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Alternative marketing key in China – Sunrise

Online marketing opportunities to reach prospective students in China are increasing, but universities should be aware that the country’s internet is “more restricted than ever”, according to a new report from Sunrise.

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Douyin is the most popular new app in China right now

Maintaining a local Chinese version of websites hosted in China, along with producing Chinese language content and getting people to talk about an institution on popular websites were all highlighted by the report as important factors to be aware of.

The report also explained that universities should know about marketing opportunities beyond the stalwarts of Chinese internet – the BATs (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent).

“Having a university Snapchat account is now fairly common”

“The Chinese internet is more restrictive than ever,” David Weeks co-founder and COO of Sunrise Education told The PIE News.

AI-based news aggregator Toutiao is one platform education providers should also take note of, according to the report. With around 90% of user demographic being under 30 years old and some 40% holding graduate degrees, it could prove popular with HEIs, Weeks explained, adding that Toutiao owner ByteDance recently announced it would allow certain Chinese media agencies to place advertising.

“While foreign universities and organisations can’t register accounts on Toutiao, they can now have a Chinese partner place ads on the platform that direct to a locally-hosted Chinese website.”

It could be a lucrative strategy for postgraduate providers, Weeks suggested, likening the marketing opportunities to LinkedIn marketing.

While WeChat and Weibo dominate the social media landscape, other companies are coming up that are worth knowing about, according to the report of the Sino-US firm.

Some have advertising opportunities right now, and others are on the cutting edge and will grow in the future.

“Some universities have actually seen a decline in recruiting because traditional channels are narrowing and there is a need to engage users either through search engines or through organic channels,” Weeks explained.

He said that prospective student engagement, whether through counsellors, on-campus recruitment efforts or education fairs, must also include social media and new websites.

According to the white paper, Douyin/TikTok is currently the most popular new app in China.

“In the first four months of 2019, the daily active users of Douyin/TikTok averaged 250 million, well above Weibo’s 200 million daily active users,” it explained.

As an app known for its viral, short-video content, it may have opportunities for international educators in the future.

“A couple of years ago people would’ve probably thought it was silly to have a university Snapchat account and now it’s fairly common,” Weeks said.

Education providers must be aware of the level of accessibility of their sites, he added.

“I’ve seen universities that have actually had their application form blocked in China. So they were wondering: ‘why did our applications from China decline’, and the answer is pretty obvious. Students literally couldn’t apply if they wanted to [while] inside China.”

“Some universities have actually seen a decline in recruiting because traditional channels are narrowing”

Weeks also noted that mobile search engine Shenma is “creeping up” on Baidu’s dominance over search engine use in China, and it is the default factory setting search engine on many mobile phones.

Shenma is also a “good deal more lenient” around their advertising policies, something which education marketers should note, Weeks said.

“Behind the firewall, there are agencies and companies that are better at SEO than sometimes the university itself.

“There’s a good chance that there are agents who have websites or pages about the university that have a higher hit rate than the university’s website itself.”

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