What B2B Marketers Need to Know About Social Media in China

If you go to China and make new friends there, you will be frustrated when you want to add them as Facebook friends or follow their Twitter account. Why? You will quickly find out that they rarely have those accounts.

Shenzhen China - December 30 2013: Emergence of Chinese Social Media and the rise of WeChat from Tencent in competing with Facebook.

Like Google, Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China due to the censorship issue. Instead, your new friends may ask if you have QQ, Qzone, WeChat, RenRen, Momo, or another social media platform popular in China. All these social media names may make you feel overwhelmed because there are so many, and many of them sound alike! With many choices, it can be a challenge to find the right tool to stay in touch with your friends.

B2B marketers face a similar challenge. They know there is a significant audience on social networks, but which one is right for your business? Learning more about how social media is being used – and why – is a good start.

Who Is Using Social Media in China?

Currently, social media plays a significant role in the daily life of people in China. According to DCCI Internet Data Center, 92.8 percent of Chinese Internet users use social networks as of Dec. 2015. The vast majority (89.3 percent) use their mobile device to access social media applications.

Data from CNNIC shows 63.5 percent of the users log in social media platforms daily, and almost half (46.2 percent) spend more than one hour on social media every day.

From a B2B perspective, the audience is desirable: 31 percent of the users are company employees, 15.7 percent are self-employed, and 13.7 percent are professional workers. These numbers indicate there is an active professional level audience on social media that has purchasing and decision-making power.

What Are Users Doing on Social Media?

Social media is a technology that requires participation and the Chinese are using it to connect to what’s important to them in a new way. In China, people value GuanXi (relationships) a great deal, which provides a unique value to their social behavior. Accordingly, because Chinese users hold very different networking values from users of other countries, the social media there presents special traits, too.

Research shows US social media users like to connect family and friends, share videos and photos, and enjoy the platforms as a means of entertainment. While Chinese people love to use it for connecting with family and friends as well, they also utilize social media for communicating with colleagues, following news and interesting content, learning and sharing knowledge, asking for help, and giving recommendations on products or brands. Chinese users trust the ratings and recommendations of both friends and strangers when making a purchasing decision, while US users rely more on friends’ recommendations and mass media advertising.

Understanding the Social Media Landscape

In China, social media is divided into six categories: instant messaging, multimedia sharing, online forums, microblogging, social networking, and business networking.

Social Media in China

There are dozens of tools in each category. However, some are more popular than others. QQ, WeChat, and Sina Weibo are on the list of top 15 social media worldwide in terms of the monthly active users. When thinking about leveraging social media to enter the China market, these three are the most important platforms to consider. Let’s take a look:

QQ Logo

Overview of QQ

QQ is an instant messaging service, similar to Line, Skype, or Facebook messenger. It was released in 1999 by Tencent, which is the fourth largest Internet company in the world. As the first product of this technology giant, QQ was the pioneer of social media in China. Back then, students and young people were the early adopters. They were curious about this advanced and convenient chatting tool, and never got bored with connecting with friends and finding new friends to chat with.

QQ

Although 17 years have passed, QQ has not only remained relevant to its audience but expanded its user base thanks in large part to the continual integration of innovations and new functions. In addition to instant messaging, QQ offers a variety of services, including music, online videos, group chat, audio and video chat, online social games, music, microblogging, and etc.

According to Tencent’s financial report of Q2 2016, QQ has 899 million monthly active users, which is an increase of 7 percent YoY. Smart device monthly active users of QQ was 667 million, an increase of 6 percent YoY, and the peak concurrent user accounts of QQ (for the quarter) was 247 million, an increase of 6 percent YoY.

B2B Marketing Takeaway

For B2B marketers, one of the great values of QQ is as a customer service tool. Almost every Internet user in China has a QQ account and it is commonly used in the workplace for communication between colleagues and to transfer files. A company QQ account enriches customer experience by making it easy for clients and customers to reach you.

Chinese customers highly value instant and direct communication over emails or form submissions. For example, when we helped a client launch Baidu PPC campaigns, we suggested integrating a QQ app into their website. Through this customers are able to directly ask for quotes or troubleshoot problems when they land on the page. For our client’s website, the QQ conversion rate was 2-4 times higher than a form submission.

WeChat Logo

Overview of WeChat (Weixin)

WeChat, the current bright star in the China social media market, was released by Tencent in 2011. It was initially developed as a mobile instant messaging app (like QQ); however, it has been grown far beyond a pure chatting tool within only five years.

WeChat

As of August 2016, the monthly active user accounts on Tencent’s social WeChat (Weixin) platform jumped 34 percent in one year to 806 million. This had made Tencent became the most valuable tech company in China.

WeChat is a powerful integrated media platform with services including instant messaging, mobile payments, money transfer, transportation booking, games, shopping, news, and so on. Essentially, users can do almost any online activity with this app.

WeChat Functions

It also has become one of the most important content platforms in China with its Official Accounts and Moments functions. WeChat Official Accounts lets people and companies publish articles to followers who are interested in their content. WeChat Moments allow people to share images, short videos, text, music, and articles on this platform and engage with their contacts – 80 to 90 percent of them are families and friends. This high rate indicates that WeChat is a tool that Chinese mainly use for connecting peoples they know, which is very aligned with Chinese culture.

Research shows over 87 percent users use it more than ten times every day. People use it for text and voice messaging and browsing Moments. Although each instance of use is only for a short time people use it with a high frequency.

B2B Marketing Takeaway

Businesses can create official accounts to directly communicate with consumers, answer their questions, or solve their problems. Also, they can post unique content that’s valuable and relevant to the audience, as well as brand updates, service/product and promotion information, and interesting relevant stories. It is a great way to increase brand awareness and build brand loyalty.

WeChat also provides paid advertising services for marketers, but the system is still in its infancy. It is worthy for companies to keep an eye on its development for future marketing opportunities.

Weibo

Overview of Sina Weibo

Weibo has been called the Chinese Twitter – and for good reason. As a microblogging tool, it shares many similarities with Twitter: users can share posts of up to 140 Chinese characters and attach videos or photos. They can also follow other users, retweet by using “@username,” and highlight the topic with “#HashName#” formatting.

Sina Weibo

Monthly active users of Weibo in June 2016 increase 33 percent year over year to 282 million, and 89 percent were mobile users. Average daily active users in June 2016 increase 36 percent year over year to 126 million.  Although the number is much smaller than QQ or WeChat’s users’ amount, Weibo is playing an important role in Chinese social media market.

Compared to WeChat, a tool mainly used for connecting to people you know, Weibo provides a self-publishing platform that’s available to a broader audience. People use it to follow news and celebrities, find interesting topics, and learn and share information. Research shows 73.9 percent of Weibo users follow news and daily hot topics, which makes Weibo a main channel where people can learn new things,

B2B Marketing Takeaway

For B2B companies, Weibo provides a great way to communicate and engage clients and prospects interested in your brand and product. Weibo has tagged accounts and topics divided into categories. You can use these categories to identify the thought leaders to follow and prospects to engage.

Weibo also provides Weibo Trend, Index, and Analytics, which are valuable insight tools for B2B marketers to conduct competitive and consumer analysis. Meanwhile, Weibo has a mature and comprehensive paid advertising system, which is a great complement to other social media marketing initiatives when expanding to the China market.

Final Thoughts

Social media marketing has become critical to digital marketing tactics in the US, and a similar revolution is happening in China. Social media allows companies to listen to clients’ voices and is a means for two-way communication. It can lower communication costs and raise brand satisfaction rates.

As social media is occupying Chinese people’s life gradually, B2B marketers need to learn a deep understanding on Chinese culture, social behaviors and each platform’s utilities. We will discuss more tools – and cover best practices – for marketers in future blogs. Stay tuned!

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