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5 Things We Can Learn From Chinese Digital Firms

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China’s economic rise in the past decade has resulted in the nation boasting world’s largest online population with over 650 million users (double the entire population of the US) with an internet penetration rate of approximately 50%.

This market presents a huge opportunity for western brands looking to expand into the mysterious orient; a comprehensive ‘China specific’ digital strategy is thus a  necessity.

Here are five ways the Chinese social media market differs and is wholly unique.

China’s Social Media Ecosystem is Unique

The Chinese social media market has developed under different political, economic and social conditions than in the West.

Due to strict censorship and internet moderation the original platforms that we know in the west have not been able to develop at all in China. The market is dominated by domestic platforms that cater specifically for the Chinese user. Only a certain breadth and range of content can exist in China because of the states ideology and control.

Different Platforms

Weibo is China’s answer to Twitter, it has grown phenomenally with over 500 million users. It literally translates as ‘Micro Blog’. Weibo is a very open social network for marketers as users can see posts from anyone; they don’t already need to be connected.

Many established western fashion brands are now operating on Weibo as well as football teams such as Manchester United, Barcelona, and Arsenal. Weibo is a brilliant platform to directly communicate with followers and galvanize support, content is highly visible because anyone can see what is trending.

WeChat is China’s largest social network with over 650 million active users, it has taken full advantage of integration and is simultaneously a messaging platform, a micro-blogging service, a wallet app, games centre and a banking app (to name a few). WeChat is arguably the most advanced social network in terms of the plethora of services offered in the world.

To effectively promote on WeChat you need to be connected so provide promotional incentives for followers and create group games and conversations. The goal is to attract as many followers as possible and have other users share your content on their ‘moments’ (akin to a status update).

Youku is China’s answer to Youtube and has been a huge digital success reporting a 57% increase in revenue from the previous year in their latest financial report. Users create accounts and can share video content/communicate.

There are also millions of active users on channels such as QQ, Nice, Meipai, Tianya and many more. Social media is starting to replace traditional news media for man users. Trust in traditional sources has eroded so people increasingly turn to social media outlets for information. ‘WeChat’ is even referred to as the ‘WeChat Times’.

Without a presence on these networks you are invisible in China!

Chinese social media has ‘gone mobile’

China has adopted the internet nationwide with mobile playing an important rolei n encouraging more people to get online. In China today more people than ever access the internet from a mobile device, of the 650 million users online, 80% of users are accessing the internet via their mobile phones as well as their PC’s.

This affects how the Chinese engage with social media often ‘on the go’ and at any place or time. This leads to a very engaged user producing an increasing number of interactions on networks. The Chinese user is preoccupied with documenting their life as it happens on their social media; increasing wi-fi in public spaces in large cities has encouraged this phenomenon.

The Chinese highly value their social network

The Chinese are strongly influenced by their social network on media platforms, paying close attention to product or brand recommendations from their friends and family. There is a distinct lack of independent consumer research in China, rather a strong culture of recommendation.

It is thus very important for brands to be personable and actively social on networks, direct community management in a style which is open and friendly appeals here, the Chinese like to think of their chosen brands as ‘friends’ and will publicly share and support brands who tap into their own sense of identity.

‘We are Social’ was a very popular campaign in China by Durex, they saw the huge potential of Chinese people talking about love and relationships on Chinese networks to leverage their own brand, they engaged with consumers directly and encouraged these conversations in line with their condom range.

The dominance of video content

Video content and channels are very different in China.

‘Youku’ is a distinct proposition; the website is known for longer, more in-depth videos as well as its original content. This effectively caters for the Chinese market as the 40 million weekly users spend, on average, over an hour a day on the site. The amount of time people spend on YouTube in comparison is around 25 minutes, this leads to significantly more exposure.

Youku has embraced the development of original content. In March, it announced that it was doubling its original content budget to $98 million.

Video content being shared via Youku on Weibo and WeChat is often popular and shareable content, cartoon style graphics and animations remain popular in the as does slapstick style humor.

QR Codes, O2O marketing

QR codes have exploded in China; they are now embedded into the physical environment of many large cosmopolitan Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

O2O (offline to online, and vice versa) is a powerful tool. Consumers often will scan QR codes on physical products linking directly to a company’s official WeChat account. Many brands offer incentives to scan the codes for unique promotional content or discounts, this encourages consumers to follow official WeChat accounts.

About the Author

Benji is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, China. For more information see his website/blog here.

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