As globalization continues to become the law of the land, U.S. universities are being forced to adapt, especially given China’s increasing demand for American educations. The demand has tempted major U.S. universities to engage Chinese students via social media, which has churned up some unpredicted results.
One peculiar phenomenon has been Yale’s skyrocketing popularity via China’s social media website Sina Weibo, which is the Chinese version of Twitter. Popular worldwide social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not accessible in China, and so many entrepreneurs have created Chinese versions of the popular social media websites. However, American and Europeans do not have a native knowledge of how the Chinese platforms work in Chinese culture.
The explosion of Yale’s popularity on Sina Weibo can likely be attributed to zombies, or fake accounts that are mostly inactive, but follow other users to boost another’s popularity or prestige.
Yale’s Sina Weibo account debuted in December and now has over 140,000 followers. Other American universities’ follower counts pale in comparison: Duke has one 3,000, Michigan 6,000, and University of California, Berkeley 11,000. The only other international university with skyrocketing numbers is the People’s Friendship University of Russia.
A Yale spokesman has said that they are just as baffled about the phenomenon as anyone else, and have not purchased followers to boost their rating.
"We don't do it, we don't promote it, we don't encourage it, we don't like it,"spokesman Michael Morand said to ABC, adding: "Not to be cheeky about it, but it's sort of like 'Newsflash: Spam is inherent on the Internet.'"
Though the popularity may been seen as a good thing on western shores, it could be bad for Yale’s brand in China, where they could easily lose credibility with Chinese students if they believe Yale is deceptively inflating their numbers.
"Given the criticality of the Chinese market to the international dimensions of these institutions, I think it's even more alarming that you're releasing control of this aspect of your brand," said Jason Lane, a State University of New York at Albany expert on internationalization efforts of U.S. universities. "Part of oversight is knowing what they're saying but it's also a cultural issue of not really knowing how it's playing.
"This is part of the learning curve," Lane added. "There are bound to be some hiccups along the way."
Source: ABC News