Like seemingly everywhere else in the world, social media has captured the hearts and minds of China’s consumers as well and marketers are right there with them. However, as in so many other things related to running a successful business in China, there are important differences that savvy marketers must adjust to if they’re going to be successful.
The People’s Republic of China continues to censor information from the west. In the case of social media, China’s officials have decided it is better to have their own version of the west’s social media platforms than to allow their people to be exposed to western influences. This means that, if marketers want to appeal to China’s over 650-million social media users (more than 2x the total US population), we must learn to understand them just like any other element of China’s culture.
There is a Chinese counterpart for every major social media platform. The King Kong of social media platforms, Facebook, is a catch all site with over 1.3 billion users worldwide. However, in China, there are multiple platforms and each attracts a different market segment. For example, Douban attracts art students and others with an interest in books, cinema, culture and music. In contrast, Kaixin001 is a platform where young professionals upload information that they find in other places. Often, this content is about health, relationships or professional advancement. China actually has two versions of YouTube; Youku and Tudou. In fairly sharp contrast to most of the content on YouTube, kittens playing piano, for instance, the Chinese prefer long-form video content. Much of this content is pirated television programming from the US, appropriately subtitled and visible only hours after US broadcasts. So Youku is actually more like Hulu. This stark contrast in available content between YouTube and Youku sheds light on why understanding viewing behavior is so important. The Chinese spend upward of 70 minutes per session on Youku versus our 15 minutes on YouTube. A third example: the west has Twitter; China has Sina Weibo. While Sina Weibo, like Twitter, limits post length to just 140 characters the super-efficiency of Chinese characters lends an important advantage. In Chinese, each character actually represents an entire word. Thus, what in English is a very sparsely constructed 140 character, single sentence post becomes more like a short-form blog where a great deal more is expressed. This is wonderful from a marketing communications perspective!
Just how the Chinese actually interact with their social media sites is also quite different. Take Twitter, for example. In the US, most Twitter posts are created using a laptop or desktop computer. However, mobile platforms reign supreme in China. China has 981 million mobile phone users, and over 86% of these are smartphones. This makes an app like WeChat – China’s version of Whatsapp – an incredibly important platform for marketers wanting to communicate with consumers. Imagine the marketing opportunity for brands who can earn ‘follows’ from Chinese smartphone users using WeChat – an app that the Chinese reference all day long!
Differences like these show just how beneficial a sound understanding of each of these platforms is. Marketers who master China’s social media space will benefit from the ability to target specific audiences with the kinds of content they are searching for. Lack of understanding, on the other hand, leads to missed opportunities. In many ways, this is a wonderful example of everything else about developing business relationships in China.