Your quick guide to social media strategy in China

A comparison of user base in China's social media sector

China’s social media boom is known to the world, as well as its adamant ban of the global social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Western businesses might ask: how can one utilize social media channels in China in order to take advantage of its huge consumer base?

Understanding social media in China is not impossible. Chinese consumers are more likely to be influenced by key opinion leaders (KOLs) and follow recommendations by family and friends. In addition, the Chinese social media platform fosters more players than those in the West, harvesting faster development and making government censorship challenging. To succeed in Chinese social media marketing, one must implement localized strategies, support brand goals with sustained social media efforts and constantly adapt, interact, learn from the dynamics of targeted customers.

 No Success without Localization

Let’s first take a look at a failed marketing campaign by Dove. Dove implemented its Real Beauty social media campaign, purposed to promote all body types and looks among women. However, what they failed to understand is that China is a relatively mono-ethnic country and that homogeneity is much more emphasized than individuality. Naturally, this value is carried onto Chinese aesthetic standards. Therefore, the “real women” portrayed in the were perceived as being “fat” and “unattractive”, not exactly the point Dove thrived to convey.

Soon enough, Dove localized their marketing campaign by collaborating with the popular TV series Ugly Wudi, a Chinese adaptation of Ugly Betty, and integrated the “real beauty” concept into its story line. This campaign immediately prompted millions of searches, online chats, blog posts and other initiatives on Chinese social media. The results? Dove body wash sales increased by 21% after the first season of Ugly Wudi, its Real Beauty campaign unaided awareness was raised by 44% amongst targeted customers and estimated return on investment from this strategy was four times that of traditional TV media investment.

Deciphering the Chinese Social Media Market

One of the ways that the Chinese market is unique is the presence of government censorship. On the contrary, the Chinese social media phenomenon seems quite unaffected by restrictions or bans and is in fact one of the most active, fasted developing and high potential markets in the world. Ninety-seven percent of metropolitan Chinese online adults use social media tools and more than 80% Chinese social-media users have multiple social-media accounts with local players. With censorship, Chinese consumers are quite skeptical of official institutions and authority and instead put an almost disproportionate amount of faith in KOLs and word of mouth. Key opinion leaders can be celebrities, commercial accounts, industry experts, or even grassroots folks who are building a name for themselves. KOLs spread their ideas via the most popular Chinese social media websites such as Sina or Tecent Weibo. KOLs develop fan bases or followers and generate mass interaction with online users, creating brand awareness for the product or service they are promoting. Additionally, online users spread the word by distributing to their family and friends via channels such as Wechat moments or Weibo posts, creating a powerful social media wave which is highly persuasive. For example, a survey shows that 66% of Chinese consumers purchased moisturizers based on advice from the above personnel compared to only 38% of consumers in the US.

The Chinese social media sector offers a greater range of products, tools and features. As a result, competition is fierce. The social media sector in China is fragmented and local, with 1-2 major players in each social-media or ecommerce platform. These platforms are constantly evolving in order to maintain their market shares. For example, Renren experienced a lagging in its growth in recent years due to the influx of the new generation, mobile smart phone based apps such as wechat. Different social media sites also attract different kinds of users. For example, Sina Weibo users originate from higher income tiers and more likely to come from first tier cities. As fragmented as the social media segment is, the majority of users still share the same intent— to share life updates and newly acquired insights with their online community and to receive useful information from the world.

Nonetheless, one thing that differentiates Chinese social media users from their Western counterpart is that Chinese social media users generally are less enthusiastic about creating their own original content on the social media sites. Instead, they are extremely willing to repost things they deem funny, novel, or insightful. Therefore regardless of the type of social media platform, online marketing teams should focus on constructing original and interesting content that users are willing to repost.

Succeeding with social media marketing with Chinese Characteristics

Chinese market characteristics demands localization. In addition to universal marketing principles, one must strategize to enable marketing content authentic, user oriented and adapted to the realistic situation of the targeted customer market. For example, KFC is active on RenRen using this localized platform to launch new product promos and deals. However, KFC was still implementing traditional marketing strategies and is perceived by Chinese people to be pushy and too sales-oriented, as opposed to interactive and intriguing. Another more successful example is Estee Lauder’s Clinique brand launching an online drama series called Sufei’s Diary. Instead of a blatant advertisement, the online series promoted the Estee Lauder culture and in turn, subtly popularized its products. After all, online entertainment is one of the top activities Chinese online users engage in. The web show gained huge popularity and Clinique online brand awareness is now 27% higher than that of its competitors.

Now that one has established a localized marketing strategy, it is crucial to support the campaign with goals and diligent follow through. Leadership should be based in China, and not an offshore office giving instructions and demanding results. For example, Durex created one of the most successful marketing campaigns in China by building an entire local marketing team and collaborates with agency partners. Via its social media campaign with original, entertaining, and interactive content, Durex was able to gain immense brand awareness and market share in China. Durex’s dedicated team monitors and reacts to comments, generating a buzz and strengthens customer engagement.

Lastly, as mentioned in the above, the Chinese social media market is constantly evolving. In order for your social media campaign to be continuously effective, you should keep up with the trend in the social media sector and take advantage of your target audience’s latest favorite social media tools. Five years ago, the big players were Renren, Kaixin and even QQ zone, with the most popular chatting tools being QQ. Nowadays, Renren and Kaixin have realized their delay in response to the smart phone revolution, while Weibo and Wechat are the current leaders in capitalizing on this social media trend towards mobile-based rather than web-based applications. For example, WeChat now has more than 300 million users in China, 74% of whom are in their 20s. Given that 38% of smartphone users in China spend more than 5 hours on their phone every day, checking it every six minutes on average, WeChat is a fantastic tool for companies to accurately target their customers (especially the young and hip crowd) with messages that are more likely to be opened and read.

As China’s social media and information technology evolves, there is no clear prediction of how much longer WeChat will continue to dominate the market. Companies need to be open to constantly watch out for new tools and products in the social media market and effectively utilize them to make the communication with their customers more efficient.

If you have any other questions in regard to implementing social media campaigns in China, feel free to contact us at info@maxxelli-consulting.com

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