Do not ignore Chinese social media. In the past 18 months marketers and brands have been forced to consider the far east and their social media channels in order expand their businesses abroad. China’s authoritarian social media regulation (which has seen bans for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) has meant that China has had to “clone” western social media platforms. Chinese internet users spend over 40% of their time using social, and over 80% of these users own more than one social media account. In some aspects, Chinese social media is more advanced than in the west. For example, features like embeddable media into social media streams has been about nearly 18 months before it came to Twitter.
As China continues to develop, as a social media and economic superpower, the importance of these channels (as well as how brands engage within the government restrictions) will only grow. With that in mind, here are a few “need-to-know” stats and insights about Chinese social media:
Top Social Media sites
QZone – 530m users – Social Network (9th worldwide)
Sina Weibo – 300m users – Microblog (29th worldwide, 7th China)
Tencent Weibo – 300m users – Microblog
RenRen – 154m users – Social Network (95th worldwide, 19th China)
Kaixin001 – 120m users – Social Network (306th worldwide, 55th China)
Youku – Tudou – users: unknown – Video sharing (Youku & Tudou recently merged)
Brands using Chinese Social Media
Despite government control and the language barrier, some western brands have cracked on and are already building a presence on Chinese social networks. Some examples of brands currently engaging in China are:
Coke – RenRen: http://page.renren.com/icoke?checked=true 735k followers
Nike – RenRen: http://page.renren.com/nikesportswear?checked=true 164k followers
Calvin Klein – RenRen: http://page.renren.com/calvinklein?checked=true 42k followers
Pizza Hut – Sina Weibo: http://e.weibo.com/pizzahut?ref=http%3A%2F%2Fasia.cnet.com%2Fblogs%2Fbrands-such-as-pizza-hut-use-sina-weibo-to-engage-effectively-with-chinese-customers-62208250.htm 252k followers
Football clubs as well!
It’s not just consumer brands who are jumping on the bandwagon, both Barcelona and Liverpool are major football clubs who have invested in Chinese social media in order to raise their profile in the far east. Whilst football isn’t the dominant sport in China, it is growing, so the fact that Barcelona have gained 1.1 million followers in the last 8 months is a huge feat.
Barcelona – Tencent Weibo: http://t.qq.com/fcbarcelona 1.1m followers
Liverpool – Sina Weibo: http://e.weibo.com/liverpoolfc?ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.liverpoolfc.tv%2Fnews%2Flatest-news%2Freds-launch-weibo-account 223k followers
Weibo’s have rapidly become popular in China, surging through the social networking rankings. Weibo means “microblog” in Chinese and are essentially clones of Twitter. Notably, the two technology giants of China – Tencent and Sina are currently at war with each another to see whose platform will dominate the landscape. Tencent Weibo have the backing of Tencent who also run QQ.com, Tencent QQ (a hugely popular instant message service) and QZone (Tencent’s version of Facebook). Sina Weibo are the rivals run by Sina – an online media company that is using Twitter tactics to grow their brand by recruiting celebrities and VIPs to use their platform. Arguably Tencent Weibo has the upper hand in that it has an English version of the site, though Sina is currently developing an English version as well.
However, both suffer from having to operate in a nation where censorship hinders online freedom – a key element for any social network. For example, after rumours of a coup d’etat were spread in March, the govt punished both platforms by temporarily removing the ability for users to comment.
What does this mean for marketers?
The rise of social media in China presents three key problems for western marketers. Firstly, volume is a huge consideration point for any western brand thinking about going east. China’s sheer size in both social media activity and population requires a hefty investment in regards to answering customer service issues, daily engagement and catering for all demographics. Secondly, language is unsurprisingly a difficult obstacle for marketers to overcome. Written Chinese is very different in terms of structure and how users read – meaning marketers have to consider changes to heat maps, reading habits and inherent cultural differences. Third and lastly, government censorship and regulation presents a huge problem. Brands need to learn what they can and cannot say, what topics are “sensitive” and they have to be political-minded in how they promote “their western brand” under the watchful eye of an “touchy” Chinese government and economy.