Social Media in China

China enjoys the top spot as the world’s largest social media market, and this makes establishing a large social media presence is an absolute must for businesses hoping to succeed in the Chinese market. China has a distinctive social media landscape as Chinese consumers are highly engaged with brands online and rely on product recommendations and suggestions from other social network users, significantly more so than the users in the West. A further distinguishing factor is that popular Western social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, giving rise to an innovative and diverse range of homegrown social media platforms which operate somewhat differently than their Western counterparts. Diving into the Chinese social media landscape can be an enriching experience, and if done correctly, can result in a dramatic business growth.

This guide will walk you through the following:

  • China’s digital generation
  • Significance of Social Media for business
  • Popular social media platforms

China’s digital generation

It goes without saying that China has developed at an impressive rate and this has led to a rise of a tech-savvy generation that is highly connected online, immersing themselves in social media channels and regularly looking out for new and exciting things to try.

The 800 million Chinese internet users spend an average of 5 hours per day, and an astonishing 98% of them access the internet through mobile devices. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise that Chinese social media sites invest a great deal on attracting mobile users and most of the sites are mobile-friendly, while others are only accessible through phones.

With the spread of affordable smartphones, vast internet coverage and attractive data plans, the Chinese do almost everything online: chatting with friends, grocery shopping, and even making payments. As the time spent online increases, Chinese users are becoming more engaged with brands and their social media accounts. Chinese consumers greatly enjoy expanding their knowledge with new information, so content marketing has shown positive results in the past. Most Chinese users view content directly within the social media platform as opposed to going on external sites, which is the reason many brands prioritize managing content on social media accounts rather on their website.

Furthermore, China’s entertainment apps are growing rapidly with a particular interest in short-videos. In June 2018, the monthly active users of short video apps were reported to be at 500 million, with the most famous application being Douyin (otherwise known as TikTok in the west).

Significance of Social Media for business

There are currently 740 million social media users in China, and this number is only expected to grow further. 91% of Chinese online users are reported as having a social media account, a figure that is even more impressive when compared to 67% users in the West.

All the facts and statistics highlight the importance of having a social media presence in China. The Chinese, after all, are very social consumers and make purchasing decisions based on the content they see online. On average, 25 hours are spent on social media each week and a whopping 70% Chinese users purchase products that have been recommended by other internet users. The way a brand is discussed on such platforms heavily influences Chinese consumers’ purchasing decisions, as demonstrated by a report conducted by OglivyOne which indicates 55% of Chinese users had engaged in online discussions concerning brands, and this had a direct impact on businesses.

China has been rather innovative in the use of social media channels to promote businesses. Chinese social media has evolved further to allow users to do more than just entertain themselves, but also directly make purchases from within the platform. Many social media platforms are conveniently linked to eCommerce platforms, but in a way that allows users to buy products in a smooth and hassle-free manner. Chinese social media is rapidly advancing to include more features and elements, many of which work to the benefit of both users and businesses. A rising star, Xiaohongshu, is a platform which realizes the social nature of Chinese consumers and combines both e-Commerce and social media to offer a platform where users can seek recommendations and discuss the products they purchase through the app.

Many retailers have noticed the importance of social media for business success and often collaborate with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), also known as “influencers” in the West. KOLs use their large social media presence to influence purchasing decisions. KOL collaboration is often considered to be the key to business success due to having had consistently great results for many brands in the Chinese market. If done well, it can lead to rapid business growth. Lancome’s partnership with Kris Wu proved to be a rewarding investment, having generated a great deal of buzz online and driving an increase in sales. A well-established Chinese beauty brand, Pechoin, had been struggling to avoid being seen as “outdated” and “old fashioned”, but through partnerships with four KOLs, the brand completely revitalized itself, achieving top rank on 11.11 (an immensely famous Chinese shopping festival) and ultimately regained popularity amongst young people.

Business can also observe and track activity on social media to discover new trends, and deepen their understanding of the local tastes and perceptions. This can be useful in identifying how best to engage with target consumers, and avoid finding themselves in awkward situations like Dolce and Gabbana in 2018.

Now that we’ve established the need for a business to involve itself in Chinese social media, let’s have a look at the unique variety of Chinese social media networks:

Social Media Platforms

WeChat is the number 1 super-app in China with over 1 billion monthly active users. This is theapp that every Chinese is likely to have installed on their phones, with a list of ever-growing features that allow users to do purchase train tickets, share thoughts on newsfeed, and talk to friends and contacts. It is an integral part of the Chinse way of live and enables businesses to target ads in accordance with age, gender and their geographical location to reach more potential consumers. WeChat allows businesses to create official accounts through which they can engage in content marketing.

Weibo is commonly referred to as “the Chinese twitter” and is an incredibly popular micro-blogging platform, particularly amongst white collar workers and the urban online population. Companies are able to create their own page which they can manage to increase engagement with their consumers. Similar to Twitter, hashtags can be used to reach a large user base, whilst brands can also sell products directly from within the platform and conduct paid advertising.

Tencent QQ is an instant messaging app that is more well-known in tier 3 and tier 4 cities. It offers a variety of services in a similar manner to WeChat, and is popular with white collar workers who use the app for corporate communication.

Douyin is an addictive short-video app that has recently gained popularity not only in China, but also abroad where it’s known as “TikTok”. Its user growth has surpassed those of WeChat and Weibo and is immensely favoured by younger 18 – 25 crowd. Brands are able to have their account as well sell products through opening stores within the app itself.

Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) is a fresh and exciting part-eCommerce platform and part-social media network. It allows users to engage in product discussions, post their own content and make purchases inside the app. It predominantly consists of 18 – 35 urban affluent females.