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.
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.
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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