The Chinese digital landscape is a completely unique proposition for western businesses and marketers. The whole online eco-system developed under a completely unique set of conditions with state regulation and internet censorship creating, in effect, a separate ‘corner’ of the internet. Indeed one can think of the online system in China as a large scale ‘intranet’ rather than the open source system we are used to. The scale is vast, there are now over 750 million Chinese connected online reflecting an internet penetration rate of 55%, this will no doubt continue.
As a result of this government control a host of Chinese, domestic platforms dominate the digital environment here; they are unique and perfectly adapted to cater for the needs of the Chinese market. Social Networks are perhaps the best example of this differentiation and here I will explore the key features of Chinese social networking and how to market your brand or business on social media in China. It is a cliché but is not the biggest fish in China that survives but the fastest and most adaptable one, understanding the different social networks is your first step.
The popular social media platforms in the China
WeChat is the largest network in China with over 700 million active users; it began life as a simple messaging app before morphing into the most integrated and arguably intelligent platform in the world. Users can send voice, text or video messages with many additional services including ‘WeChat Moments’ (akin to a news feed), an E-Wallet function where users can make payments and transfer money, location and mapping services, instant taxi booking and host of different gaming options.
Businesses here need to create official accounts and attract followers on WeChat; users can only see your content posted if they subscribe to your account. WeChat offers different levels of ‘official accounts’ which can be highly customized with personalized menu’s, content and interactivity, in effect this is like having your own micro site within WeChat.
Weibo literally translates as ‘micro blog’ and is akin to the US Twitter. Users send short messages and text. It is actually a more open network than WeChat as users can see content posted by anyone, regardless of whether they are following them. On WeChat you need to be connected first. With 500 million users this is a key network to develop your presence and reputation on.
QQ is the largest email service and forum in China. It is a key site for the development of e-reputation with threads on a wide range of topics, it is important to accurately target the right threads most suited to your product or services. You can also create threads and build communities around certain topics by facilitating relevant discussion. It goes without saying that communication needs to be in conversational Chinese.
Here are the distilled social media strategies for the Chinese Social Media in 2017
#1 QR Codes – Offline to Online
The phenomenon of the QR code is much bigger in China than in the west. The Chinese have embraced QR technology with users scanning codes to access online content, unlock promotions and follow or view social network accounts. QR codes will be your greatest asset when marketing on social platforms but you need to create quality content and incentives for users to scan them. They also allow you to link your social media accounts with content posted on Weibo often featuring QR links to WeChat accounts.
It also allows brands to bring consumers from an offline status to online, in this way your digital strategy can be very effective, and you can curate and manage an online community around your media accounts and drive high levels of traffic in this way.
#2 Micro-Commerce on WeChat
This is a new area for potential growth. In China e-commerce platforms and social media accounts are now linked. On WeChat companies can now host official micro stores within the application itself. WeChat is set to facilitate this fusion of commerce and social because of the e-wallet feature, WeChat links with a user’s bank account enabling them to pay instantly.
You can develop a micro store and customize this; it is much like hosting your own site within WeChat itself. This trend reflects the Chinese consumers demand for online shopping as WeChat move to offer an even more integrated service.
Be aware that with Micro-Stores all content has to be mobile optimized, WeChat is not widely used on PC’s; it was designed as a smart-phone application primarily.
#3 The Chinese are sensitive to e-reputation
The Chinese consumer is particularly sensitive to e-reputation; they go online to check reviews on forums and will also seek out your social media pages. The cultivation of positive e-sentiment here is very important, your level of interactivity is important as the Chinese like to connect directly with businesses in this social setting. The more collectivist mind-set and focus on close family and friends means the consumer is strongly influenced by the views and opinions of their social circle. If they recommend a product or service their large social networks often buy into it too.
#4 Utilize the Key Opinion Leader
Key Opinion Leaders or KOL’s are very influential figures online in China who have built up significant following on social networks. They are established as either experts in their field or are akin to an online celebrity figure. Forging connections with KOL’s and recruiting them to promote your brand really helps you gain high visibility. Many influencers are keen to promote western brands as this has become a by-word for quality in China.
#5 Tailor your communication to the Chinese Audience
Social Media Marketing strategies that are effective in the west are not necessarily popular in China. You need to understand the market and what is popular. Cartoon, highly stylized aesthetics remain popular with big digital players such as Baidu or Tmall opting for cartoon, child-like animal graphics. Content needs not just to be translated into Mandarin Chinese but also adapted and changed so that your message can be communicated to a different market. What style of conversation are you going to adopt on social media chat groups? You need to establish yourself as the friendly expert in your field and will need a quality Chinese sales team to help convert leads. In China it is not the biggest fish who survive but the fastest and most adaptable one!
If you have a project the key is to take it to market in China first, there is a culture of fakery and copying but being first to market is a huge thing in order to be seen as authentic. Actually western business practice is well respected in China as it associated with quality; you need to communicate this online on WeChat, Weibo and QQ to develop both your e-reputation and visibility in order to generate leads.