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By Anugraha Sundaravelu
The ‘Great Firewall of China’ is notorious for keeping out major foreign tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. For most of the western population, life without these companies is unthinkable so how do the Chinese deal with it? China has its own answers to the services offered by these tech companies that are hyper-targeted to its audience.
Chinese social media platforms are designed in such a way that they cater to the specific needs of Chinese consumers in mind. These homegrown platforms like Weibo, Baidu, Little Red Book, Bili Bili, Douyin etc. serve as effective alternatives to western social media. In fact, they’ve done so well that they’ve become an indispensable part of Chinese life.
These platforms have ushered in a digital-heavy era in China with social media at the centre. Naturally, the best way to reach these customers is the place where they spend the most time. Social networking plays a huge role among Chinese netizens, especially the younger generation. Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are the Chinese counterparts of western influencers who play an integral role in this new-age of Chinese digital marketing strategy. Social media in China, not only serves as a means of communication but also as one of the main sources of news and entertainment, shopping advice, dating channels, and e-payments.
In this introduction to China’s social media landscape, we’ll give you a brief overview of the most popular ones you need to know about when marketing to China:
On the top of any list of Chinese social media, there’s WeChat—China’s most popular messaging app, with a monthly active user base of 1.16 billion as of December 2019. Developed by the Chinese company Tencent and first released in China in 2011, WeChat is marketed in China as Weixin. In 2012, the app was rebranded as WeChat for international audiences.
Today, WeChat is one of the leading social networks worldwide, ranking fifth in the number of active users. WeChat’s USP is its status as a super-app that allows people to do everything from book flight tickets to order food. It’s the one-stop app for anything someone needs in China.
With ‘Official Accounts’ that are similar to verified accounts on Twitter, brands can interact with and market to consumers on WeChat. In addition, the ‘mini-programs’ and WeChat Pay integrated into the app make selling products and services on WeChat a breeze.
Sina Weibo also known as “Chinese Twitter” started off as a simple micro-blogging site but has evolved into one of China’s largest social media platforms over the past 10 years. The channel incorporates major features of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram all in one. Weibo is more open and newsfeed based than WeChat, with a daily active user base of 211 million as of June 2019.
Launched by the Sina Corporation in 2009, in 2018, it generated USD $481.9 million in net revenues. It was once considered the only Chinese social media platform, however, it has been overshadowed by WeChat’s growth but still remains the second most popular social media platform in China. Weibo is one of the few social media platforms in China that currently offers search engine optimization.
Little Red Book
Little Red Book or “Xiaohongshu” is China’s most trusted social platform helping over 100 million users to discover and review beauty and health products. It can be described as a unique blend of Instagram and Pinterest where users can post photos of products with reviews and tips for other users to read, comment, and save to Pinterest-like boards. Users can ‘like’ content and even save it under a bookmark for future reference.
In addition, the pictures and articles have a direct link to the store built into the Xiaohongshu ecosystem. Thus, the entire decision-making and purchase process can be made within this one application. Xiaohongshu also has a sharing feature that allows users to share posts on other social networks like WeChat and Weibo or via e-mail and text messages.
Douyin (Tik Tok)
Tik Tok has recently taken the world by storm but the 15-second video recording social platform is a product of China. The Chinese version Douyin is similar to the TikTok we all know and love, allowing users to add special effects and music tracks to create photos, short videos or live streams that people can like, comment and share. While the western and Chinese versions are kept distinctly separate, with no overlapping of content, the popularity is similar the world over. The average Chinese user spends 52 minutes on the app every day. Additionally, on average, users open their app eight times per day. That’s a lot of time that businesses can place their brand in front of their target audience! The most popular way of marketing in Douyin is to use videos to creatively showcase your product or via user-generated content with the help of viral challenges.
Chinese social media is in a league of its own and it might take a while to wrap your head around the ubiquity of it but for China, it’s a way of life. If a business wants to be successful in China, it’s crucial to capture its audience on social media.