The project «Social Media and Academic Communication» analyses the potential of using Chinese social network services for Swiss universities. The report starts by giving an overview of the social media landscape in China including a survey about the use of these tools in academia. In a second part, the authors share their experience starting and managing accounts for two Swiss universities on the most widely used social media service. It concludes with recommendations for universities and for swissnex on how to continue the development of the project to take advantage of the vast number of people active on these platforms in China.
Chinese social networking services (SNS) are amongst the fastest growing ones in the world: Sina Weibo is currently the leader in China (200 million users, 800’000 active users, 80 million postings per day as of October 2011), but other platforms such as Douban (for cultural and general contents) or Renren are also important players in the Chinese social medial landscape. More and more companies and institutions are using Chinese social media for their marketing activities. Foreign institutions (diplomatic and other official institutions as well as private companies) have also recently joined the bandwagon and use social media in order to promote their services, products and brands to the Chinese audience. The availability and popularity of these social media tools is shifting the weight away from more traditional communication tools (press, TV, radio) towards digital means of communication.
Internet in China
The first part of the research gives an overview of Internet in China and explains its main characteristics (history, access, micro-blogging tools, types of online behavior). It includes a section on how the Chinese government itself has been successfully using SNS and how it is continuing to further engage with citizens. This part also lists Chinese and foreign academic institutions that have popular accounts on Chinese social media. We also share some of the unique aspects of operating online in China (site blocking, need for real name registration and verification).
Examples of EU Institutions
We identified and selected a few European institutions that have already been active on Chinese SNS including Aurore Science, British Council, Goethe Institute, Instituto Cervantes, Robert Bosch Stiftung and Heinrich Boll Stiftung. Through further research and interviews, we gathered enough materials to allow us to recognize some patterns behind the success of some organizations and to list a series of best practices.
Survey among academics and their perception of Swiss academia
To better understand how social media are being used in the academic field, we gathered, through a survey, the input from 120 students and 24 professors. This helped us understand the level of engagement of professors online (fairly low) and how students who are much more active online gather information before deciding where to study abroad. It also highlighted an important aspect: only 20% of students are somewhat familiar with the Swiss higher education landscape.
Pilot project with two Swiss universities
As part of this research, we interviewed many Swiss universities about their objectives regarding promotion and communication of their institution in China. We found a great amount of diversity among the various universities and through a selection process, we at swissnex China started managing Weibo accounts for two of them (HEC Lausanne and University of St Gallen). The report analyzes the process of running these accounts as well as the feedback received from the partner universities after 8 months of activities.
The conclusions are oriented towards swissnex China as well as the Swiss academic landscape. We recommend, among others, that institutions:
- work on a “push-pull” mechanism as part of the collaboration
- decide on which model (decentralized versus centralized) they want to rely
- keep thinking of developing “localized” content
The report also concludes that swissnex China should:
- develop strategies to also complement the professional communication services of universities
- offer to communicate not only on the level of the university, but also specific programs and initiatives
- offer training and monitoring of progress
- build a dedicated team in China specialized on SNS
- continue to analyze the latest trends and development to keep its high-level expertise
What is special about the project?
Given the success of the program led by the team at swissnex San Francisco, this project aims to explore a new geographical area of potential high interest for Swiss universities. The report clearly identifies some of the ways that universities can use SNS to approach the fastest growing education market in the world. Further, we also share materials that provide Swiss academic institutions with an informed basis for the decision as to using Chinese SNS to promote their excellence – as a destination for cooperation, studies or research. This information combined with the learning from the pilot project is unique and customized to the needs of Swiss universities. As of now, no other similar reports and services exist.
In short, the project led to the realization that there are strong reasons to be engaged on Chinese SNS. There is real added-value, however, in working with a partner who can help not only with the language but also with the understanding of the difference in “digital culture”. During the course of the project, it became obvious that there is a large potential to use social media for the Swiss Education, Research and Innovation landscape. As a result, the project has already helped achieve additional progress in developing a comprehensive social media strategy for the Swiss stakeholders:
- The two universities want to continue their involvement on Chinese SNS
- swissnex China has hired a full-time social media / community manager to offer additional services to Swiss universities
- The science and technology section of the Embassy is running a year-long promotion of all Swiss universities (1 per month) on their very popular weibo account
28.9.2012, RTS Info, des hautes écoles suisses draguent les étudiants chinois sur Weibo
11.8.2012, RTS Ecran total, les réseaux sociaux chinois plus fréquentés que Facebook
Persons involved in the project
Pascal Marmier, swissnex China pascal.
Marc Laperrouza, PhD, HEC Lausanne, Département des systèmes d'information marc.
Mag. Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber yingelifi@gmail.
Last update to this project presentation 07.03.2016