With coronavirus dominating the headlines recently and disrupting daily life for millions of people in China and beyond, there has been renewed attention to the significant role the platform WeChat plays in information sharing in China.
What is WeChat?
In short, WeChat is a social media network, messaging app, e-commerce platform, and more, all in one app. It’s become ubiquitous in daily life in China – with more than 1.1 billion active users.
How do universities use WeChat?
Importantly for communicators, WeChat is also the first place many users will turn for official news and updates – before looking at an institution’s website, or checking their email.
At Duke, we have more students and alumni from China than from any other country outside of the United States. Because Chinese internet restrictions generally prevent prospective students, parents, alumni and others in China from accessing our other social media channels, we’ve been active on Weibo (another prominent Chinese social network) since 2011, and we launched our WeChat presence in 2015.
In addition to posting stories and updates and promoting admissions information sessions in China, we’ve successfully used WeChat groups to host live chat sessions for admitted students – most of whom aren’t able to visit campus before enrolling – who are eager to learn more about life on campus or connect with other students. And it’s an important way our Chinese alumni community stays in touch with one another and the university – there are a number of active Duke alumni chat groups in which members are sharing news and information with each other on a daily basis.
For our communications colleagues at Duke Kunshan University, a joint-venture university founded in 2014 in Kunshan, China, WeChat is even more critical to their work. In addition to sharing stories on the university’s public-facing profile on the platform, the university uses private WeChat groups to connect incoming students, communicate quickly with and build community among parents, and as a practical tool for the small but growing staff and faculty community to share news and updates.
In addition to its instant-messaging function, another useful component for communicators is WeChat Moments. Similar to Facebook, users can post pictures, story links and other updates to their feed for all (or selected) connections to view, “like” and forward, potentially boosting the reach of their content.
If you’re curious about how you might use WeChat to support your connections to Chinese students, parents or alumni, I’d encourage you to talk with your students and alumni who are active on WeChat to learn how they use it. You can dip a toe in the water by following some brands (many American and international brands are quite active there) and universities to get a sense for how they are using the platform. And don’t hesitate to reach out to our team (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions about this work.
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