The Chinese overseas education market and how to market your courses online to attract Chinese students.
The Chinese overseas education market is the largest in the world with more Chinese students studying abroad than any other country. According to data from China’s Ministry of Education, 459,800 Chinese students went abroad in 2015, an 11.1% increase compared to the year before. Of those, 423,000, or 92%, were self-funded. In total according to the Unesco institute for statistics there are currently 712,157 students from China studying abroad. The vast majority of these students study in either sixth form colleges or (predominantly) universities.
Overseas Education Business in China
Oversea’s education is evidently an expensive option with this ‘self funding’ reflecting the emerging Chinese middle/upper class family’s desire to send their children abroad for the best education, despite the higher costs. It also reflects the increasing demand the Chinese youth have for international experiences, ideas and culture. The country is less insular and more receptive to foreign influence than it has historically been with overseas learning continuing to profit greatly from this.
The US as well as the United Kingdom and Australia are the most popular destinations for Chinese students. The UK particularly is seeing huge growth in this area with its highly respected and internationally recognized university sector. In 2015 more first-year students from China enrolled at UK universities than those from the whole of the EU put together. Last year, 58,810 Chinese undergraduates started their studies, while students from the continent, totalled 57,190.
China is a digitally dominated environment. For Colleges and Universities communicating online in the most effective way and via the right channels to potential students and families is key. University marketing needs to be tailored and adapted for the Chinese market.
The Chinese are unlikely to be looking for a particular establishment but will make decisions based on the information they can find online. One needs to appreciate that the Chinese internet is a unique proposition, in the way it is controlled and regulated it functions more like an ‘Intranet’ than the open source net as we know it. It is a distinct online entity but developing a presence here can pay dividends with the huge number of increasingly wealthy families looking to send their children for an international education.
The reputation you have domestically does not necessarily dictate how your establishment is perceived overseas, especially as the Chinese student will have a unique set of expectations, priorities and needs that need to be adapted to and catered for.
Here are 4 important ways to build your presence, reputation and generate leads for college and university courses in China.
1) Search Engines (SEO/SEA)
The first step for the majority of Chinese netziens is to search for information on ‘Baidu‘, China’s largest search engine. If your courses and university cannot be found in this way then you are simply invisible in China, regardless of your reputation outside of the country.
There are two ways to develop your marketing on Baidu: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEA (Search Engine Advertising).
Both of them can help prospective students and parents find your website when searching for particular keywords and phrases.
SEA is a solution allowing your website to appear on the first page in the search results by paying for Baidu advertising. It is good for generating traffic quickly and with less effort but ultimately it proves to be more costly, not viable as a long term solution and does not tend to lead to quality traffic or leads. Which serious, potential candidates base their decision on a paid ad/link?
SEO (search engine optimization) is a more effective solution whereby overtime the ranking of your webpage on Baidu is increased so that it appears on the first pages of the organic search results. Key SEO strategies include keyword optimization, backlinks, and content sharing, this how you generate quality traffic. Compared with SEA, SEO takes more time but it is long term solution in terms of developing a better e-reputation and is ultimately more stable. The quality search result won’t disappear after you stop the campaign, on the contrary, you will remain higher in the rankings and continue to drive traffic.
No matter which solution you opt for, studying the keywords is the first step; keep in mind that it is the most important part of the campaign. You will also then need to improve the pages that appear in the results to make sure the information is keyword optimized and clear for the Chinese reader.
2) Adapt and tailor content/courses for the Chinese market
You should ensure you have a Chinese version of your website which you are optimizing on Chinese search engines. Content needs to be translated into simplified Mandarin Chinese.
It is wise to focus on English, Business, Management, International Relations and Mathematics courses for your Chinese site as these remain the most popular and widely searched on Baidu.
The Chinese are largely unaware of an establishments reputation outside of China so you need to create that reputation, students will not necessarily opt for the best academic school but rather the course and environment that is most conducive to their needs. An existing Chinese community, exchange programmes, cultural activities and services for students including Chinese food options, multi-language facilities are all key.
You can also emphasise the inclusivity of the course by including images of other Chinese students in your promotions.
3) Social Media
Social media has become an integral part of the Chinese individual’s life, particularly for the younger generation, with regards to education it is therefore especially important.
Utilizing social networking platforms such as ‘WeChat’ or ‘Weibo’ in order to sell products and services is a key part of any digital marketing strategy in China. The education sector must also take advantage of these communication channels
Create an official subscription account on ‘WeChat’ and use your page to present information on key courses suitable for the Chinese market. It is the perfect forum to disseminate content, start conversations and answer questions for potential students.
Starting and facilitating group chats concerned with your college, university or courses you offer can be effective. Direct communication with students on social media is important. It is also a good opportunity to disseminate interesting content and articles in Chinese that can be shared amongst users to generate more interest in your establishment.
Take time to understand how these networks work, they operate in a very different digital landscape and are not simply ‘copy cat’ platforms. WeChat has developed into one of the most integrated, effective social platforms in the world boasting a variety of functions few can claim to match (e-wallet, gaming, messenger, social network, micro stores, taxi app).
The same social media strategies you would employ in the west cannot simply be transferred. Different social networks means adopting different, more localized and specialized marketing strategies.
For more information on how to market on social media see our previous article.
4) Manage e-reputation
Managing the reputation of your college or university in forums and on social media is vital. The Chinese still use forums much more than we do in the west. The Chinese are especially influenced by the views of others, particularly by their immediate social circle. Manage your reputation by promoting positive comments and threads on social networks and in forums.
The Chinese student will want to study where other Chinese students are going and at institutions they rate highly. The reputation you have domestically does not necessarily dictate how your establishment is perceived overseas, especially as the Chinese student will have a unique set of expectations, priorities and needs that need to be adapted to and catered for.
Benji is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, China. He is concerned with finding solutions for western services expanding into the Middle Kingdom.
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