Your Guide to WeChat and Social Media in China
As many of us are probably aware, China is the world’s second largest economy. However, in spite of its size, China is a very different market from the one we are familiar with here in the US. That’s because, although consumers have choices it’s still a communist political system. Therefore, marketers have to deal with issues like censorship and different social networks than the ones used in Western economies. Here are some resources to help you navigate.
An Introduction to Chinese Social Media
Many of the social networks we take for granted in the west are unavailable in mainland China. For example, only Macau and Hong Kong have access to Facebook and Twitter. While there are a few elites who are allowed access and consumers who use workarounds, to reach the majority of Chinese citizens we must use different forums for digital marketing. It’s also necessary to adapt the brand message for a Chinese audience.
Olivier Verot is a China expert. His first tip is simple: think about Baidu. Baidu is the largest search engine in China and considered equivalent to Google. Treat Baidu the same way you would Google in the west and base your SEO on its algorithms. His second tip? Influencer marketing is huge in China, but be sure to use Chinese influencers instead of western ones. Likewise, avoid forcing western culture on the Chinese, but be sure to capitalize on their views of western culture. Be sure to use your online presence to stimulate offline purchases, and be an inspirational brand for maximum results.
An Overview of Chinese Social Networks
Because so many western social networks are banned in China, it has become necessary for Chinese companies to develop their own. After all, Chinese people who spend time overseas bring these ideas, and the demand for them, home.
Miguel Roburg tells us which social media networks are trending in China, and gives comparisons with their western equivalents. First off is WeChat, which is similar to Facebook. With over a billion users, this is the number one network in China and it includes some global members as well. Sina Weibo is similar to Twitter, but has a lot of problems with spam. Roburg recommends using it for brand awareness and not much else. Youku/Tudou are two platforms under the same company, and resemble YouTube with the distinction that Youku streams short videos and Tudou long ones. If you’re selling books or are into pop culture, think about engaging through Douban, which is more niche than the other networks. Lastly, RenRen is similar to WeChat, but much smaller and only appeals to students.
Lorenzo Brizzo gives us another list of social networks in China, this time from a marketers perspective. WeChat, of course, is always important. However, Tik Tok (DouYin) started in China and is a fun place to reach out to the young consumer. ZhiHu is the choice for customer education and telling your brand story, because of its question and answer format. TouTiao is an AI-based news source in China, and many marketers use it for B2B sales. XiaoHongShu, or “little red book,” is an ideas platform similar to Pinterest or Instagram. However, like with Amazon you can buy things on the website, so this one’s used for e-commerce as well. No matter your choice, though, be sure to keep abreast of current trends, as they’re constantly changing in China.
In China, social media and ecommerce go hand in hand, and this is somewhat different from the American reality. Tony DeGennaro gives us three main Chinese websites where this happens. First, there’s XiaoHongShu, which is one of the largest shopping apps in China in addition to its social aspects. Second, there’s Pinduoduo, which is designed for bargain hunters and listed on the Nasdaq. Third, WeChat offers shopping opportunities. These include WeChat stores, which allow for purchases at the click of a button, mini programs which are like the social games we’ve all seen on Facebook, and Good Product Circle which acts like a shopping list. Each provides unique opportunities for marketers to reach the Chinese customer.
Social media in China is always changing, and Olivier Verot gives us a list of eleven new platforms. In brief, there are several types of these apps. For instance, dating-related apps include Tantan, MeetYou, and Dayima. LaMaBang lets new moms socialize, and Laiwang is a messaging app with networking capabilities similar to Facebook. Both Momo and PengPeng allow users to gather over common interests or games. Papa can be likened to Instagram, while P1 appeals to high-income luxury customers. Lastly, Ricebook is a recipe app for foodies.
Here’s another listing of social networks. WeChat is mentioned, but so is Meilisho. This one is specifically for talking about the latest beauty and fashion trends, which is a huge part of the Chinese market. Qyer is a great place to plan the next vacation and trade experiences, important because the Chinese love to travel. Didi dache is used for calling a taxi, so it’s great for city dwellers. Lastly, many people think Weibo is becoming less important because users get bombarded with too many ads.
Formally known as XiaoHongShu, this social network is not to be confused with Mao’s treatise by a similar name. With a mainly female audience, the “little red book” has more than 60 million members and counting. Like so many other networks in China, its emphasis is commercial, and according to Didier Verot it’s a great place to connect with customers. That’s particularly true for beauty, fashion, and luxury products, because “red” helps people buy things that are hard to find in the Chinese mainland. Essentially, you can think of it as a shoppable version of Pinterest that appeals to millennials. The bottom line is that this is a wonderful place for foreign brands to access the Chinese market with minimal trouble.
Here, Verot dives into some social features within Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google. First, Baidu Zhidao is a sort of bulletin board where people can ask questions and get them answered. As a marketer, you want to make sure that your company is listed on the first page of relevant searches. Baidu Tieba is more like Instagram, where a lot of famous people connect with their fans. It’s also a go-to location if you’re trying to find information on a particular topic, so marketers will want to have a profile there. Lastly, Baidu Baike is like the western Wikipedia, where you’ll find articles about famous and trustworthy people or other topics. This one, however, is harder to commercialize.
As the dominant social network in China, WeChat is a powerful marketing tool. However, with Chinese and American cultures being so different, making the right pitch can seem much more difficult. Worse, a wrong move can have severe consequences due to censorship policies in China. Fortunately, there are some resources available to help you think about an appropriate strategy.
Perhaps the greatest thing about WeChat is its all-in-one capability. Not only is it a social network, but it functions as a chatroom, PayPal-like payment provider, and much more. For marketers, the most important thing is to be creative, because the company allows for corporate partnerships. Quality content and loyalty programs are both successful. Include both QR codes and consumer incentives, while also building websites inside the application itself. These websites can be used for marketing campaigns, and the images can be made shoppable. With the exception of censorship concerns, WeChat allows a lot of creativity.
In this article, Olivier Verot looks at five western brands that successfully leveraged WeChat for marketing. Givenchy won big by collaborating with the right person and launching the product at the right time. As a result, their limited-edition purse sold out in minutes. Montblanc pens first told their brand story, and then inspired customers to create by including a pen with their chosen color in pictures. These were shared, and the initiative increased sales. Pepsi was able to increase sales by creating a Chinese New year-themed video game on WeChat. Damac properties successfully gathered sales leads by inspiring customers to picture themselves in places where they build developments. Lastly, Austrian beverage company Twist and Drink was able to successfully launch into China with a WeChat store.
Video Marketing in China
One way that Chinese and American consumers are alike is that they love video. This is true whether it’s TV, streaming services, or creative individuals having fun. And, savvy marketers can capitalize on this.
Live streaming has become a major marketing method in China lately. In particular, brands will often do livestreams with influencers to sell products, which are also shown on the screen for purchase. Another technique is to have live advertisements, like you see on QVC or HSN, only streamed online. Both commercial forms of live streaming have allowed the right people to make a steady income. However, it’s important that brands be careful, because this area is becoming overpopulated.
Influencer Marketing in China
Another way that Chinese and American customers are similar is their responsiveness to influencer marketing. After all, it’s a great way to find out what works (or doesn’t), and which options are the best for a particular customer type.
Although it’s easy in the West to sell fashion without using a lot of influencers, if you’re an international brand in China it’s very difficult. Rather, Chinese customers value the opinions of other Chinese. However, most influencer marketing is done on the video platforms, while picture sharing options are limited. Also, be sure and give the influencer plenty of creative freedom, because they know their constituency much better than you do. And, like you would with western influencers, make sure and engage with them long term.