The Role of Social Media in Chinese Students’ Choice of a Tertiary Education Provider in New Zealand
With over 25-million subscription accounts on the platform, the official WeChat account is the home of compelling content that inspires Chinese students to study abroad. WeChat official accounts (WOAs) are widely used by Chinese students when deciding on a study destination. However, few studies have focused on the effect of WOAs on prospective Chinese students' choices of study destinations and tertiary institutions. Thus, this study investigates how WOAs influence Chinese students' decision-making process with the aim of assisting education providers, particularly those in New Zealand, to better meet Chinese students' needs and increase the success rate of international student recruitment. The study was conducted in New Zealand and included 37 students who were each offered two WOA posts for preview and evaluation prior to the interview. The study employed an inductive approach to explore prospective Chinese students' attitudes and user habits and to identify the role of WOAs in choosing tertiary education providers. The researcher utilised a qualitative data collection method, conducting in-depth interviews with Chinese students interested in pursuing undergraduate or postgraduate studies overseas. In total, 31 Chinese students participated in the study and discussed their experiences and perspectives of various aspects of their WOAs. Through thematic analysis, five themes emerged from the data: 1) deciding to study abroad, 2) finding the most popular social media content, 3) creating eye-catching social media posts, 4) how to use social media platforms, and 5) choosing a study destination. This study found that WOAs play a positive role in increasing brand awareness of tertiary institutions and helping them engage directly with prospective Chinese students. WOAs are a valuable tool for Chinese students searching for relevant information online. Furthermore, WOAs serve as an interactive platform that creates a large social community amongst Chinese students that includes their families and teachers, allowing them to share their views and experiences related to their overseas study plans. This research contributes to the literature in two ways. First, it provides a thorough understanding of how micro factors related to push and pull theory influence Chinese students' overseas study decisions. Second, prior research has focused on the reflections of students who have enrolled in overseas institutions. This study investigates the views of prospective students to gain insights into their decision-making process rather than the results of their decisions. Moreover, this study also found that age does not affect preferred content format, which contradicts prior research that has found a favourable association between age groups and preferred social media content format. The findings of this study offer some practical suggestions for tertiary education providers, such as how to create an attractive WOA and connect to their prospective students through the WOA.