Differences in Chinese Social Media: What you need to know

If you think you can take what you know about Social Media and implement it for the Chinese market, think again. Whilst it may pose similar features to European and Western markets, Chinese Social Media comes with many challenges. The platforms are different, and so is the way users interact with social media online.

The Key Differences in Chinese Social Media 

You won’t be able to use Google in China. The largest search engines are Baidu, 360 Search and Sogou; therefore, use these as a basis for your research.

There are four key differences in Chinese Social Media.

1. Firstly, as already discussed, the social media platforms are different and need to be used correctly to suit the culture.

2. The hot topics are likely to be unfamiliar to Westerners. For example, people enjoy made-in-China television dramas relating to traditional legends dating back to old dynasties. Also in recent years, Korean TV series have swept over China. Clever digital marketers are able to tie their campaigns in with the storylines, using the drama and interest of the shows in their own marketing material. This helps to engage their followers in conversation, and encourages new followers to join in, instantly expanding their fan base.

3. China is very much driven by mobile usage, rather than desktop, and many companies don’t bother with creating the kind of website Western businesses are used to. Instead they create light apps, html5 micro-sites or pages which allow users to interact with the program directly from their mobiles devices. These mobile-responsive sites can be quickly created and are often developed, like an app, for a specific purpose such as an event or celebration, so their life span may be quite short, but exciting. Digital marketers typically leverage this type of site for follower acquisition and engagement.

4. The published contents of your account, including official and user comments, will all be censored. If in violation, the site will be forced to shut down and the account will be suspended. To ensure they are in compliance, companies need to pay close attention to what they publish, and review all user comments before allowing them to be published.

Social Media Marketing Platforms in China

Similar yet different is one way to describe the latest social media options available in China. While they have some similar features to many major Western social media brands, you will need to experiment to see whether they can work for you.

Here are some of the top social media platforms:


This social media site is extremely popular, with 762 million active users recorded in the first quarter of 20163. WeChat is versatile in its use and allows its users to send text messages and voice messages as well as watch videos, go shopping, pay bills and play video games.

Once your organisation or business is verified, you will be able to access all of the advanced WeChat platform features such as a user’s location, surveys, third-party apps, payments, and more. Verification also signals to users that your account is safe and real.

From a marketing in China perspective, it is a dream. WeChat ads can be customised to suit a particular target market, and organisations can set up their individual accounts and post relevant content to ignite brand loyalty.

Sina Weibo:

Sina Weibo is China’s equivalent to Twitter. As a microblogging site, it allows up to 140 characters per social media post and users can add links, photos, music, and videos. Weibo has over 261 million active monthly users with an even split between males and females4. Organisations have the ability to post their content and link to other external content, in order to acquire new fans and/or engage the existing fans. Companies will also need to undertake the verification process to prove they are legitimate.


Qzone is the social networking site of the QQ social messaging system. QQ alone approximately 877 million active monthly users. The Qzone social networking site and popular virtual community has over 648 million users, growing at a fast rate. Users can blog, listen to music, send photos to each other, keep a diary and watch videos3. An advertiser’s dream, a marketer has the potential to create a blog, build a fully customised microsite, and plan relevant ads to reach their target market.


Youku works in a similar fashion to YouTube, whereby users can upload content and add comments. Marketers have the potential to create a video account and upload their marketing information. Bear in mind that China has extremely strict guidelines for the internet and Youku is very heavily monitored.

As the Chinese social media market is large and ever changing, new opportunities are constantly being created through technology development, company mergers and user needs. Do your research and aim to get a good handle on one social media platform before moving onto another.

Western Mistakes Using Chinese Social Media

Latest statistics show that over 50% of the Chinese population is online (688 million users as at the end of 20151), which certainly sounds like a hurdle well worth overcoming.

The most important thing marketers should do is to get to know and understand the Chinese culture. Without this, it is easy to fall into the traps other Western businesses have fallen into. If Kraft had done this, they would have known that Oreo cookies wouldn’t be popular in China because they don’t suit the Chinese palate. Getting to know the culture helps marketers understand the subtleties of Chinese language, etiquette and preferences.

Here are a few examples of campaigns that went wrong (and companies that should have known better):

  • Coca-Cola had to invest a lot of time and money to come up with phonetically accurate characters which portrayed their name and brand. ‘To permit mouth to be able to rejoice’ was the result. A much better name than the ‘bite the wax tadpole’ shopkeepers had been using before their research took place.
  • And remember KFC’s slogan, ‘finger lickin’ good’ back in the 1980s? It was translated to 'eat your fingers off'. Ouch!
  • Pepsi launched in China with the slogan 'Pepsi brings you back to life' which unfortunately the Chinese understood as 'Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave'.

It’s easy to laugh, but these are some of the world’s biggest companies, and they all made beginner-level errors. Don’t make the same mistake.

Social media in China is full of potential, so invest time into becoming part of the culture before you try to influence it, and bring on board someone who knows and properly understands the culture.

It is an exciting time for advertisers looking to break into the Chinese social media market at the moment. With the right amount of strategy and planning, and a little bit of luck, you just may be able to make it work for you.

What you need to consider

There are some crucial factors to consider when looking to connect with social media platforms in China.

1. The social media platforms that you are used to marketing in your home country are not available in China. This goes for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, to name a few. But don’t lose heart. Many of the generic concepts are similar, and it won’t take you long to catch on.

2. Based on CNNIC report, 89.3% of social platform users use mobile phone device to access social platforms vs. 47.6% also access via desktop2.

3. Just because a marketing campaign was a success in one country does not mean it will have the same application in China. Chinese ideals and desires come from a different perspective, which needs to be taken into account.

Reference resource
  1. The 37th Statistical Report on Internet Development in China, January, 2016, CNNIC
  2. Chinese social platform user behavior research, Apr 2016, CNNIC
  3. Tencent Announces 2016 First Quarter Results, Q1 2016, Tencent
  4. Weibo First Quarter 2016 Financial Results, Q1 2016, Weibo
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