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Keys to success for New Zealand businesses that choose to establish a social media profile in China


The successes of social media, particularly for China, are well known.

The Wall Street Journal notes that billions are invested into Chinese online startups, seeking to leverage on China’s 600m internet users and over 500m smartphone users.

Success in China is a combination of increasing wealth, the rollout of the 4G bandwidth, and the relative low costs of and ease in establishing an online profile.

If not for the rising influence of social media, the survival of many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) would have been drowned by the big dollar marketing campaigns of conglomerates and shopping malls.

Nevertheless, social media should not be confused with simply having a web presence. Rather than a platform for content, it is about engagement.

My most recent experience in Shanghai was how quickly I was able to narrow down my search for zhajiangmian (minced meat noodle) using Dianping, a social media website for hospitality and entertainment providers (currently valued at around US$4bn!), on my smartphone.

What I did not anticipate, when I arrived at the eatery that I had selected from the list of over 500 stores provided via Dianping, and located in a back alley, was a crowd full of non-locals and a wait of 50 to 60 minutes before I was served. At that moment, I realised firsthand the influence of social media.

Thanks to travellers who share their experiences through social media, now we can rely on such platforms to guide us with well-informed to-dos in our travel destinations.

For smaller businesses, social media allows them to compete with larger companies.

New Zealand businesses that choose to establish a social media profile in China may benefit by taking heed of the following three critical success factors.

(1) Different Cultural and Generational Perspectives. Understanding what Chinese want is more important than profiling the product or service. How does it address their needs and the extent to which it conflicts with their cultural values? (Remember: what one culture embraces may be of no significant value to another). Also, the younger generation is more proficient with and accepting of the role technology play in their daily lives.

(2) Content and Format. The nature of social media is that it is “on-the-go”. The average Chinese office worker spends around 80 minutes a day on the bus or subway, focusing intently on their phones and scrolling through a wide array of visual stimulation. Unless the key messages can be summarised in no more than 30 Chinese characters, and presented on different variants of smartphone and tablet, it should go back to the drawing board.

(3) Engagement and Call-to-Action. Those who have visited China will know there is overwhelming content and demand for “eyeball” wherever you look. Marketers, especially those in the export industries to China, often make the mistake of assuming they have a superior product or service than what is available in China. By telling prospective customers why they are the best, they often end up poorest.

A good social media campaign is also about engaging with existing and prospective clients. It should appeal to people at different stages of their lifecycle; and, review and respond to feedback posted. Most importantly, social media campaigns must have clear call-to-action and measurable outcomes. Most Chinese consumers are already used to making transactions from their smartphones, where a multitude of financial services have introduced e-wallets linked to social media accounts.

An increasing number of New Zealand businesses are recognising the need for a social media profile—though the low cost of creating one is often mixed up with the massive commitment required to maintain a credible digital presence. The sheer geographical size of China and quick rate of technological adoption by the Chinese, justifies the need for a social media presence. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to success. Unless New Zealand businesses adhere to the marketing fundamentals of giving Chinese what they want, the end goal may yet be a distance away.

By Arthur Chin

Arthur Chin is a board member of NZCTA. He was previously the Head of ANZ National Asian banking. He is currently the International Director at Massey University.