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Social media in China


By Tim Parkman, Channel Director, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise:

As with most things in China, the social media landscape can come as a culture shock to Kiwis. It’s vast, fast-paced, driven by mobile, and of course, online socialising happens in a different language.

On top of that, its main channels (Weibo and WeChat) are totally unknown to us and the thought of gaining any traction in this space can be daunting.

However, the good news is that the fundamentals of social media still apply.

Last week, the NZTE China team brought together a group of NZTE customers, their distribution partners, other NZ Inc agencies, and social media experts for an afternoon spent discussing how to engage Chinese customers. Participants included: Villa Maria, who currently have the largest Weibo social media presence of any wine brand in China with 19,459 followers; NZ Tourism who have a very active social media community of 273,219; WineGrowers / NZTE with 32,015 followers.

If you’re looking to engage consumers in China, here are some of the key action points from this session, along with some insights from a digital workshop and conference I attended earlier in the week.
Action 1: Build trust through presence
Trust is more of an issue in China than it is in the West. It's a driver that appears to influence a lot of Chinese consumer behaviour. Social media can help in a number of ways:
Brand trust
Eighty-five percent of Chinese consumers say they trust a brand more if they've seen it on social media.
•    Just by being on social media in China, as a brand you're opening yourself up to feedback and opinion. Eighty-five percent of Chinese consumers say they trust a brand more if they've seen it on social media (Mark Tanner, Managing Director, China Skinny).
•    Peer reviews are really valued - 80 percent read reviews on social media, and 85 percent share purchases - so social media can help fuel peer-to-peer sharing (Mark Tanner, China Skinny).
Action 2: Employ the basic social media rules
Know yourself and your potential customers - What do you want to achieve with your social media - awareness, trial, preference, loyalty, or advocacy? If you're new in town it's almost certainly awareness.
What does your brand stand for? - Based on the answer to the next question, you may have to see which of your brand pillars are relevant to the Chinese audience.
How well do you know your Chinese customers? - How does their online and offline life flow and interact? Think about the customer journey - what are their pain points, hot topics and preferred content?
Action 3: Understand the unique channels
It's not just the language that's different. Forget Facebook and Twitter in China, the two big players are Weibo and WeChat.

Right now, the instant messaging app WeChat is dominating social media hours online, as well as offline conversations in marketing departments. WeChat is a private network for peer-to-peer messaging which means brands can expect high levels of engagement and sharing. The challenge - as you'd expect with a peer-to-peer platform - is in building your visibility to build your follower base. Back-office analytics for WeChat are rumoured to be on their way in the next month.

Most brands, as NZTE did (we’re currently sitting at 19,701 fans), make their first move into China social media via Weibo. Being a public network, brands can expect to have larger follower numbers but lower engagement than WeChat. It's a platform for openly sharing snippets of interesting news and comments on popular topics. Users can upload photos and videos, which makes it a richer experience than WeChat and back-office analytics are already in place, making it a more open channel for digital marketers.
Action 4: Investigate your market
There are also some extraordinary variables in the China social media landscape that reflect the cultural and economic characteristics of the country.

With a population of over 1.35 billion, China's social media community is huge - there are 632 million Netizens online and over 400 million social network users. This equates to one third of social network users worldwide.
(Reported by Cao Yin in China Daily 22/07/14).
Speed - China is experiencing 100 million Netizen year-on-year growth. In such a fast-paced market there is real need to keep revisiting and reviewing your strategy (Cao Yin, China Daily 22/07/14).
Mobile first - Smartphone prices are as low as US$28 (Mark Tanner, China Skinny), so the number of mobile internet users has now exceeded those surfing the web in traditional ways, with 83.4 percent going online via their mobile.
eCommerce - This is native on the two main social media platforms, which means one-click purchases are a reality, with fully integrated shop and wallet. It’s a radical thought, but you may not even need to develop a website outside of the social media platform itself (Dr Mathew McDougall, CEO, Digital Jungle).
Integration of offline and online (O2O) - You’ll hear this a lot in China due to the geographic size of the market and the trust issues highlighted earlier. Fifty percent of Chinese consumers check products offline before they buy online and vice-versa (75 percent check prices online while shopping offline). The challenge for businesses is to connect the dots and provide the customer with an integrated journey (Cao Yin, China Daily 22/07/14).

Next steps
•    Be clear and realistic about your objectives and approach, your brand is almost certainly going to be on the periphery in China with very little awareness.
•    If you know what you want, and you invest some time and money in finding out what your Chinese customers want, you'll be able to map out a way to engage.
•    Unless you possess the language and digital skills in your organisation, you need to seriously consider working in partnership with an agency. Armed with some questions from the themes in this blog, you should be able to stress-test their knowledge, and get to know their personality and way of operating. They should be aware of all the challenges discussed above AND be able to delve into more detail on specifics, like walking you through the pros and cons of the different types of WeChat, account (subscriptions and service).