We asked Benji Lamb, a British journalist/blogger based in Shanghai, China for the past 5 years, to give us an insight into Social Media usage in China. Much of our training here in the UK strongly features Facebook – which in China is banned! So what are the platforms you should be investigating if exporting to the Chinese market is on your business to do list!
The Chinese social media landscape is arguably the most unique and fascinating one in the world. Social media in China is now a huge phenomenon particularly with the rise of ‘Weibo’ (China’s answer to Twitter) and Tencent’s ‘WeChat’. The rise of social media as the dominant form of online communication is due to an increasing internet penetration rate, just under 50% of the Chinese population are now online. There are an astonishing 634 million internet users in China, over twice the population of the US! It thus comes as no surprise that social media has become a key target for marketers and businesses across the globe.
Social networking has evolved differently in the middle kingdom than in western societies. Forget about sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. In China the market is dominated by local, Chinese social media. The established networks that we’ve come to know in the west have not been able to successfully expand here due to strict state censorship. This results in a unique, Chinese specific, social networking eco-system.
The Chinese are incredibly active on social media and will often subscribe to a number of different networks. It goes without saying that all communication on these platforms needs to be translated into mandarin, the level of spoken and written English in China is still relatively low.
According to the China post, ‘Chinese ‘netizens’ spend about 40% of their 25 hours/week online on social networks’. More time on social networks results in more exposure to content and produces a higher number of interactions. This results in a social networking landscape that is evolving and changing even more quickly.
WeChat is currently the main social networking player to consider. It started as a simple app for the smartphone whose main appeal was to send short vocal and written messages before morphing into a fully fledged and integrated social networking platform. It has over 500 million registered users and is becoming increasingly popular in China and the rest of Asia. WeChat is more than just a social network, it can be used as wallet (when linked with Chinese payment service alipay), features a QR scanning code function and even serves as an application to order a private taxi.
QR codes are much more popular in China than in the west, promotional content can be shared and disseminated via these QR codes with brands encouraging consumers to follow their subscription accounts. Unique content and promotional offers can be provided as an incentive to follow a brand on WeChat. WeChat is typically a more ‘closed’ network as users can only see interactions and posts by those they are already connected with.
Weibo also has over 500 million users, the site is more akin to Twitter in the sense that users can see posts from anyone, it is therefore a more open network for marketers and brands to capitalize upon.
Scottish whiskey brand ‘Famous Grouse’ are one such example of an international brand operating on Weibo in China, there is an increasingly affluent middle class here with more Chinese consumers seeking reputable products from overseas. Here is ‘Famous Grouse’s’ Weibo account, the whisky is considered a luxury brand with the choice of image reflecting this up-market image. Edrington’s (the parent company’s) chairman and chief executive Ian Good spoke of how; “the consumer reaction has been excellent. We are now in an excellent position to grow sales and improve market share,” according to Just Drinks. The Chinese traditionally have not drunk whiskey but engaging in social networking campaigns has expanded the brands consumer base on this platform. They have over 30,000 followers on Weibo. Consumer tastes and expectations are changing.
Users will often have e-commerce platforms linked to their social networks and will regularly share their purchases, online word of mouth is arguably the most powerful tool at ones disposal in China.
Bear in mind that the Chinese are particularly influenced by those in their immediate social circle, they increasingly distrust traditional state media and turn to social networks as their main source of information. What other users are posting about and sharing particular influences Chinese users. Managing and coordinating a digital campaign effectively on these platforms is thus vital. If a brand is not seen here it is practically invisible in China.
Top Advice for western brands looking to market themselves on social networks in China.
- Content is king. Create interesting, shareable content in mandarin that will appeal to Chinese consumers. Often content that goes viral is humorous and silly in China.
- Be active on social media. Really engage with consumers directly, people appreciate direct communication.
- Utilize the ‘Key Opinion Leader’ or KOL. These are famous personalities in China that have already gathered a significant following around them, they often have thousands if not millions of followers and recruiting them to post favorable content about a brand can be incredibly effective.
- Find specialist partners in China. They will have in-depth knowledge of the market and have the links and local resources you need to tap into.
Benji is the ‘Chief Editor’ and ‘Content Marketing Manager’ at Gentlemen Marketing Agency. He has lived in Shanghai, China for five years. He is passionate about social networking and digital marketing in China.