Weibo use by UK universities

I’ve blogged in the past about the potential of chinese social media for our recruitment and marketing. I recently managed to commission a survey of Weibo use by UK universities (carried out by @yimeizhu ). This will eventually be worked up into an article of some sort (plenty of interesting issues have been raised), but I thought it would be a good idea to blog some of the results while they are still current, and get some feedback.

This study involved the manual search on Weibo for an official university presence in the period 27th-29th August 2012. The list of institutions was taken from HESA and a similar study carried out looking at institutions’ presence on other social media sites. This list was matched against the mission groupings as they stood on 6thSeptember 2012, this was manually done through a comparison with the different groupings websites.

Out of 163 UK universities 94 (58%) have some sort of Weibo presence, of these 41 have verified accounts. There are some differences amongst the universities. 64% of universities in Wales have weibo, in Scotland the figure is 53% while in Northern Ireland, only one university has weibo site (25%). Turning to the different university mission groups we can see quite a wide variation in table 1. [this is a shortened version of the table as extra columns (for GuildHE (17%) and nonaffiliated (39%) ruined the formatting in wordpress)

Mission group

Russell Group


University Alliance

Million +

% with Weibo account





mean followers


















Institute of Education




East London

  Table 1. Weibo account by mission group

Once an account has been set up it needs followers to be of any value. Each follower has made an active decision to engage with the institution’s presence on weibo. They may be prospective, current or past students so there are potentially large numbers of followers available to each university.

  Frequency Percent
0-50 followers 20 21.3
51-500 followers 25 26.6
501-1000 followers 11 11.7
1001-5000 followers 31 33.0
5001+ 7 7.4
Total 94 100.0

Table 2 Followers on Weibo

This table gives an idea of the popularity of these accounts. Of particular interest are the accounts with large followers. There are 31 institutions with between 1001-5000 followers and 7 with over 5001. The institution with the largest number of followers is the University of Huddersfield with 30,469 followed by the University of Central Lancashire (25,442) and Kingston University (16,025). Huddersfield is in the University alliance, whereas the other two institutions are part of the million+ group.

Having an account is just the first step, however and table 1 gives a breakdown of the level of activity.

  Frequency Percent
everyday or almost everyday in the last month 16 17.0
frequent & have been tweeting recently 38 40.4
not very often (but has recently) 5 5.3
haven’t recently (nothing in last 2 months) 17 18.1
a few tweets in total (less than 5) 11 11.7
no content 7 7.4
Total 94 100.0

Table 3 Frequency of posted messages in the last month

We can see from table 3 that whilst 18 institutions can probably be categorised as dead/dormant users 54 clearly have some sort of regular interactions with Weibo. The three institutions with the most followers are all daily or frequent users, as you might expect.

So overall the survey found a pretty high level of use of Weibo by UK universities, although there is a big range in the level of interaction. This is clearly an area worth exploring from an admissions and marketing point of view, although there are a few questions remaining.

How do chinese students (and there parents?) use Weibo when thinking about which UK universities to apply to? Are the sites used by current students or alumni? Are there interactions between these groups? Is wiebo used in similar ways to other social media sites (such as a facebook page, which we set up a few years ago?). What are the intercultural issues for UK institutions in establishing and maintaining a presence on weibo and other foreign social media networks?

About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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2 Responses to Weibo use by UK universities

  1. Pingback: Chinese Twitter for Beginners (Part 2)

  2. Pingback: A case study of UK Universities’ use of #Weibo accounts | Scholarly Communication and Open Science

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