Whilst it may have taken a few knocks over the last year or so with government crackdowns, Weibo is still a favourite with Western brands hoping to get their marketing message across in China. Weibo is essentially a cross between Twitter and Facebook but is one of the major social media players with over 300 million registered users.
City Tiers No Longer Tell the Whole Story for Social Media Marketers
For marketing purposes, companies have tended to look at China’s vast population in terms of City Tiers. Types of city have different characteristics and can affect the way many brands, especially in the West, approach them, both on social media and via other digital marketing methods.
Marketing executives in the West are busy checking the stats for Chinese social media to better inform how they promote their brands on social media.
Western brands that are trying to get to grips with social media in China know that it is a fast paced and often complex arena and, with nearly 600 million users and a year on year growth of over 165% for mobile shopping, it’s something they have to work hard to keep up with.
Here is our top trend for 2014:
Brands have long been aware that what sells here in the West doesn’t necessarily sell that well in the East and nowhere is this more noticeable than in China.
Often seen as cut off from the rest of the world, the country represents one of the biggest retail markets for brands and succeeding in it is something akin to the Holy Grail.
Renren has lagged behind many of the more aggressive and commercially successful social media and microblogging platforms in recent times though it still has over 170 million users. It’s often seen as a Facebook clone in the West, in the way it looks with the blue interface and how it behaves with status shares, like pages and the ability to post photos and chat with friends.
Having sold its group buying site Nuomi to the e-commerce giant Baidu recently, many could be forgiven for thinking that Renren was going to fade away as one of the major players in social media in China. The competition with Weibo and WeChat was just too fierce. In fact, Renren has been repositioning itself, is targeting the student and youth market, and released a new mobile app in November 2013.
The demographic for Renren remains from 13 to 30 years old, school children and those at university, and brands that have invested heavily in it as a marketing platform over the years have included Dell, which boasts over a million fans on their page, as well as Budweiser and KFC.
“The strategy on RenRen is pushy and strictly sales-oriented, with a multimedia approach including the promotion of other web platforms and mobile apps.” Digital in the Round (http://www.digitalintheround.com/renren-chinese-social-media/)
According to Joe Chenn, Chairman and CEO of Renren, they need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. They have struggled with generating advertising revenue from the mobile application which has led to an emphasis on gaming to attract users.
For brands that are targeting the younger demographic, particularly 18 to 24 year olds, Renren is still one of the sites they should be concentrating on. There tends to be a lot of gossip on the platform and if brands can plug into that they can create an impact.
Although there are restrictions on brands accessing the site initially, for instance Renren only accepts around 100 new brand pages a day, and it is more difficult to operate in than its Facebook counterpart in the West, it remains a key platform in China’s complex social media landscape.
Revenue for Renren has come through its development of online gaming rather than straight brand advertising and that trend is set to continue over the next few years. About 70% of users now logon via their mobile devices and brands that can leverage the gaming side of Renren to get their message across will probably have more success than those that don’t.
The problem for Renren will be existing outside the bubble of China’s social media landscape. Where Weibo and WeChat are making inroads into the West and challenging for a piece of the global pie, Renren may find it difficult to compete with established platforms like Facebook and that in the end may well signal its demise.
In the meantime, for Western brands trying to reach the affluent youth of China, it still holds the potential for good results.
“Our goal is to reposition Renren as a young generation social hub, the best place to observe and understand the thoughts and behaviours of China’s new generation”. Chief Operating Officer for Renren, James Liu. (https://www.warc.com/LatestNews/News/Renren_targets_students.news?ID=32730)
is Tencent’s WeChat set to be the app of choice for both business and pleasure?
According to multimedia journalist Paul Bischoff on TechinAsia: “In China, all online communication converges at WeChat. The four-year-old chat app now functions as text messenger, Facebook, Reddit, Skype, IRC chatroom, Meetup, and Instagram – all rolled into one.”
It used to be that apps like Facebook and Twitter would take care of the personal and those such as LinkedIn would satisfy our business and work needs. With WeChat though, we have an app that is trying to break down the barrier between the two. Business meets social and personal. It works well in China’s social media world and it may well be heading West to challenge some of our established platforms.
In China, social capital is a vital prerequisite to success. Whereas people in the West might have one account for their personal life and one for business, in China it is often rolled up into one. And something like group chat is very important to our Eastern colleagues.
Networking groups are big in China
WeChat groups have a limit to the number of members. You need special permission to run one that has in excess of 100 people and if you run it, you must be able to moderate the content accordingly. For many Chinese businesses, selecting the right group to follow, and networking through it, can bring success and vital information exchanges.
With all its functionality, WeChat is an ideal platform for a varied range of activities from selling online and settling disputes to running a web style seminar. There are predictions that WeChat is going to overtake even Facebook as the world’s premier social marketing tool.
The benefit of Tencent’s platform for Western brands is that it is possible to categorize people according to their location and gender. More than half its users are aged between 25 and 30 and many are white collar workers who reside in first tier cities. And with business merging into personal with many of its users, this provides a unique opportunity for brands hoping to develop a marketing approach tailored for Chinese consumers.
The problem for brands trying to make their way on this multi-faceted platform is that it’s not quite there yet. There are still challenges in marketing your brand on WeChat.
According to Xiaofeng Wang from The Forrester Group: “The information that users share on WeChat is private and can be seen only by personally approved friends; as a result, WeChat is used more as a communication tool for friends to keep in contact. Users are less likely to repost brands’ information massively, as marketers expect them to do on Weibo.”
There are also restrictions on brand accounts for how many messages they can send to their fans. With the government crackdown on luxury items and self-indulgent behaviour, Western brands are still weighing up the options and discovering how best to leverage WeChat as a marketing medium. But the truth is that its growth in popularity across the globe may well make it a primary focus for many years to come.
The slowdown in China’s economic growth might be making some big Western brands think twice about investing in this lucrative market in the future.
At the beginning of 2014, both L’Oreal Garnier and Revlon planned exits from China’s competitive cosmetics market.
China is a large and complex arena in which to do business. Foreign companies have often had difficulty navigating it. Luxury brands appear to be suffering more than most, not only because of the economic slowdown but also the government’s crackdown on what it sees as unhealthy extravagance.
“As growth in China slows brands are starting to evaluate their portfolios in China and to focus on where they see the biggest growth,” comments Torsten Stocker, Hong Kong-based partner with consultancy firm AT Kearney
In truth, L’Oreal is not pulling out totally from the Chinese market. They will, instead, be concentrating on two main brands: L’Oreal Paris and Maybelline New York. China is one of L’Oreal’s biggest markets, they have a 17% share in it, and they see social media marketing as vital to their success there.
Lancôme, another luxury cosmetic brand in China, has a strong presence on many social networks including Kaixin, Renren and Sina Weibo. It uses prominent key opinion leaders to promote its products on their blogs and in videos. And its Rose Beauty Weibo page has over 900,000 followers who regularly visit for advice and chat, post comments and reblog to their friends and family.
Lancôme created a new campaign for this New Year encouraging their fans to create digital talking greetings cards. “A Merry Lancome New Year” was launced on WeChat, Weibo and their own community website with those who collect the most ‘likes’ eligible to win products from the company’s latest line of cosmetics.
One of the ways in which luxury brands have suffered with the government crackdown in recent months is its effect on the Chinese practice of gift giving. The reason luxury items have caught the attention of the government is because they have often been used as bribes in politics and business.
But the affluent Chinese who buy luxury products are also changing their habits and purchasing outside of China’s mainland. And, according to analyst and writer Michael Zakkour: “Chinese luxury consumers are turning increasingly toward spending their ample disposable income on lifestyle purchases in addition to pure social status products.”
There is no doubt that luxury brands are nervous at the moment. Some like L’Oreal and Revlon are altering their approach to the Chinese market. Others are engaging more deeply on social media to offset any decline in popularity. Government crackdowns can disappear almost as quickly as they appeared.
But it’s not all bad news for luxury brands and the people who market them. The past 10 years has seen rapid growth in the economy and many see the current slowdown as a return to a more stable market that will benefit all Western brands trying to sell themselves in China.
“After a decade of rapid growth, the past two years have been a reality call for luxury brands in China. Rather than a downward trajectory, brands should think of the slowing market as a stabilization of rates that weren’t sustainable in the long-term.” The Jing Daily.
Many businesses forging a new media strategy in China, see the country’s premier micro-blogging site, Weibo, as the Twitter twin of the East. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two and simply moving your Twitter strategy over onto Weibo may be more of a mistake than you think.
It’s not just about 140 characters. Chinese can contain five times more information than English in that short space. This means Weibo provides an opportunity for a more layered dialogue and greater interaction between fans and companies trying to market their product. The Chinese love to comment and Weibo gives them the tools to do this and more.
A picture paints a thousand words. Businesses can do worse than look to the fashion industry for examples of good practice in social media strategy in China. For a recent Art of the Trench exhibition in Shanghai, Burberry used pictures of people in the city wearing the iconic trench coat on their Weibo page.
Images and video were also transmitted live from the event. The result?
“The brand saw an increase of 15, 548 followers in just a 16 day time period and saw an average of 20 active followers a day.” Courtney Gerring, Digital PR at Fashionbi. (http://www.marketmechina.com/burberrys-powerful-weibo-strategy-and-the-benefits-of-weibo-campaigns/)
Get yourself verified. Sina Weibo brought in verified accounts much earlier than Twitter. Unlike Twitter, where it doesn’t appear to have the same impact, without it on Weibo you will have a harder time attracting fans.
Be careful what you post. There is censorship in China, a fact businesses looking to get a foothold in this arena have to deal with. Common sense can get you so far but you also need to keep an eye on what is in/out of vogue. In China, censorship of content, keywords and images changes with the tide. A site like weibowatch.com regularly provides a useful list of up-to-date banned or sensitive words that businesses should be aware of.
Latch onto influence. In other words, it pays to know your public. Get to know the key opinion leaders and build a relationship with them and you will be able to better reach the Chinese public. Particularly on Weibo, these verified individuals get a lot of reposts and comments on a daily basis.
Keep one eye on public events. In July 2011, a huge rainstorm hit Beijing leaving thousands of office workers stranded in the city. Durex posted on Weibo that it would be a good idea to put their product on their shoes to keep those feet dry – the post was shared between 50 million Weibo users.
Timing is crucial. To build up fans it helps to have an idea when the majority are checking their posts. For instance, a large number of Chinese commuters look at Weibo while travelling to and from work.
With over 500 million users and almost two thirds of fans spending an average of 3.9 hours a day using it on their phones, Weibo is one of the most influential social media channels in China and one that businesses looking to be a success in the country need to be serious about. Optimising for Weibo may be more challenging than its Western counterpart but, done effectively, can give foreign businesses access to a large and influential portion of the population.
“While the controls are tighter, one must realize that social media is infinitely more open than other media in China, and Sina has built a solid product integrating images, video, structured dialog, and longer tweets. As a result, Sina Weibo has become the media of choice that people flock to find or share information, and to voice or hear opinion.” Former Google China head Kaifu Lee. (http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/18/kaifu-lee-still-upbeat-on-chinas-social-media-despite-sina-and-tencent-weibo-suspension/)
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