Author: Joei Chan
Affiliated organization: Linkfluence
Type of publication: Article
China is not only the world’s largest social media market – it also boasts an incredibly rich and diverse online landscape.
After all, over 800 million Chinese internet users are looking for a place to share their opinions, ask for product recommendations, and connect with others. That’s a lot of content.
While Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter continue to dominate the western world, China has seen the emergence of many innovative new social platforms. This includes video sharing platforms like Douyin, as well as shopping communities like Xiaohongshu.
In this changing environment, global brands looking to build their presence in the Chinese market need to keep a close eye on what’s happening with these platforms.
Why is Chinese social media important for global brands?
The numbers tell you everything you need to know.
According to a Chinese government study, 802 million people in China are now active internet users. This amounts to 57.7% of the country’s population.
Compare the US’s estimated 300 million internet users, or 78.2% of its population. While China might not yet have the same market penetration, it has a greater potential for growth.
Even more interesting is the incredible level of mobile uptake in China: 98% of Chinese people using the internet do so via mobile devices. Compare that with just 73% in the US.
This makes Chinese social media more immediate and dynamic, with mobile users looking to platforms like WeChat and Weibo for the latest recommendations, testimonials, and tips.
This high mobile penetration also helps drives the performance of massive online events like Alibaba’s Singles Day.
For global brands, the sheer size of the Chinese consumer market makes it critical to dedicate time and energy to tracking trends on social media.
Not only is China a significant market, but many popular trends in wider Asia start in China.
Unfortunately, many brands struggle to understand the Chinese market in depth, and lack the ability to track local trends in real time.
To see this in action, just look at the outrage and subsequent public apology over Dolce & Gabbana’s promotional videos for its 2018 runway show in Shanghai.
What makes Chinese social media unique?
Chinese social media platforms are highly focused on attracting mobile users, meaning sites are geared for quick and instantaneous sharing.
Unfortunately, this strong mobile focus presents difficulties for social listening. Businesses need special expertise to track and analyze online discussions about brands, products, and topics.
As western social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter struggle to get a foothold in China, Chinese social media companies step up and take the opportunity to innovate. This has led to the rise of a huge number of social media platforms, giving users more choice. Rather than being dominated by a small group of companies, the Chinese social media landscape is more dynamic, with platforms rising and falling on a faster timescale.
Photo touch-up app Meitu is a great example. Following significant user loss in 2017, Meitu shifted its focus from simple photo editing, allowing users to post updates and chat in groups. Since early 2018, Meitu has seen a tenfold increase in user engagement.
Some chinese social media platforms to watch in 2021
The true goliath of social media in China, WeChat boasts a massive monthly active user count of over 1.06 billion (August 2018).
Developed by Tencent, this versatile app offers pretty much everything: online shopping, games, financial services. Combine this with its huge user count, and you have an unbelievably rich source of potential customer engagement.
As western social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter struggle to get a foothold in China, Chinese social media companies step up and take the opportunity to innovate. This has led to the rise of a huge number of social media platforms, giving users more choice. Rather than being dominated by a small group of companies, the Chinese social media landscape is more dynamic, with platforms rising and falling on a faster timescale
Often described as a mix of apps, WeChat is the equivalent of Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Uber, Amazon, and Whatsapp, and also features integration with over ten million third party apps.
Instant messaging app Tencent QQ remains a major player in the Chinese market, with 803.2 million monthly active users at August 2018.
Like WeChat, Tencent QQ offers a bunch of different services, including gaming, music, movies, blogging, and group chat. This mix of services has made the platform incredibly popular with users under 20, attracting a dedicated user base for this older platform.
Short-form video app Douyin (known in the international market as TikTok), has experienced a rapid rise since its initial release in September 2016.
Designed to allow users to create and share short videos, Douyin has become incredibly popular, attracting 500 million global users by July 2018. This includes over 6 million users in the United States.
Sometimes referred to as a “lip-synching” app, Douyin has become popular particularly among younger users, who use the platform to create and share short, punchy clips laden with memes and niche cultural references.
Often described as a mix of apps, WeChat is the equivalent of Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Uber, Amazon, and Whatsapp, and also features integration with over ten million third party apps
How global brands can leverage Chinese social platforms in 2021
Chinese social media’s combination of huge user numbers and platform variety presents a significant advertising opportunity for global brands.
Brands and businesses are recognizing this opportunity, and are creating bespoke content for many of these platforms. This includes offering flash sales on WeChat, using KOLs on Xiaohongshu, and targeting Zhihu users with niche product offers.
Here are a few more examples:
- On September 17 2018, Burberry offered an exclusive WeChat flash sale to its 12 million followers followings a major catwalk show.
- On November 16 2018, Dior used WeChat’s live-streaming feature to attract more than 3.2 million viewers, helping to drive sales.
- On January 16 2019, Balenciaga offered a limited edition handbag via a WeChat mini program, stirring up a massive amount of online hype.
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