Social media should be a fundamental aspect of any marketing strategy seeking to break into the Chinese market. But the rules and key players are different. Here’s our guide to help you navigate the world of Chinese social media.

Social media is hugely popular in China, which makes it a perfect place for companies to market their products and services. According to one report in January 2017, about 70% of Chinese marketers will spend their advertising resources on social networking and video sites (source: eMarketer). However, the key players and rules of engagement are different than in the West, which means it can be hard to know where to begin. There are five golden rules to follow if you want to successfully navigate your way through the maze.

THE FIVE GOLDEN RULES OF CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

1. Keep it mobile

Nearly 100% of 14-47 year olds in China now own a smartphone, and half of these use their phones to access the internet roughly 25 times a day (source: World Economic Forum). This means if you want to be seen on social media, you’ll need to make your content mobile friendly.

2. Be personal

Mass marketing won’t cut it in China. Social media users overwhelmingly favor small-scale interactions with individuals. If you want to make an impact, you’ll need to provide tailored, meaningful content for each of your users. Starting online can be a good place to start building relationships with consumers.

Otte, a New-York-based fashion brand, worked hard on its Chinese social media strategy as a gateway to the Chinese market, and there is talk Otte plans to open a bricks-and-mortar shop in Shanghai in the near future. They were able to penetrate the Chinese market by investing heavily in Weibo and WeChat, building a WeChat store to sell directly to consumers via the app. Otte pushed a lot of quality content around lifestyle and fashion advice, building an aspirational attachment to the brand, for example, by creating a VIP Club to bolster the exclusivity it aimed to portray. Furthermore, WeChat’s platform enabled Otte to directly respond to consumer’s private messages, a level of personal service expected by Chinese consumers. The Otte story illustrates how social media can be effectively harnessed in China to build a consumer base with little initial investment.

3. Channel your creativity

Chinese users want to be entertained and engaged; they don’t want to feel like they are being sold something. They particularly appreciate interactive content and videos they can engage with. For the 2016 Chinese New Year, Burberry invited users to virtually unwrap a gift, after which they could send personalized greetings cards, which was quite popular. Clinique created a 40-chapter-long video series that was viewed 21 million times. The more creative you are, the better your results will be.

4. Prioritize customer service

One of the primary reasons Chinese users shop online is because of the customer service. They don’t want emails and forms; they want instant, direct communication with sellers. WeChat and Alibaba’s Aliwangwang messenger service allow users to chat directly with sellers at any time, building real relationships in the process. If you offer good customer service, you will quickly win fans, popularity and social media clout.

5. Champion the right people

Celebrities have millions of followers on Weibo, and a plug from the right person could reap huge rewards. Mining information gleaned on social media about your target demographic can help you make sure you back a winner. One thing to keep an eye on is the growth of “wang hong,” cyber celebrities like MiuMiu & Viviandan. They are seen as more authentic and personal, and use this impression to create a personal brand capable of reaping huge rewards for your company if you can get them on board.

If you want these golden rules to turn you into a social media sensation, it’s important to make the most of the different platforms out there. Each offers something slightly different, and it’s important to know what sets them apart from the rest. We’ve put together a who’s-who guide to social media in China, and what each one can do for you.

A WHO’S-WHO GUIDE TO CHINESE SOCIAL MEDIA

1. WeChat

Known as WeiXin in China, it is the country’s most popular social media website, with 768 million daily active users. Users can run their lives from the app, booking cinema tickets, chatting online and paying bills. There’s a bit of red tape for overseas businesses to get online, but the reward is worth it since it allows you to obtain strategic information about your users, use this to send them tailored content and offer them an all-in-one brand experience. If you choose only one social media platform to work with, choose this one.

2. QZONE

With 640 million active users, QZONE (or QQ in China) allows users to share blogs they find interesting, which can be a good way of getting your name out there. It is primarily valued by customers as a means of instant, direct communication with companies. Companies can build custom microsites within the platform to really push brand presence.

3. Weibo

Known as the Chinese Twitter, Weibo is a great way of engaging with users on relevant, engaging topics, and of constructing your brand identity. It’s also a good place for online influencers to promote your business, giving you access to users you may not otherwise reach. Other advantages include its well-established paid advertising system, and the analytics, index and trend tools it offers for gleaning information about competitors and consumers.

4. Youku

The Chinese equivalent of YouTube (which is blocked in China) Youku receives over 800 million daily video views on various devices. It’s a good place for conducting research to see what sorts of video advertisements work, and for building brand awareness. The popularity of videos in Chinese social media means that this website should not be overlooked.

5. Ren Ren

Ren Ren has 44 million monthly active users, almost all of whom are college students. So if that’s your target audience, it’s a good place to invest.

6. Little Red Book

There are various smaller social media sites that also cater for eCommerce. Little Red Book allows overseas agents to market luxury fashion and beauty products not available in China.

FINAL THOUGHT

This isn’t groundbreaking advice, but what we tell all clients during our channel strategy briefings: remember how you define your brand and be consistent with innovations with a core focus on value.

It’s easy to change for the sake of change just to keep up. But while the pace is frenzied, brands such as Burberry and Chanel, who moved strategically, came out on top.