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OCTOBER 31, 2017 //     

What US digital marketers need to know about social media in China

PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGESBy: Patrick Dean Hodgson

Despite banning social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, China has one of the most unique and influential social media landscapes with some 400 million monthly active users. And while both China and the United States use social media for marketing purposes, there are distinct differences between the applications the two countries use and how they use them. Not only do they use separate media platforms, but their cultures are drawn predictably to different things. To succeed in China, digital marketers in the U.S. must understand the different platforms, attitudes and culture that prevail in the People’s Republic.

No Facebook or Twitter? No Problem

WeChat is China’s largest social media platform. It is truly all-purpose, offering chat, social media, Alibaba payments, news, hotel bookings and dating services. It has 963 million monthly active users and plans to grow its audience by opening itself to U.S. advertisers.

QQ is an instant messaging app that’s a bit like WeChat. Features accessible to 850 million monthly active users include integrated emails, games, music streaming, dating services, as well as integration with its social media outlet Qzone. If you have a younger target audience, this is the channel you need to use.

Qzone is connected to QQ messenger. Its 606 million monthly active users can create status updates, author blogs, add background music and play games. Profiles can also be customized like Myspace allowed users back in the early social media era.

Weibo offers microblogging services equivalent to a Twitter/Facebook combination. The platform Sina founded in 2009 boasts 361 million active users who are mostly between 18 to 30 years old.

Notably, Internet juggernaut Tencent owns WeChat, QQ and Qzone.

China’s user base more active, more influenced by social circle

The Chinese love networking, and it’s not uncommon for the average Chinese user to subscribe to multiple different networks and use each one actively. The Chinese spend on average 40 percent of their weekly online time using social media sites.

At the same time, the Chinese mistrust deeply traditional media and rely on social networks for accurate, meaningful news and information. Any shared content in a Chinese user’s network holds a strong sense of legitimacy. China users are especially influenced by the thoughts, views and opinions of their closest friends and family members. A popular marketing approach in China is offering promotional discounts that include the entire family.

Key Opinion Leaders

A Key Opinion Leader (KOL) is a Chinese figure who holds a large following, ranging from the thousands to millions. These influential figures can be used to promote effectively a brand or message. Here are some of China’s most influential KOLs:

  • Papi Jiang – Papi Jiang is an active internet celebrity who uses social media sites like Weibo and Youku. She is famous for her video podcasts, which make fun of the daily news. She has over 8 million Weibo followers.
  • Ma Jianguo – This is the second-highest ranked Weibo account, which is followed by more than 24 million fans. Jianguo’s popularity can be largely attributed to her dog (NiuNiu) and cat (DuanWu). Fans love following the daily lives of these two animals.
  • Aikeli Li – Aikeli is one of China’s most famous bloggers and photographers. He has more than 9 million Weibo followers.Tips for approaching social media in China

In China, content is king – By creating interesting shareable content in Mandarin, you will have greater appeal to Chinese consumers. Popular content is often created in cartoon style due to the popularity of cartoon characters.

Always be active – You must truly engage with Chinese consumers to attract their interest and attention. They are more likely to share your brand within their close network if you use a more direct communication approach and remain consistently active.

Seek out a KOL – A KOL can be your brand’s greatest asset. Finding and recruiting one or more of these prominent figures can be extremely beneficial for your brand, instantly increasing your credibility.

Paid Social – Similar, to the U.S. paid social is vital to successful results. You’ll need to take time to understand what type of advertising is included on each channel. WeChat is the most expensive among the platforms. You can run banner ads and moment posts (think Facebook status update). QQ and Qzone offers Tencent ads. Weibo is the best option of the group because of the amount of targeting options. The most effective choices include display advertisements, search engine promotion, fan headline and fan tunnel.

While having a great social media presence in China seems like a tall task, it’s achievable and requires a new way of thinking. Understanding the pros and cons of WeChat, QQ, Qzone and Weibo is a first step. Partnering with the right KOLs is a bigger step. Are you ready to try social media in China? Your commitment level will definitely be challenged.

Patrick Hodgson is digital director at Allison+Partners. 

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