The Oban Blog

Going Global: How Education can succeed with Social Media

In recent years the use of social media by the education sector has increased significantly with more colleges and universities incorporating social networking solutions into their marketing campaigns.

Whereas the terms ‘social media’ and ‘social networking’ are often used interchangeably, they are actually separate entities with the former encompassing a wider range of online platforms and thus offering users a variety of tools with which to create, present and share content. Included amongst these platforms are blogs and microblogging sites, instant messaging, forums or message boards, photo-and-video sharing sites in addition to those ubiquitous social networks which aggregate all of these functions within one interface.

As you may have noticed, social media has experienced a global explosion in popularity and has revolutionised the way we communicate with each other across borders and oceans, but it’s important to remember that, reflective of cultural differences, attitudes and preferences regarding social media vary as much from country to country as our cuisine or our language.

The purpose of this white paper is to serve as a guideline and point of reference for colleges and universities that wish to start or develop a global social media strategy targeting China, India and Vietnam. We present an overview of the numbers regarding Internet usage in these territories and highlight points of best practice for global social media strategy.


Internet Users Online & Penetration
As a result of having the biggest population of any country, China has the highest number of Internet users in the world accounting for 513,100,000 as of December 2011. Conversely, the Internet penetration rate in the country is 38.4%, approximately half that of the UK.


The number of Internet users in China has doubled in the past 5 years – with an average year-on-year growth of approximately 20%:


Internet use amongst the educated Chinese is very high; 96% of those with a university degree and 90% of those in non-compulsory stages of secondary education are online, compared with just 35% among teenagers in early secondary education.

According to CNNIC, in the last three years the internet penetration rate for adults aged 30-39, including young teachers and parents, has increased by 23.2% to 50.5%. A similar trend can be seen among 40-49 year olds, whichis likely to include experienced teachers as well as parents of children within the target age group for secondary exams.


Chinese students have a voracious interest in taking their higher education abroad, with approximately 440,000 of them currently dotted around the globe (BBC, March 2011). The UK was 4thon the hot list of their preferred destinations according to the last report on Tertiary Education by UNESCO in 2009, roundly beating more ‘geographically-practical’ countries like the Republic of Korea.



General overview of social media in China
Social media is thriving in China and with a huge community of Internet users numbering over 513 million, the popularity of local social media services surpasses that of many global applications.

Chinese users enjoy communicating through all the same online platforms as UK users: instant messaging (80%),  blog applications (62%), microblogging (48%), social networking (47%) and online forums/BBS (28%).

Some Western-based applications – like Facebook – are banned by the Chinese government, and even those for which the ban has been lifted in recent years have failed to gain popularity;  YouTube, Flickr, Blogspot, Twitter, Yahoo and most recently the location-based social network Foursquare have yet to gain momentum with some pundits forecasting that they never will.

MICROBLOGGING involves posting messages and multimedia up to 140 characters in length. In Simplified Chinese characters these messages can contain 3-5 times more information than in English.

Sina WEIBO is currently the most popular social media platform in China. The latest statistics show that the site has reached 368 million registered users, 36.5 million of whom are logging an average of one hour’s activity daily.

60% of users login into their Weibo accounts via mobile devices across a comprehensive range of operating systems, detailed in the chart below.


In addition to the completely free functionality offered to users, the platform offers a range of advertising opportunities for businesses – although it is important to note that these are not particularly targeted due to the lack of personal data stored on a typical profile.

Your brand’s Weibo account will give you a distinctive and effective voice within the online community, providing a key platform for engagement and valuable user insight. We recommend that all of our college and university clients create an account on Weibo dedicated to their most popular exams and courses,with high quality content published regularly to build a loyal community of active users.

Social Networking
Aside from microblogging, the Chinese market is also replete with sites similar to Facebook, offering a more social experience with groups, events, photo-sharing and more. The main sites are distinguishable by their users’ age, socio-economic background and level of online ‘activity’ as represented here by BloggerInsight:


Qzone and Renren represent the youngest audience, and therefore the largest.

Renren users are typically urban and concentrated in the larger cities

Qzone users come from 2nd and 3rd tier cities or small towns, and are proportionately quieter with much less activity

Kaixin001, with 130 million registered users, has the highest proportion of young urban professionals aged 25-34

While creating an organisation page on RenRen is a good idea, we would recommend complementing this by targeting a more defined selection of sites, forums and networks focusing on learning or teaching English and study in the UK. Advertising on the large social networks is expensive and may be casting the net too wide for the specific audience that you’re trying to address as a college or university.

Bulletin board systems (BBS) / Forums
The archaically-named Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) – or online forums – are the oldest online communication tools in China going back to 1997 and remaining extremely popular to this day. They offer users relative anonymity and a means to research brands or products through other consumers who share the same tastes,resulting in a more informed purchase decision. In 2010, the China Consumer Report stressed the importance of BBS communication for creating and maintaining brand awareness – the so-called Internet Word of Mouth (IWAM).

One of the most pertinent observations made about BBS users is that a large majority of them prefer to be informed about products and services via third party forums rather than from a company’s official website.They can receive a much more objective opinion from other consumers rather than a based view that suits the company’s business interests.

There are BBS which focused on very specific themes, such as education or study abroad. Following them and actively contributing relevant content (providing advice on English examinations and requirements for studying in the UK) would be a good way of spreading the word about your college/university, as well as a clever strategy for link-building to Chinese language content published by the consumer.

Photo/Video Sharing
Sharing photos and videos online is just as popula rin China as it is throughout Europe or the US but the main players are not YouTube and DailyMotion; Chinese users prefer domestic sites are and Youku. Sharing images and videos via a microblogging site adds to its attractiveness and creates another channel for communication.

Uploading images to a carefully selected array of sites is another effective way to be found via search engines. The statistics below show that image searches on Baidu – the search engine responsible for over half of China’s 64.02billion individual searches in 2010 – represent 10% of their total traffic:


If your images are uploaded as an open album on an HTML page and possess the alt text, this will ensure that they are visible to leading search engines, which in turn will expose your business to a consistently high rate of traffic. The alt text is how search engines establish relevance to a search query.

Youku is China’s most popular video site;it works in a similar way to YouTube, allowing you to create an account or ‘channel’ where your institution can upload video clips from a computer, smartphone or tablet. This content can then be shared easily through any of your social networking profiles or blogs, the two working hand in hand to create maximum engagement with your target demographic.

Baidu Baike – The Chinese Wikipedia

BaiduBaike is a completely user-generated online encyclopaedia – similar to Wikipedia – and a very popular one at that, attracting 15% of Baidu’s traffic. The fact that it is run by the search engine is a contributing factor to say the least, and Baike entries will rank highly against relevant searches on Baidu.


Baidu Zhidao – Answers

BaiduZhidaois another service from the Chinese search juggernaut, allowing users to ask any question which might be on their mind or to provide answers for other users. As shown in the table above, 25% of Baidu’s total traffic currently goes through BaiduZhidao.


Internet users online & penetration
India ranks among the top countries in the world for Internet usership with 121,000,000 users as of Dec.31, 2011. However its penetration rate is relatively low at 10.2%, a drop in the ocean compared with the rate of 84% enjoyed by the UK. This is due to India’s massive population and a significant economic gap between the classes, meaning that shared-access usage – from libraries, Internet cafes and similar public facilities –accounts for as much traffic as work or home access.


Web users in India have the lowest average usage when compared to the other BRIC countries and those with web populations of a similar size. However, usage rates in India are projected to grow substantially as Internet penetration at home and work increases and broadband networks become more widely available due to the emerging economy.

The table below presents the demographic profile of Internet users in India; the most active age groups are 15-24, 25-34 and 35-44, the heaviest users overall being 15-24 year olds in both gender groups.

The 15-24 age groups likely to include high-school leavers and young teachers, whereas the age groups 25-34 and 25-44 are likely to include teachers and parents.


Students spend more time online in India than any other group. Finding information about career opportunities and academic study plays an enormous cultural role in a country whose population is dominated by young people- 40% of Indian citizens are under the age of 25.

Education websites will reach 41% of Internet users in India, a statistic which should be considered when sizing up the market for your college or universityas opposed to the total number of online users. This percentage looks all the more healthy when you see that it out weighs that of sports and TV, indicating a young, upwardly mobile audience looking to gain an education overseas.

Social Media in India
Social networking is the most popular online activity amongst Indian internet users.

According to statistics portal Social Bakers, the graph below indicates the types of social media sites most visited by Indians.


Facebook is the most visited social network – surprise surprise – with almost 90% of Internet users in its iron grasp. It can also boast the highest engagement with an average of 4 hours spent on the site per visitor per month.The majority of Facebook users are located in Delhi and Mumbai.

Visitors spent 2.5 hours per month on various Google sites, with video sharing on YouTube accounting for a significant amount of that figure (ComScore, August 2012).

LinkedIn officials report 17 million users in India, but there are 89 million white collar professionals in the country so as the world’s leading social network for business it is aiming to attract this demographic and get them spending significant time on the site. However, India is still LinkedIn’s largest market outside the U.S in terms of membership numbers. Back in 2009, LinkedIn started its India operations with a member base of 3.4 million and a firm focus on educating those members on how to leverage the platform to further their career, maximising productivity and success.

The domestic social network Orkut still has around 4 million users in India and Internet users there are also very active on microblogging sites such as Twitter, as well as publishing full-length blogs.

Social networks
Social networking is currently the most popular online activity in India and its the 7th largest market for it behind the US, China, Germany, Russia, Brazil and the UK.

Around 105 million Indian citizens will use social networking sites in 2013, according to eMarketer – that’s an 8% from 2012. This means that by 2014, approximately 83% of internet users in India will be active across various social networks. Compare this figure with social network users in the US, where the projected share is just 68%, and it is easy to see the potential of this emerging market.


Research from ComScore (August 2012) about online activity in India found that social networking accounts for 25.2% of man hours spent online in June 2011. Social media continues to drive users’ daily online activity, while entertainment sites rank a distant second, accounting for just 10% of minutes spent online.

Of the 70 million people in India who are registered with a social network, a core group of approximately 30 million can be described as ‘heavy users’. These users return to the site to check their profiles and notifications up 3 times a day. Increasingly, people are beginning to access their social networks via smartphone apps on iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8.

Most social networking activity in India takes place between 6pm and 10pm; it is seen by many as a wayto relax and disconnect from their often-stressful ‘real-life’ networks.To young students in India, social media platforms like Facebook offer an additional, less demanding means of extending yoursphere of influence and furthering your social or professional prospects.

Much like any other country you care to mention, social media usage in India is dominated by interactive gaming, apps, video viewing and photo sharing. Entertainment is one of the key drivers and most popular forms of content. Videos are especially popular for accessing Bollywood films, TV and news.

With an Alexa Ranking of 57, BharatStudent is the 5th most popular social media and networking site in India.

It belongs to Axill Europe Ltd, a large online publishing company who specialise in advertising space, and its slogan ‘The Young Soul of India,’ resonates with India’s youthful online population. Cafe Bharat provides the very latest news feeds, events, national gossip, movie reviews, and opinion polls from India’s vast entertainment industry. The site is supported by exciting wallpapers, screensavers, and videos. Furthermore, Cafe Bharat is available in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam and English, maximising its appeal across the Indian subcontinent. The feature ‘Campus TV’ is a portal for exclusive educational and user-generated video content that engages with the widespread interest in overseas education, India’s top colleges and universities, and the latest internships for students.

They also offer the‘StudyZone’ service, an integrated solution where students can get assistance and information on choosing colleges or universities. We strongly recommend this service to our higher education clients, as well as its international English teaching certificates in case some young students are willing to become English teachers.

According to data released by We Are Social,only 15% of Indian users are involved in blogging. Statistics on MSN and Windows Live report that India’s blogosphere is driven by young Indians who actively read blogs for self-improvement and entertainment with 42% of online users reading blogs to stay informed about world events. 49% cite entertainment as their main reason for keeping abreast of blogs, while those written by business leaders rank as the most interesting.

Another fact to consider is that 92% bloggers in India use English as their language of choice for publishing content.


Blogs on higher education
This blog is about general education in India. It is mainly targeted to students, offering a large section for University education which contains a post about ‘How to write a great statement of purpose (SOP) for foreign universities’ – a perfect opportunity to post advice and links to your institution.


Blogs for parents
This is an aggregator with the sole aim of gathering all blogs from Indian mums into one place. ‘Mummy blogs’ have become popular and influential amongst consumers in many countries across the world, with India being no exception.

India is in the top 10 countries for active Twitter use, demonstrating the value of the Indian market as an early adopter of global social media trends. Overall, Twitter is the 15th most popular website in India, attracting 1.27% of users, and given the growth of Internet access through mobiles in India it has the potential to provide unparalleled engagement with users from the target audience.


Twitter also offers its services in Hindi especially for the Indian audience.

The age groups which represent the highest percentage of Twitter users are 15-24, 25-35 and 36-44. The first age group is likely to include students while the last two age groups are more likely to include teachers and parents, however mature students may also fall into this category.

One thing to consider in the Indian market is that most Internet users are male and this is also reflected in Twitter’s user base, as seen in the table below.


Video sharing
Google’s video-based sites rank as the top property in India, making its flagship site Youtube the market leader.

About 44.5% of all online videos viewed in India during January 2011 have been watched on Youtube, which makes Google the top online viewing destination in India by a long shot; 23.5 million viewers have visited the site, watching 785 million videos across YouTube and Google video. Facebook is the 2nd most popular site for viewing and sharing videos in India with a total of 6.6 million viewers and 30.1 million videos watched.


Social media is one of the main online activities in Vietnam, with social networks, video sharing, blogs and forums leading the market; this provides a strong vehicle to reach a targeted audience for colleges/universities.  

Internet users online & penetration
Almost 40% of internet users in Vietnam have a social network account, nearly half of whom visit a social network every day.

As well as visiting social networking sites, the Vietnamese people also partake heavily in forums and blogs. Viewing and sharing videos is very popular, with most of the country’s usersdivided between YouTube and domestic site VnExpress.

Based on four weeks’ monitoring by Cimigo, a Vietnamese market research company, ZingME, Facebook, VnExpress and Youtube are among the most popular social media sites in the country.

The chart below shows the frequency of online chat among Vietnamese internet users, and on what platforms they choose to do it.


Social networks
In Vietnam the domestic social network Zing Me is the market leader with a 58.7% share of total online users (almost 19 million), followed by Facebook with 49.4% (that’s just under 16 million people).


Zing Me members are mainly teenagers. The most populated age groups are 15‐24 (38.6%) and 25‐34 (31.9%), with the first age group likely to include some recently graduated teachers and the latter group representative of parents and experienced teachers.


We found some presence of English pages and educational groups in Zing Me, which indicates that there is an interest from the general audience in learning the English language.

Facebook is the second most popular social network in Vietnam, and the landscape is much the same here with users coming from a similar age profile as Zing Me. Most of the users are young and the most populated age groups are 15‐24, which is likely to include young teachers as well as students and 25‐34 which is likely to include both teachers and parents.


Hellochao is a social network developed especially for Vietnamese college leavers who are interested in learning English or want to do their higher education abroad. One of its unique features is a search engine for English‐Vietnamese bilingual conversation, indicating a market that is motivated to learn.

Since its launch Hellochao has evolved into a complete social networkfor cross-language interaction, with all the necessary features for the Vietnamese community living abroad to study in an English speaking country. Users can post videos and other content, engage in conversations, participate in forum discussions and play games with one another in a friendly bi-lingual environment.

Twitter is the leader among microblogs in Vietnam, but accounts for just 9.5% of total internet users, meaning it can be leveraged as no more than a complementary tool for education institutes to reach their target audience.

Video sharing
In the Asia- Pacific region, Vietnam is the country with the highest online viewership across platforms, having a reach of almost 90% of unique video viewers (meaning the total amount of users with a unique IP address plus another quantifier, such as an individual cookie).

These are the top online video properties in Vietnam measured by unique viewers. YouTube counts among Google’s holdings and is the leader by a country mile, while local site VnExpress ranks second. Facebook comes in surprisingly low, bucking the trend seen in many other countries including India.


In Vietnam forums maintain a respectable level of popularity. 27% of users visit forums and 9% engage in discussions; this presents a viable means for universities to engage with their desired audience and build trust among their potential students.

10 steps to success in Global Social Media

If you want to reach the right audience you must identify the right platforms for each country.

Engage with your audience in their native language and maintain a consistent, uniform brand presence through a global web page.

Understand the unique cultural and linguistic environment of the market you intend to enter.

Build-up a conversation with your audience to gain their trust.

Always be ready to make a change at the last minute.

Make sure your content real, keep it frequent and remember to always be‘social’.

Create pages specifically aimed at the parents of prospective students.

Create a blog that targets specific buyer personas and is maintained by enthusiastic students and staff who are passionate and possess an authentic voice.

Reveal and sustain your presence on YouTube by creating a URI page imitating “best practices” of other universities. Include URI- produced videos as well as those produced by students.

Make the students, professors and other employees a part of your community, especially if they hail from outside the UK; use their voices to make yourself heard.

As presented in this white paper, there can be no doubt that social media is experiencing an on-going explosion of popularity in China, India and Vietnam.  However it is important for your institution to have a thorough knowledge about which platforms to use in each country before entering the market if you want to attract and engage prospective students or staff from overseas.

Before embarking on a social media marketing campaign it is imperative to recognize who your audience is first and find the right balance between using the available resources and having the ability to become involved with a localized audience. Giving them the opportunity to engage in their native language and maintaining a consistent brand presence through a global page will show your commitment to that market.

And if you think that taking a shortcut by using automated translation services is a potential solution to managing your social media efforts abroad, think again! Your target audience are savvy and they will see straight through your shoddy approximation of their mother tongue. Spending the time and money on a human voice will pay dividends.

Your college or university should be able to see the role that social media plays within a culture and identify the right platforms on which to focus their activity in order to reach the right audience. You have to understand the unique cultural and linguistic environment so that the content you post will be relevant to different nationalities. Content which works well in China might be useless in Vietnam, and vice versa.

When it comes to operating in varied international markets, it can seem almost impossible to make the correct strategic decisions and distribute your resources wisely. This is why OBAN provides consultancy on international social media, specifically tailored to help your college or university make the right choice, engage with the right people and ultimately increase your international enrolments.

This article was written by social media professional Denisa Caciulan and María González, Link Building Manager at OBAN Multilingual.