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The Chinese Social Media Landscape

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The Chinese social media landscape is arguably the dynamic, unique and fascinating one in the world. Social media in China has grown phenomenally particularly with the rise of Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter) and WeChat. This is because of an increasingly high internet penetration rate, currently just under 50% of the total population are online. There are now 634 million Chinese internet users, that’s over twice the population of the US. It is therefore no surprise that social media has become a key target for marketers and businesses across the globe.

Social networking in China is however a distinct and enigmatic proposition for many western brands. Due to internet censorship the traditional networking platforms that we know in the west have not been able to gain traction here. The market is dominated by local, Chinese social media outlets who have developed under very different conditions. This results in a specific networking eco-system that is very unique to the Chinese market.

Here is some information and advice on Chinese social networking for western companies interested in digital marketing in the (aptly named) ‘mysterious orient’.

There is a larger, very active user base in China

The number of people using social networking in China is significantly more than in the US with an estimated 400 million active monthly users. The Chinese display a seemingly insatiable demand for networking often subscribing to several different networks.

According to the China post, ‘Chinese ‘netizens’ spend about 40% of their 25 hours/week online on social networks’. More time on social networks leads directly to more exposure to content and produces a higher number of interactions. This in turn leads to a social networking landscape that is evolving and developing more quickly.

The main social networking platforms

Weibo: Weibo is a micro-blogging platform which works in essentially the same way as the American ‘Twitter’. Users can exchange any type of content and follow other user’s accounts. With 500 million registered accounts it is the key social network to be engaging with if you are attempting to enter the Chinese market. Weibo is the place to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s popular in China. It is a very ‘open’ social network and therefore the most effective for marketers. Users can see posts from anyone, they do not have to be connected first.

Wechat: Wechat is Tencent’s flagship social network. 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, integrated social networking platform. It has over 500 million registered users and is on the rise, both locally and internationally (particularly in Asia).

It has become an incredibly popular platform here acting also as a wallet (it links to Alipay), a QR scanning code device and even as an application to order a private taxi. The QR code is much more popular in China than in the west, brands often encourage consumers to scan this code (featured on physical products) and follow them on WeChat for exclusive offers, discounts and content.

Users post ‘moments’ (akin to a status update on Facebook) but can only see content posted or shared by those they are already connected with, this makes it a slightly more challenging network for marketers. Brands need to build a following on WeChat via a subscription account.

BaiduTieba: This is part of the Chinese search engine ‘Baidu’ which prevails over 70% of it’s own market. Tieba is a forum for topics searchable by subject categories. Content becomes more important the more it gains visibility based on the ranking of the community. For a brand, the objective here is to establish a large enough following who are ranking their content highly so that it appears at the top of the Tieba community page.

Qzone: A social networking website created by Tencent in 2005. It is largely an instant messaging platform but users can join groups to discuss certain topics.

The Chinese are particularly influenced by their immediate social circle

This is a key reason why the digital solution can be so effective for western brands here. The Chinese increasingly distrust traditional media sources and turn to the social networks for their information. Content shared amongst a user’s network carries with it a strong sense of legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese consumer. This is why it is so important for western brands to be operating on these platforms, people greatly appreciate direct communication here.

The ‘Key Opinion Leader’ (KOL) on social media

KOL’s are Chinese personalities or ‘experts’ who have gathered a large following around them with thousands if not millions of followers holding them in high esteem. They are incredibly influential and can be recruited on behalf of a brand to promote positive messages about a brand.

Social media is becoming more fragmented with new platforms emerging

Many people focus on the current, most dominant Chinese social networks but this I feel is an oversight. New forms of expression constantly emerge in this fast paced, ever changing market. Remember there is both a huge demand for social networks and little foreign competition. The Chinese state are providing many grants and incentives for new creative, tech start-ups whichis encouraging new platforms to be created. With increasing numbers of people of all different ages and backgrounds using social media there is likely to be a demand for ‘new’ spaces where users can communicate and share content in a different way.

Two examples are ‘Nice’ (a photo app similar to Instagram) and ‘Meipai’ (a video app similar to Vine). Brands such as Ray Ban and Bulgari have begun to launch campaigns on these platforms. Neither has yet gained dominance but it is expected that the fragmentation of the networking landscape through these types of ‘alternative’ networks will continue.

Top Advice for western brands looking to market themselves on social networks in China

  • Content is king in the orient. Create interesting, shareable content in mandarin that will appeal to the Chinese. Often content is produced in a cartoon style, cartoon animals for example are popular.
  • Be active on social media. Really engage with consumers directly, people appreciate direct communication and are more likely to share your brand in their network.
  • Utilize the ‘Key Opinion Leader’ or KOL. Recruiting these figures on behalf of a brand can be extremely 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 utilize.

Benji is a digital marketing specialist at Gentlemen Agency. He is passionate about social media, e-commerce and digital solutions for western firms operating in China.

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  • There is 1 comment


    • 6 months ago

      alex   /   Reply

      Thank you it is a nice sum up of the situation.
      I suggest to the author to give more example and case studies to have a better understanding

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