless of your reputation outside of China you need to start over again and be present on home growth platforms.
This is both a problem and an opportunity as the barriers for entry limits competition and allows intelligent schools to establish a strong digital presence on Baidu (the largest search engine), WeChat (the largest social network with 850 million users) and on educational forum threads.
It is important to realize that you need to develop your visibility and reputation from nothing in this market as all content needs to be re-worked into Mandarin Chinese and optimized for Chinese character keyword searches.
Institutions are missing out on mobile
Chinese websites are incredibly useful and need to be promoted. However institutions tend to neglect mobile friendly sites. This is vital with 550 million smartphones in China. Navigating a not mobile-friendly webpage is a challenge for users. There has been a technological leap with users skipping the personal computer and jumping straight to smartphone technology.
Content needs to be optimized for mobile with ‘on the go’ digital engagement the norm.
Generally speaking, there are three important market segments for international recruiters:
(a) Millennials (target market), due to the prevalence of mobile phones and perhaps family restrictions on PC usage.
(b) The older generation (decision makers): Older Chinese may be unable to use ‘pinyin’ (the system of using the roman alphabet to write Chinese). While they cannot use a keyboard, they use a phone to write out individual characters.
(c) Populations in rural areas (diversification): Economies in rural areas are developing later than cities, therefore smart phone usage is more prevalent than computer usage.
If an institution’s name is translated badly, no matter what the marketing budget is, the reputational damage is unprecedented. One example of this, amongst many, is the University of Western Ontario. Translated into西安大略大学
西=West, 安大略=Ontario, 大学=University.
Seemingly no problem, until you realize that Chinese characters do not use spaces. Therefore,
西安大略大学read by the Chinese is 西安大略大学
Which means: 西安 = Xi’an(a place in China), 大略 = A place name, 大学 = University.
Therefore, the University of Western Ontario is most likely to be read as an non-existent university in North Eastern China with the name Xi’an DaLue University.
Having a native Chinese person look over final drafts is essential. Content cannot be directly translated but must be re-adapted by bi-lingual copywriters.
Do not neglect WeChat
WeChat is vital for branding. Often educators are reticent to use the term ‘branding’ but in China you need to do just that, you need to create an identity that will appeal to your target market. WeChat is especially important when you consider that millennials and young learners are the majority of users.
WeChat boasts a range of different tools for schools to utilize; you can create an official account which acts as a ‘mini site’ within the platform.
You can create and share content and even provide customer services via individual messaging and chat groups. It has become expected now for any serious school to be present on WeChat, it’s often refered to as the ‘WeChat Times’ because so many Chinese turn to the social network for their information over the traditional press.
The aggressive marketplace in China unfortunately results in covert, negative smear campaigns against new market entrants. It is vital therefore that institutions manage their reputation in forums. Bear in mind that on the Baidu search results an official website will appear alongside forum posts on sites such as Baidu’s Tieba and QQ. Positive or negative sentiment is highly visible.
Many schools have neglected this area and do not build a strong reputation, especially when they do not realize the significance of forum reputation in the face of covert, negative comment campaigns from domestic competitors.
The Chinese research online far more than we do in the west, this is arguably because of their more collective mindset and reliance on others views and opinions. I cannot emphasize the importance of e-reputation in forums enough.
The solution is intelligent digital strategy..
With the prevalence of digital comes a greater focus on digital marketing efforts.
The solution for institutions is to improve their visibility and reputation in order to generate student leads.
The first steps to achieving this?
A quality Chinese web page
This needs to be optimized for local search engines, hosted on a Chinese server for speed with a .cn domain. A local website is best for speed rather than a translated bi-lingual version of your original site. The site needs to be optimized for mandarin character searches and should include QR links to your WeChat page.
SEO (search engine optimization) for China
This is about increasing your visibility on the web, it is important to focus on Baidu where 70% of all online research occurs. You increase your ranking in the natural search results to drive the highest quality traffic and leads. This is done by producing quality content, building backlinks, references and focusing on the most effective keywords for searches.
SEO can also be combined with Paid Ad Links, ad fraud can be an issue in China so it’s best to use a trusted agency to avoid such pitfalls.
The whole of the western world is obsessed with WeChat currently, and for good reason.. The platform boasts 850 million registered users and users now expect quality institutions to have a presence here. You can offer customer services and build a mini-site to present information. It’s also a key place for content sharing amongst targeted groups of potential students and families.
Quality Chinese Content
Great copywriting and content is the bedrock of any campaign. It needs to be in-line with your schools message but also adapted for the market. The level of engagement online is higher and users are very discerning, in the competitive digital sphere quality articles are a must. The average netzine now spends two hours online browsing a day.
These are figures who have built up a significant following online and are highly influential. Recruiting an influencer to represent your institution from a prestigious academic background in China is expensive but allows you to tap into a large base of followers. Key Opinion Leaders are more effective in China because users tend to be more impressionable, they highly value the status of such individuals.
Need a partner in China ?
We are a specialised digital marketing agency for education businesses in China. If you have a project in mind and want to speak to our experts don’t hesitate to contact us.