Chinese is getting the grip of the Social Media in record pace

Do the Stats Work for Chinese Social Media?

Marketing executives in the West are busy checking the stats for Chinese social media to better inform how they promote their brands on social media.

Chinese is getting the grip of the Social Media in record pace

Chinese is getting the grip of the Social Media in record pace – (Photo via http://www.agenciagancho.com.br)

Getting to grips with the country’s wide and complex social media community and developing a strategy for reaching consumers lies at the heart of many brands hoping to succeed in China.

For many marketers, the stats help to tell a story and define social media usage. According to Marketing to China: “Platforms like WeChat and Sina Weibo have more than 300 million users, while Meilishuo, a popular social shopping website grabs about 30 million users per month. Experts say that within next 5 years, China is expected to reach $271 billion from online shopping.”

But do the stats tell marketing executives anything really useful?

  • 47% of Chinese consumers watch videos and television on tablets.
  • Much is made of the affluent rich who live in the big cities but marketers who concentrate only on Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities are bypassing the vast majority of China’s citizens. While there are just 4 Tier 1 cities with over 16 million inhabitants, Tier 3 and 4 cities and towns boast over 161 million people.
  • 82% of Chinese netizens are buying online more than any other country including Germany and the USA.
  • 22% of China’s internet users believe that sharing on social media is an expression of their own personality and 30% believe it is driven by creativity.
  • China’s mobile shopping increased by 168% in 2013 and is estimated to almost double that in 2014. If the trend increases, by 2017 it will have increased by over 1,000%.
  • The preferred format for advertising in China is the use of coupons (33%) and video (36%), with the best time to reach out to netizens on their mobiles being when they are on the way to work or at weekends.
  • While it might not occur to consumers in the West, 61% of china’s netizens would consider actually buying a car online.
  • WeChat is the fastest growing app internationally, outstripping everyone else. Its success has made Tencent the first Chinese internet brand to succeed out of the mainland and is set to make big inroads throughout 2014 and beyond. For many industry experts, WeChat is still the one to watch.
  • 74% of netizens shop online to get a lower price while 78% also worry about the authenticity of the product they are buying.
Chinese Social Media in Stats

Chinese Social Media in Stats – (Photo via http://www.china-brain.com)

Perhaps one of the more influential trends is that China’s ecommerce growth is back on the rise again, estimated to be worth $540 billion by the end of 2014. Industry experts believe that this is in part being driven by the lower Tier cities which lack the stores of their more affluent neighbours. According to China Briefing: “While there are plenty of physical shopping options in China’s larger cities, lower-tier cities cater less to international luxury brands. In light of this demand, the internet has allowed many retailers to offer goods to consumers in lower-tier cities and further afield without the need and cost of setting up a physical outlet.”

It’s a stat that suggest Western brands should be moving out from the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities to the places where most of the Chinese population are living.

Elderly Chinese Mobile User

Top 5 trends International brand should be aware of upon Chinese Social Media in 2014

Western brands that are trying to get to grips with social media in China know that it is a fast paced and often complex arena and, with nearly 600 million users and a year on year growth of over 165% for mobile shopping, it’s something they have to work hard to keep up with.

1. China gets the exercise bug

GarminForERun

Advert for the Garmin Forerunner 220, a wearable smart device. (File photo courtesy of Garmin)

Well into 2014, microblogging platform WeChat are forging into new territory by teaming up with third party vendors to promote smart hardware like fitness bracelets. As with Western users, Chinese netizens are getting the exercise bug, particularly in the more affluent Tier 1 and 2 cities.

According to Want China Times, this month saw “iHealth, Huawei Honor, Lifesense and Codoon put their respective WeChat version of smart bracelets for sale on platforms such as Jingdong Mall (JD.com) after the WeChat team closely worked with these vendors for nearly half a year.”

It may be a sign that WeChat is beginning to collaborate more with third party providers, though they are keeping their cards close to their chest. The integration allows WeChat users to put on their smart bracelets, measure their sporting or exercise performance and then share it with friends on the popularmicroblogging platform.

2 . Search targets “big data” in China

Internet search giant Baidu is thinking about big data as they move into the later parts of 2014. With trillions of web pages in storage and billions of searches conducted every day, Baidu is China’s major search engine, modelled on Google, but perhaps slightly behind in developmental terms. According to Wang Jing, vice president of Engineering: “Baidu hopes to build a big data engine on the massive data the company collected over the years and offer it to traditional businesses.”  

3. Online to offline is getting bigger

Elderly Chinese Mobile User

Elderly Chinese Mobile User (photo from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn)

Online to offline, whereby a mobile or pc is used to order something like a taxi is set to become more popular as offline businesses start to get a slice of the ecommerce pie. Tencent has been leading the way mainly because of its 355 million monthly active users and others may well jump on the band wagon in the future.

4. Chinese companies are becoming more competitive

China’s own companies are beginning to realise the power that can be had from harnessing social media and are starting to become more visible, competing with Western brands who have long been working hard to make China’s various platforms work for them.

According to Econsultancy.com: “The trend in China is towards using social media as a bridge between consumer and company. And as 500m of China’s 618m internet users use a mobile device to access the internet, m-commerce has become even more important.” 

ChinaWorldCupFever

(photo from ChinaDaily.cn)

5. China gets World Cup fever

And finally, although they didn’t have a team in the tournament, China’s netizens have been keeping a close eye on the World Cup this year with interest peaking with around 11 million users including a hashtag in their posts throughout the group stages.

Online Shopping in China

How Social Media is Changing Online Shopping in China

It used to be that your average netizen in China would hook onto one brand and stay with it… not any more

Lately, though, with the rise of social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo and online shopping through internet giants like Alibaba, greater choice has meant that China’s ever growing online army are more likely to follow several brands.

ChineseOnlineShoppingThe younger generation coming through are also more likely to go for quality products and spend more than older netizens who have grown up through a range of social changes and some difficult economic times. There is more disposable income and greater social freedom now than ever before and it is driving the changing landscape of social media and online shopping.

Social Media is Spreading but the Market is Shrinking for Western Brands

With changing infrastructure and increasing popularity, social media is moving out of the Tier 1 and 2 cities into the rest of this large and complicated country. In 2014, rural areas made up nearly half of netizens and instant messaging is the most popular online pursuit with 530 million active users across all platforms. http://socialmediatoday.com/we-are-social-singapore/2350106/understanding-social-media-china-2014

Online Shopping in ChinaIt’s not all good news for social media marketers working to promote Western brands. According to China Daily: “Amid a sluggish consumer goods market in China, foreign brands are facing pressure, with six out of 10 losing market share to their domestic rivals last year.”

It seems that the domestic market is forging ahead and capturing the attention of netizens. For instance, western soft drinks brands lost a 6.3% share of the market while domestic carbonated brands such as Wahaha “increased market share by 3.8 percent through product innovation and large scale marketing,” according to China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2014-07/02/content_17635342.htm

Lower Tier Cities Spend as Much as Higher Ones

The value of rural markets for Western brands is becoming more and more important and, with their greater connectivity, more accessible. In fact, lower tier cities, though having smaller incomes, spend more of their disposable income on online shopping. Brick and mortar stores are also still important to netizens in all areas with over 70% opting to pop into a shop to check out their possible purchase ‘in the flesh’ before buying online.

China is Investing in Infrastructure

The growth of domestic markets that are beginning to compete with high end Western brands has also led to greater investment in infrastructure. After all, if you are selling a lot of products online then you will need adequate storage space.

According to Reuters: “It is estimated that in the next 15 years China will need to invest $2.5 trillion in land and warehouse construction, equating to 2.4 million square metres of storage space.” http://www.marketmechina.com/four-key-facts-e-commerce-china/

Online-Shopper-chinaThere are, of course difference between the consumers you find in lower tier cities and those you find in the more exclusive neighbourhoods of Shanghai. For instance, lower tier netizens are not used to luxury and tend to focus on value for money and functionality. Higher tier consumers are more likely to buy luxury, ego enhancing products to show off to their friends.

But the landscape is changing and it is doing so quickly, and nowhere is this more obvious than with Chinese domestic brands. According to Forbes: “Chinese firms have great ambitions. For many, building their own company into a global brand that’s accepted by consumers in developed economies is a matter of national pride.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2014/06/30/chinas-future-in-brand-awareness/

Is WeChat the First Choice Social Media App?

is Tencent’s WeChat set to be the app of choice for both business and pleasure?

Wechat 4Its growth has been phenomenal in the last 4 years since its launch, with an estimated 355 million users worldwide and a healthy stake in the social media market. But

According to multimedia journalist Paul Bischoff on TechinAsia: “In China, all online communication converges at WeChat. The four-year-old chat app now functions as text messenger, Facebook, Reddit, Skype, IRC chatroom, Meetup, and Instagram – all rolled into one.”

It used to be that apps like Facebook and Twitter would take care of the personal and those such as LinkedIn would satisfy our business and work needs. With WeChat though, we have an app that is trying to break down the barrier between the two. Business meets social and personal. It works well in China’s social media world and it may well be heading West to Wechatchallenge some of our established platforms.

In China, social capital is a vital prerequisite to success. Whereas people in the West might have one account for their personal life and one for business, in China it is often rolled up into one. And something like group chat is very important to our Eastern colleagues.

Networking groups are big in China

WeChat2WeChat groups have a limit to the number of members. You need special permission to run one that has in excess of 100 people and if you run it, you must be able to moderate the content accordingly. For many Chinese businesses, selecting the right group to follow, and networking through it, can bring success and vital information exchanges.

With all its functionality, WeChat is an ideal platform for a varied range of activities from selling online and settling disputes to running a web style seminar. There are predictions that WeChat is going to overtake even Facebook as the world’s premier social marketing tool.

The benefit of Tencent’s platform for Western brands is that it is possible to categorize people according to their location and gender. More than half its users are aged between 25 and 30 and many are white collar workers who reside in first tier cities. And with business merging into personal with many of its users, this provides a unique opportunity for brands hoping to develop a marketing approach tailored for Chinese consumers.

The problem for brands trying to make their way on this multi-faceted platform is that it’s not quite there yet. There are still challenges in marketing your brand on WeChat.

WeChat

According to Xiaofeng Wang from The Forrester Group: “The information that users share on WeChat is private and can be seen only by personally approved friends; as a result, WeChat is used more as a communication tool for friends to keep in contact. Users are less likely to repost brands’ information massively, as marketers expect them to do on Weibo.”

There are also restrictions on brand accounts for how many messages they can send to their fans. With the government crackdown on luxury items and self-indulgent behaviour, Western brands are still weighing up the options and discovering how best to leverage WeChat as a marketing medium. But the truth is that its growth in popularity across the globe may well make it a primary focus for many years to come.

Lee Ka Shing

Key Opinion Leaders on Chinese social media

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are important weapons for brands hoping to get their message across on social media, particularly in China. They are the people netizens listen to and the value of their endorsement to your product or service cannot be underestimated.

Chinese Thought LeadersThey use platforms like Sina Weibo and WeChat and they can range from national renowned celebrities, organisations and thinkers, to local experts. Their followers number from a few thousand to millions and they can be travel writers, journalists, chefs, photographers, actors and actresses, pop stars and fashion icons. Their followers trust their opinions on where to go on holiday, what clothes they should wear, what they should eat and what TV they should watch.

Large brands use multiple KOLs to spread branding power, spending significant amounts courting the famous and successful. Smaller brands with more limited budgets can also increase their reach by utilising experts and respected fans who are active on social media and have a good following.

Finding a useful KOL

According to Angie Au-Yeung, National Digital Marketing Manager, China, for Lee Cooper,  there are 3 keys to a successful KOL:

Find a KOL who fits your brand. For instance, if you are selling a fashion product to the young affluent in China’s Tier 1 and 2 cities, you are more likely to choose a young, attractive celebrity KOL rather than a renowned architect or popular politician to market your brand.

What do you want your KOL to do? Do you want them to pass on your brand message in their posts? Do you want them to become an ambassador for your brand? There are various levels a KOL can operate on and getting the right balance is vital for a successful social media campaign.

What are the metrics for your KOL? Fan base size and demographic are important. The rise of smart phone usage in China means that you can reach a wider cross-section of the country than ever before. If you are going to invest time and energy in a KOL then they need to be able to reach out to the people who will be interested in your product.

Engaging with KOL bloggers

Lee Ka ShingBeyond the obvious high-ranking celebrities and others who are in the public eye, there are opportunities for social media branding with China’s large and ever-growing band of bloggers. These are generally people who have a hobby or passion that attracts enough of a following and respect for their opinion to have promise as a promotional tool for brands.

“Building relationships with bloggers in China can be time consuming and requires a degree of commitment but…it can bring fantastic success to a brand in the way of genuine advocacy and provide the local breakthrough endorsement which is essential for traction in China.” Elisa Harca, Marketing Consultant. (http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2322997/bloggers-commentators-and-kols-harnessing-the-power-of-chinese-influencers)

More highly valued by consumers than their Western counterparts, discovering valuable KOLs should be a priority for all brands seeking to make inroads into China’s marketplace and sell their products.

Social Media Revolution China

Social media censorship in China and what it means for Western Brands

For brands operating in China’s vast and complex social media landscape, one thing that can’t be avoided is the government’s almost pathological tendency to censor content.

Social-Media-censorship-in-china

(photo via vpnfor.us)

Generating a marketing campaign that gets China’s 600 million online population talking about your brand can have dire consequences – if you get it wrong. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all been banned by the authorities and LinkedIn’s new Beta platform, launched in China last month, has had to agree to government restrictions to gain a licence to operate.

Whilst brands may be able to monitor their own content, they don’t have much control over what people say once their message is out there. Many popular brands use well-known Chinese celebrities to promote their products and these Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can also get on the wrong side of government restrictions that can often seem as confusing as they are censorial.

Actress Yao ChenActress Yao Chen, the face of Tourism New Zealand in China, became entangled in a political protest when she quoted Solzhenitsyn to her 33 million Sina Weibo followers in support of freedom of the press. The quote: One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world, didn’t sit well with the government censors.
To some, China’s censorship can seem complicated and often random.

“Last year, TV regulators restricted popular genres such as dating, variety and talent shows as part of a crackdown on “overly entertaining” programming. They also banned commercials during dramas, one of the most popular formats in China. No explanation was given for the rules and ad prices soared as supplies decreased overnight.” Anita Chang Beattie, Ad Age (http://adage.com/article/global-news/censorship-china-media-marketers/239187/)

Social Media Revolution China Of more concern to Western brands may be the ever changing list of government censored words and phrases ranging from the “Dalai Lama” and “evolution” to “instant noodles”. It may sound strange to the outside world, but there is reasoning behind these bans, mostly to do with the desire to reduce dissent.
Banning of words can often happen swiftly and without warning but they can also be reinstated just as quickly and mysteriously. In 2012 it was reported that the word Ferrari was banned following the death of a son of an ex-aide to the former Chinese President Hu Jintao. In February this year a similar thing happened with another Ferarri belonging to yet another member of China’s young elite.

Luxury brands, for so long the success story for Western endeavours in China, haven’t been exempt from government bans either. In 2013 there was a blanket ban on advertising for those who promote “incorrect values and help create a bad social ethos”.

WeiboThe Jing Daily quoted at the time: “As such, radio and television stations have been ordered to pull any advertisements that promote extravagant gift-giving — i.e., “waste” — for items such as high-end watches, rare stamps and gold coins.” 

This followed on from a ban of advertising in outdoor spaces that promoted “hedonistic or high-end lifestyles”. Fortunately for luxury brands, this ban did not extend to digital platforms where most of their affluent fans do their shopping.

While brands can often be caught unawares by Chinese censorship, there is still hope that the rise of social media and the increased use of smartphones is going someway to devalue the government’s attempts to control what its people see and say.

In the meantime, brands need to have one eye on current censorship trends if they want to avoid wasting their marketing budget on campaigns that don’t pass an often inscrutable set of censorship rules.

sina-weibo-english

Developing a social media strategy for Weibo for both Chinese and International

Many businesses forging a new media strategy in China, see the country’s premier micro-blogging site, Weibo, as the Twitter twin of the East. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two and simply moving your Twitter strategy over onto Weibo may be more of a mistake than you think.

sina-weibo-englishIt’s not just about 140 characters. Chinese can contain five times more information than English in that short space. This means Weibo provides an opportunity for a more layered dialogue and greater interaction between fans and companies trying to market their product. The Chinese love to comment and Weibo gives them the tools to do this and more.

A picture paints a thousand words. Businesses can do worse than look to the fashion industry for examples of good practice in social media strategy in China. For  a recent Art of the Trench exhibition in Shanghai, Burberry used pictures of people in the city wearing the iconic trench coat on their Weibo page.

Images and video were also transmitted live from the event. The result?

The brand saw an increase of 15, 548 followers in just a 16 day time period and saw an average of 20 active followers a day.” Courtney Gerring, Digital PR at Fashionbi. (http://www.marketmechina.com/burberrys-powerful-weibo-strategy-and-the-benefits-of-weibo-campaigns/)

weibo-on-nasdaqGet yourself verified. Sina Weibo brought in verified accounts much earlier than Twitter. Unlike Twitter, where it doesn’t appear to have the same impact, without it on Weibo you will have a harder time attracting fans.

Be careful what you post. There is censorship in China, a fact businesses looking to get a foothold in this arena have to deal with. Common sense can get  you so far but you also need to keep an eye on what is in/out of vogue. In China, censorship of content, keywords and images changes with the tide. A site like weibowatch.com regularly provides a useful list of up-to-date banned or sensitive words that businesses should be aware of.

Latch onto influence. In other words, it pays to know your public. Get to know the key opinion leaders and build a relationship with them and you will be able to better reach the Chinese public. Particularly on Weibo, these verified individuals get a lot of reposts and comments on a daily basis.

Keep one eye on public events. In July 2011, a huge rainstorm hit Beijing leaving thousands of office workers stranded in the city. Durex posted on Weibo that it would be a good idea to put their product on their shoes to keep those feet dry – the post was shared between 50 million Weibo users.

Timing is crucial. To build up fans it helps to have an idea when the majority are checking their posts. For instance, a large number of Chinese commuters look at Weibo while travelling to and from work.

Weibo vs Peers chart With over 500 million users and almost two thirds of fans spending an average of 3.9 hours a day using it on their phones, Weibo is one of the most influential social media channels in China and one that businesses looking to be a success in the country need to be serious about. Optimising for Weibo may be more challenging than its Western counterpart but, done effectively, can give foreign businesses access to a large and influential portion of the population.

While the controls are tighter, one must realize that social media is infinitely more open than other media in China, and Sina has built a solid product integrating images, video, structured dialog, and longer tweets. As a result, Sina Weibo has become the media of choice that people flock to find or share information, and to voice or hear opinion.” Former Google China head Kaifu Lee. (http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/18/kaifu-lee-still-upbeat-on-chinas-social-media-despite-sina-and-tencent-weibo-suspension/)