WeChat for Academia: 5 Western Publishers Who Have Created an Online Presence in China
China has grown to be a key player in the global research market, with its increasing research investment and output. The country’s total expenditure for research and development in 2019 was USD 322 billion. According to the 2022 Nature Index Annual Tables, China was second in research output only to the US. For this reason, academic publishers and societies have begun to expand their presence in China and are trying to engage with Chinese researchers more actively. This requires the use of China-specific social media platforms, among which WeChat easily stands out due to its popularity and “all-in-one” approach.
What is WeChat?
WeChat is one of the most popular social media platforms in China. It was launched in 2011 by the Chinese company Tencent as a free instant communication mobile application. It now has expanded beyond instant messaging to include, among others, a social feed (called “Moments”), a news feed, a short video platform, a payment gateway, and even a workplace communication and collaboration tool called “Enterprise WeChat.” Businesses can set up official accounts to connect with clients and post promotional content. Users can add and follow these official accounts through a special “shake” feature, by searching for a number, by checking the “nearby people” option, or by scanning a QR code. The Moments function also allows users to easily share content with friends in the form of text, videos or images. As of May 2022, WeChat had over 1.2 billion active users per month.
Publishers Using WeChat
A number of leading international publishers have set up official WeChat accounts to engage with Chinese researchers through content. Let’s look at a few examples:
According to the 2018 Annual Report of the top 1000 WeChat public accounts in China, the Nature account published 1216 WeChat articles in 2018 and got 5,760,000 reads, making it the most successful WeChat account owned by an international publisher in China. The Nature account provides multi-media content, including videos, text, and images. Of the total published articles, 75% were original ones. In 2018, the most popular article got 70,000 reads and 309 likes. Nature’s WeChat account (Figure 1) also provides services for researchers (e.g., researcher support, institutional collaboration, career support, and online courses), articles about research (e.g., a guide to open research, updates abouts the research community, announcements about outstanding papers by Chinese authors, and book publication announcements), and general services (e.g., journal subscription, email subscription, and About Us, Join Us, and Contact Us sections).
Taylor & Francis
Like the Nature account, the Taylor & Francis WeChat account (Figure 2) provides multi-media content (videos, text, and images). Taylor & Francis has taken continual steps to improve the performance of its WeChat account, and published 192 articles between January and July 2022. Through the account, users can check the status of their manuscripts and access academic resources (e.g., recommended books and journals, open access, research news and the publisher’s official Chinese website). The Latest News section covers job opportunities, Q&A articles, and interviews with deans and eminent researchers.
Figure 2: Taylor & Francis’ official WeChat account
Elsevier’s WeChat account published 304 articles in 2018 and received 100,000 reads. 43% of these were original articles and the most popular article received 6911 reads and 29 likes. Its rich video content has also received attention. The account provides author services (e.g., publishing advice and editing services) and research-related services (e.g., resources for authors, editors, and reviewers). Users can also access Elsevier books, journals, products, and solutions. They can search for, receive updates on, and register for academic conferences.
Figure 3: Elsevier’s official WeChat account
In 2018, Springer’s WeChat account has 542 articles, of which 319 were original. The most popular article received 4402 reads and 24 likes. The account also published 8 short videos, with hundreds of views but comparatively fewer likes. Through the account, users can obtain information about book publication and journal submission, access resources, contact journal editors, and subscribe for e-books. The account also has a recommended journals section for engineering, social science, environmental science, business and economics, and geography.
Figure 4. Springer’s official WeChat account
Unlike other publishers, Wiley has not published any video content using its WeChat account. In 2018, it published 292 articles, of which 146 were original ones. The most popular article received 2663 reads and 10 likes. Through the account, users can access publishing resources and journal recommendations, author support services (e.g., translation and research promotion), and Wiley China’s official website.
Figure 5: Wiley’s official WeChat account
Using WeChat to connect with Chinese academia calls for in-depth understanding of this platform and how users engage with it. However, considering its immense popularity in China and ability to provide practically any kind of service, investing in WeChat is worthwhile for an organization trying to expand its presence in China.
What makes some publishers’ WeChat accounts so successful? Take a look at this guide to WeChat best practices to learn more