May 22, 2014

Building Georgetown’s Presence in China Through the Chinese Social Media Weibo

Georgetown is looking beyond the dominant U.S. social media outlets as it engages with an international audience online.

In China, where the government blocks access to Facebook, Twitter, and other foreign social networks, domestic Chinese social media firms like Sina Weibo have filled the void.

Georgetown launched its first official page on Weibo, one of the more popular Chinese sites, in 2011.

Georgetown on Weibo

Georgetown created an official presence on Weibo in late 2011. This followed a review of references to Georgetown on Weibo, most of which had been made by Georgetown students and alumni. These unofficial posts, centered around life at Georgetown and the United States, were becoming increasingly frequent, with over 1,600 Georgetown-related posts on Weibo in summer 2011.

To complement informal conversations by students and alumni, Georgetown established an official feed to share stories from university web sites, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. The university's posts feature faculty research, programs, and opportunities for students, the university’s global activities, and new initiatives around campus. Posts are in Chinese, although many reference or link to English-language web content.

As with other social media, engagement with Chinese social media is designed to build Georgetown’s brand in China, keep Chinese alumni engaged with the university, and encourage greater awareness of and interest in participating in Georgetown programs by Chinese audiences.

Several programs at Georgetown have since created their own, individual Weibo pages. The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Georgetown Law Center developed pages in 2012, a testament to Weibo's effectiveness in communicating with prospective students and maintaining outreach with alumni. 

Building a Community on Weibo

Presence on Weibo provides Georgetown fans with a virtual place to catch up on recent news about the university, to watch videos about on-campus events, or to interact with the Georgetown Weibo administrator and other followers.

The number of the Georgetown Weibo followers has grown to 3,690 since 2011. Posts on well-known alumni and faculty, political leaders speaking on campus, Georgetown athletic news, and campus life usually receive the most comments and shares. Followers also use Weibo as a way to communicate with the university administration, asking questions ranging from college admissions to job advertisement.

In general, many Chinese audiences see the official and active presence on Weibo as an indication of the commitment Georgetown has made to its development in China. 

U.S. Universities on Weibo

Georgetown was among the earliest U.S. universities to adopt Weibo as a local social media strategy in China. Since 2012, there has been a notable increase in U.S. universities’ verified or official presence on Weibo. Some are run by an academic program (e.g. Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, USC Viterbi School of Engineering) or the admissions office (e.g. Notre Dame undergraduate admissions office) with a specific purpose and target audience, while the rest provide general information about the university.

As of January 2014, many of Georgetown’s peer schools—Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of Chicago, and Duke—had established one or several Weibo accounts to represent themselves or their programs. Notably, the president of George Mason University has been posting his thoughts on Weibo since September 2012. His verified Weibo page has attracted over 40,000 followers, even though the posts are all in English and are not specifically targeted to the Chinese audience.