Reach would-be students via made-in-China sites, UK institutions are advised. Sarah Cunnane writes

Social media are still relatively new concepts to most universities, although increasing numbers are using sites such as Facebook to market themselves to prospective students.

However, if institutions in the UK want to make the most of such tools to lure fee-paying students from China, they will have to become more sophisticated in their approach.

That was the message at a conference in London last week, titled Using Social Media to Engage with Students and organised by higher education communications consultancy Discovering Futures.

Delegates heard that while popular social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube offer great opportunities to interact with much of the world, they are banned in China. However, Alicia Liu, account manager at public relations firm 93 1/2 Communications, said that canny institutions could get around this problem by transferring marketing initiatives to Chinese sites such as RenRen, Sina Weibo and Youku.

These are similar to the social- media platforms that are best known in the West, she said, meaning that marketing departments could simply adapt their existing content.

“Make use of the parallel social networks,” Ms Liu advised.

“You have to be clear about your target market and choose the right channel to make sure you are talking to them.”

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