By John Brhel
You can’t access Twitter in China. Facebook is off limits, too. And forget about logging in to YouTube, Tumblr or other globe-spanning social networks most people take for granted – China’s government doesn’t allow them. But that’s not keeping eager students in Earth’s most populous country from reaching out and engaging with Binghamton University via social media.
Thanks to a recent “chat event” with Weibo, a popular social network in China, the University is now in the eye of tens of thousands more prospective students and their parents. Weibo (pronounced wee-bo) works a lot like Twitter – users create posts of up to 140 characters, use hashtags, share posts, etc. Launched by the Sina Corporation in August 2009, Weibo has become one of the most popular sites in China, used by more than 30 percent of Internet users in the country. In the few weeks since the live event, held Jan. 3, Binghamton’s fanbase on the social network has increased dramatically, climbing from just over 1,000 followers to more than 200,000.
“Our numbers have skyrocketed,” said Xuan Chen, a Binghamton admissions counselor originally from China who manages the University’s Weibo page and participated in the hour-long chat event. Along with a dramatic increase in followers, he said the University is now seeing a rise in engagement with Weibo users. “We get nearly a question a day from students. This is a trend that we’ve never seen before.”
With this massive boost in followers, Binghamton now has the second largest fanbase of any American university on Weibo − and is gaining new followers at a rate of about 5,000 a day.
A social savvy school
Always on the lookout for worthwhile social networks and ways to reach out to prospective students, Binghamton launched its Weibo page in February 2012.
“As new social media outlets appear, we try to make sure we have a presence on them,” said Ryan Yarosh, the University’s director of media and public relations. He and his social media task force manage the University’s main social accounts. “If we see it’s being used and we see it’s a good tool for us, then we invest more time and resources into it.”
Yarosh and his team have made pretty good use of these tools so far, especially Facebook. Binghamton currently has the largest Facebook following in the 64-campus SUNY system, a fact that Yarosh attributes to the University’s regular posting of compelling content.
“I think it all comes down to content,” he said. “There’s a lot going on at Binghamton, so we want to promote things on our social media accounts that represent all the great things that are happening here.”
Taking the University’s already primed-for-engagement social content and repurposing it for a Chinese audience, Chen helped build the University’s Weibo fanbase from a meager three followers to more than 1,000 followers leading up to the chat event.
It was Binghamton’s proactive activity on Weibo that led parent company Sina to invite Chen to participate in the chat event, said Zach Yoder, an editor for Sina’s Education Channel who1 helped organize and promote the event.
“Binghamton is quite active on Weibo and it is paying off in a big way,” said Yoder. “It’s extremely convenient for us to work with a Chinese native, and Binghamton is a very good school, so I jumped at the chance to invite them.”
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