China’s economic rise has been well documented, it has produced a whole new wave of middle class citizens seeking a higher quality of life and education. According to Unesco statistics the number of out-bound Chinese students leaving China to study abroad in 2015 was 523,700, this figure has been growing year on year and will continue to rise.
For the Chinese the most important factor now is education, China is an incredibly competitive society with individuals looking to get ahead at all costs, an international education is regarded as preferable in China as the best academic institutions are still in America and Europe. Families improving the prospects of their Children through education also improve their quality of their life in old age, they increase their chance of being financially supported.
During the 2014-2015 academic year, the number of Chinese students studying in America was 304,040, a 10.8 percent increase over the 2013-2014 academic year, according to a report by the non-profit Institute of International Education (IIE). This is the sixth year in a row that China has been the leading place of origin for international students in the United States. Out of the more than 974,000 international students currently in the United States, almost one in three is now Chinese.
For the US education market this represents a significant opportunity but how do you attract these Chinese students. You need to develop your visibility and e-reputation online in China as students and most importantly their parents do all their research online.
It is important to consider that you need to adapt your marketing techniques in this wholly different digital environment which due to government censorship and restrictions developed under a completely different set of conditions. In reality the internet in China functions more like an ‘intranet’, cut off and separate from the rest of the world.
How Can the US Education Market Attract Chinese Students?
1) Visibility on Baidu (China’s leading search engine)
The first step for any academic institution is to increase your presence on Baidu, the largest search engine presiding over 75% of the market. The majority of netziens turn to Baidu as their main source of information, they will be searching for keywords and you need to be seen on the first pages of the results.
SEA: (Search Engine Advertising)
Search Engine Paid Advertising on Baidu is more effective than on Google in the west, more Chinese typically click on the paid ad links at the top of the page, choose your keywords carefully and pay for your ad to be a top result. You can also combine this with Baidu banner ads which are becoming increasingly targeted, Baidu’s intelligent system the ‘spider’ records users search information and tailors the ads they are exposed to.
As an initial strategy for your entry into China paid ads are effective as they drive traffic, having said this it can be expensive and it is not a long term, sustainable strategy. You also need to ask yourself, which serious candidates will be clicking on the ads? They instead turn to the natural search results.
SEO: (Search Engine Optimization – Natural Search Results)
A comprehensive natural results campaign is the most effective method for generating quality student leads. Students and importantly their Parents (who will be financing their studies) browse the organic search results, over time your institution can be placed as a top result.
To optimize on Baidu you need to select your keywords in Mandarin and develop a Chinese version of your site that includes Chinese tags and meta descriptions. You also need to start generating Chinese backlinks from other ranked and reputable sites. Finally producing quality, Chinese specific content and PR that will be shared and featured online is of the utmost importance.
2) Content Adaption:
Interestingly many Chinese are not necessarily looking for the top academic institutions but universities and colleges who have a significant Chinese, international following and support network. They want to be catered for and supported whilst abroad, for Chinese students it can be a strong culture shock going to the US so consider how to re-frame your institution, position yourself as ‘the Chinese friendly’ university in a social sense.
Academically the Chinese primarily tend to study English, Maths, Business or the Sciences. Focus on optimizing these type of courses online, what Chinese specific images will you use? The Chinese are often drawn by a sense of heritage and traditionalism in contrast to all the very modern institutions in China. Content needs to be not just translated but adapted into Simplified Mandarin Chinese.
Developing your e-reputation over time is a key factor, this increases the quality of student leads and likelihood of converting them to paying students. The Chinese are strongly influenced by the opinions and views of others. Parents and students as part of their research will turn to forums and review based websites to check your reputation. Yes, forums in China are much more popular.
You need to be starting positive conversations and threads featuring your institution and interacting with Chinese potential candidates. It is about up-promoting and making positive comments highly visible also on the search engine results, your site will come up and then comments on the established, already highly ranking forums. The Chinese will check both.
4) Social Media:
The two largest platforms to consider are WeChat (700 million active users) and Weibo (300 million users). It is vital that overtime (as you grow on Baidu) that you also develop a presence and positive reputation on these social networks.
WeChat: Here you need to set up an official account and attract subscribers, you can then share quality content about your institution. Your official account can act as a micro-site within the WeChat application, it is highly customizable and in some ways is more important now than a website. Having a WeChat account allows you to interact and discuss with potential student leads and maintain that relationship. In terms of content dissemination it is also important as WeChat users have a strong culture of sharing from official accounts on their ‘moments’ feed (akin to a news feed on facebook).
Weibo: Weibo is a more open social network as you can see posts by anyone, you don’t need to be connected first. The name literally translates as ‘micro blog’ (it is akin to Twitter) and you can again share content. There is a strong cross over here with WeChat with content often embedded with QR codes that link to an official WeChat account, the QR code is especially popular in China.
Overall then for the US education sector it is important with all these potential students to invest in a comprehensive digital campaign in China, we can be your specialist partner, helping you expand and grow in this vastly different digital landscape in order to attract Chinese students.
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