Navigating Through The Great Firewall of China
Like almost every college, you're looking to attract talented international students. You probably want to connect with students in important markets like China to showcase your school's advantages. With millions of smartphone-wielding students in China spending so much time online, this should be a piece of cake, right?
Wrong! In fact, connecting with prospective Chinese students online has become increasingly difficult for American colleges and universities because of an intensifying crackdown from the Chinese government targeting foreign channels.
What's banned in China?
Tools such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat are blocked by a system of filters called the Great Firewall.
What's the solution to connect with Chinese students and parents?
Unlike in the U.S., there isn't a fractured social media landscape in China. Everything happens through one platform: WeChat. You may not have heard of it, but WeChat has over 950 million active monthly users and over 150 million students.
How can you use WeChat to successfully interact with students and families in China?
There are two options: a personal account (anyone can download the WeChat app to his or her phone) and an official account (one for your university or college). A personal account will allow you to directly message a student, a parent, or a counselor. This will help build rapport.
In contrast, creating an official account is more cumbersome, and requires registration under a Chinese National's ID, or through a third party like Sunrise. However, the initial challenge can be very worthwhile because an official account allows your university to build a following (students, parents, counselors) and provide this audience regular, relevant updates. Here's how The University of Central Florida is accomplishing this:
Why should you have WeChat when traveling to China?
It's essential to have a personal account that will allow you to seamlessly message your contacts within and outside of China, as well as book a taxi, order train tickets, and provide updates about your trip. Additionally, it's important that your colleagues back in the states have WeChat so that you can effectively communicate. You might not be able to access your email account during your time in China (by February, many VPNs and loopholes for accessing foreign domains will be shut down).
China is by far the largest sender of international students to the United States. Federal data from last November showed Chinese students account for 31.5% of all international enrollments - approximately 328,547 students. In order to bring these students to your campus, it's imperative you understand how to navigate through "The Great Firewall of China" with WeChat.