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:
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.
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are important weapons for brands hoping to get their message across on social media, particularly in China. They are the people netizens listen to and the value of their endorsement to your product or service cannot be underestimated.
They use platforms like Sina Weibo and WeChat and they can range from national renowned celebrities, organisations and thinkers, to local experts. Their followers number from a few thousand to millions and they can be travel writers, journalists, chefs, photographers, actors and actresses, pop stars and fashion icons. Their followers trust their opinions on where to go on holiday, what clothes they should wear, what they should eat and what TV they should watch.
Large brands use multiple KOLs to spread branding power, spending significant amounts courting the famous and successful. Smaller brands with more limited budgets can also increase their reach by utilising experts and respected fans who are active on social media and have a good following.
Finding a useful KOL
According to Angie Au-Yeung, National Digital Marketing Manager, China, for Lee Cooper, there are 3 keys to a successful KOL:
Find a KOL who fits your brand. For instance, if you are selling a fashion product to the young affluent in China’s Tier 1 and 2 cities, you are more likely to choose a young, attractive celebrity KOL rather than a renowned architect or popular politician to market your brand.
What do you want your KOL to do? Do you want them to pass on your brand message in their posts? Do you want them to become an ambassador for your brand? There are various levels a KOL can operate on and getting the right balance is vital for a successful social media campaign.
What are the metrics for your KOL? Fan base size and demographic are important. The rise of smart phone usage in China means that you can reach a wider cross-section of the country than ever before. If you are going to invest time and energy in a KOL then they need to be able to reach out to the people who will be interested in your product.
Engaging with KOL bloggers
Beyond the obvious high-ranking celebrities and others who are in the public eye, there are opportunities for social media branding with China’s large and ever-growing band of bloggers. These are generally people who have a hobby or passion that attracts enough of a following and respect for their opinion to have promise as a promotional tool for brands.
“Building relationships with bloggers in China can be time consuming and requires a degree of commitment but…it can bring fantastic success to a brand in the way of genuine advocacy and provide the local breakthrough endorsement which is essential for traction in China.” Elisa Harca, Marketing Consultant. (http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2322997/bloggers-commentators-and-kols-harnessing-the-power-of-chinese-influencers)
More highly valued by consumers than their Western counterparts, discovering valuable KOLs should be a priority for all brands seeking to make inroads into China’s marketplace and sell their products.
For brands operating in China’s vast and complex social media landscape, one thing that can’t be avoided is the government’s almost pathological tendency to censor content.
Generating a marketing campaign that gets China’s 600 million online population talking about your brand can have dire consequences – if you get it wrong. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all been banned by the authorities and LinkedIn’s new Beta platform, launched in China last month, has had to agree to government restrictions to gain a licence to operate.
Whilst brands may be able to monitor their own content, they don’t have much control over what people say once their message is out there. Many popular brands use well-known Chinese celebrities to promote their products and these Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) can also get on the wrong side of government restrictions that can often seem as confusing as they are censorial.
Actress Yao Chen, the face of Tourism New Zealand in China, became entangled in a political protest when she quoted Solzhenitsyn to her 33 million Sina Weibo followers in support of freedom of the press. The quote: One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world, didn’t sit well with the government censors.
To some, China’s censorship can seem complicated and often random.
“Last year, TV regulators restricted popular genres such as dating, variety and talent shows as part of a crackdown on “overly entertaining” programming. They also banned commercials during dramas, one of the most popular formats in China. No explanation was given for the rules and ad prices soared as supplies decreased overnight.” Anita Chang Beattie, Ad Age (http://adage.com/article/global-news/censorship-china-media-marketers/239187/)
Of more concern to Western brands may be the ever changing list of government censored words and phrases ranging from the “Dalai Lama” and “evolution” to “instant noodles”. It may sound strange to the outside world, but there is reasoning behind these bans, mostly to do with the desire to reduce dissent.
Banning of words can often happen swiftly and without warning but they can also be reinstated just as quickly and mysteriously. In 2012 it was reported that the word Ferrari was banned following the death of a son of an ex-aide to the former Chinese President Hu Jintao. In February this year a similar thing happened with another Ferarri belonging to yet another member of China’s young elite.
Luxury brands, for so long the success story for Western endeavours in China, haven’t been exempt from government bans either. In 2013 there was a blanket ban on advertising for those who promote “incorrect values and help create a bad social ethos”.
The Jing Daily quoted at the time: “As such, radio and television stations have been ordered to pull any advertisements that promote extravagant gift-giving — i.e., “waste” — for items such as high-end watches, rare stamps and gold coins.”
This followed on from a ban of advertising in outdoor spaces that promoted “hedonistic or high-end lifestyles”. Fortunately for luxury brands, this ban did not extend to digital platforms where most of their affluent fans do their shopping.
While brands can often be caught unawares by Chinese censorship, there is still hope that the rise of social media and the increased use of smartphones is going someway to devalue the government’s attempts to control what its people see and say.
In the meantime, brands need to have one eye on current censorship trends if they want to avoid wasting their marketing budget on campaigns that don’t pass an often inscrutable set of censorship rules.
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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