Sinorblog / Social Media in China / Chinese social media: what you need to know
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Chinese social media: what you need to know

May 11, 2020 |   Desmond Kohn

If you think you can take what you know about social media and apply it to the Chinese market, think again. Internet regulation has made popular Western platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube inaccessible to Chinese users, and while it’s true that once upon a time, Chinese social media platforms closely imitated Western ones, fierce competition and fast innovation has meant these platforms have long since overtaken their Western counterparts in terms of capability.

In short, when it comes to understanding the Chinese social media landscape, you pretty much need to start from scratch.

In this article, we take a closer look at the key differences between the Chinese and Western social media landscape, and dive into some of the most important Chinese social media platforms you need to be across.

What are the 3 key differences between Western and Chinese social media?

The Chinese social media landscape is vastly different to that in the West. Here are some of the key differences:

1. Mobile is king

With 854 million internet users China is by far the largest online market – and of those users, 99.1% of them access the internet on their mobile phones. The Chinese social media landscape is, therefore, very much mobile-first, with Chinese users spending about a third of their daily internet time on social media apps.

This is worth remembering when it comes to creating content for social media – videos, for example, should be produced to be viewed on a small screen, and users are less likely to want to scroll through a 2000-word post on their mobile phones.

2. Chinese apps are far more powerful than Western apps

As mentioned in the introduction, Chinese social media apps have evolved far ahead of their Western counterparts, to the point where they’ve become one-stop shops. So, when considering how to get maximum value out of Chinese social media apps, marketers have to think well beyond the scope of Western social media.

Take WeChat, for example. Within the one single application, you can hail taxis, book appointments, pay bills, play games, order takeaway, hire bikes – the list goes on and on. This is because it’s possible to create ‘lite’ apps known as mini programs, as well as HTML5 pages, all within the program, putting all sorts of capabilities at your fingertips. They can also be developed quickly and relatively cheaply, so it’s feasible to use them for short campaigns, making them an exciting opportunity for marketers to flex their creativity.

This does not mean, however, that you do not need a well-developed website optimised for China. Indeed, your website acts as an essential support to your social media efforts, giving you a place to put landing pages for any lead generation campaigns, and preventing you from being tied to one closed ecosystem. Just make sure your website is mobile-responsive.

3. China’s social media landscape is highly fragmented and dynamic

With a larger internet userbase than the United States and Europe combined, China’s domestic market is so huge that there’s room for everyone. That means that, while WeChat is undoubtedly the biggest player, even smaller players can have millions of users.

Chinese social media platforms can cater to specific demographics or regional areas and still have userbases large enough to support them. This has created a highly fragmented market unlike anywhere else in the world. Marketers therefore have to think carefully about where to invest their resources, and which platforms are likely to give them the biggest bang for their buck.

It is also a landscape that is highly dynamic, with fast-growing new platforms cropping up all the time. Short video app Douyin, for example, was established just 3 years ago. In that relatively short space of time, it has taken not just China but the world by storm, with its Western version, TikTok, becoming the most downloaded app in the App Store in 2018 and 2019.

Top social media platforms in China

Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest social media platforms in the country. In this section, we’ll look at how they work, who’s on them, and how brands can use them.

WeChat

WeChat user statistics:

  1. WeChat MAU: Q1 2020 – 17 billion

  2. Over 50% of WeChat users are aged between 25 and 35

  3. WeChat Mini programs have over 300 million daily active users

  4. WeChat has more than 20 million registered official accounts

What is WeChat?

WeChat is undoubtedly the powerhouse of the Chinese social media landscape, with a userbase of over 1.1 billion – that’s one out of every seven people on the planet. WeChat has one of the most active userbases of all social media platforms in China, with 877 million people logging in every day and 61% checking their account for updates at least 10 times a day. And it’s no surprise when you consider the sheer number of things people are actually able to do on the app, with WeChat combining communication, social sharing, information, entertainment, utility and e-commerce all on a single platform. That’s why WeChat has become an indispensable part of many people’s lives.

What can WeChat do?

Brands can therefore use WeChat marketing to target users at all stages of the buying journey: from awareness, to engagement, and through to conversion. They can, for example, have one-on-one conversations via Group Chats, target users through WeChat moments ads, create fun HTML5 games for specific campaigns, or combine online and offline marketing with QR codes.

Who is on WeChat?

Just over 50% of WeChat users are between the ages of 25 and 35, so Millennials are a huge demographic for WeChat. That being said, engagement is much higher among those 36 years and older, so while this demographic is smaller, they are much more captive. There is also a higher proportion of older aged users, ranging from 36-50 years old. Plus, it’s worth remembering that just 10% of WeChat’s userbase is still over 100 million people. Because of its huge userbase and its high user engagement, therefore, WeChat should be a key part of any China marketing strategy.

Marketing on WeChat

WeChat is arguably one of the most influential and innovative Chinese social media networks available. Due to the large following, businesses would immediately turn to WeChat marketing knowing it will be an effective marketing strategy. There are several ways businesses can be successful in marketing on WeChat. For example, WeChat posts, where companies can talk about topics related to their products and services, launch new offers and engage with their target audience.

Along with marketing, WeChat advertising is also a highly effective way to promote your brand. Key opinion leader (KOL) marketing can be an effective strategy to implement. Brands can work with KOL’s to write an article or review about certain brands and products, or KOL’s themselves can promote the products with a coupon, discount or giveaway. Other strategies your brand can tackle include WeChat banner advertising and WeChat moments advertising.

Successful WeChat campaigns

One example of a successful WeChat campaign is from Pepsi. To commemorate Chinese New Year, they created a HTML5 page where users could enter their name to get a personalised holiday greeting, emblazoned in the sky with fireworks. This greeting could then be sent to friends and family. This had all the elements of a viral campaign: seasonal, fun, well designed, and highly shareable.

Another successful WeChat campaign example would be luxury brand Celine. Unlike other brands that build mini programs for e-commerce, Celine launched their first ever WeChat mini program for Chinese consumers to better understand the brands history. The new WeChat mini program is divided into 3 parts, “About Celine”, “New Collection”, and “Stores Nearby”. The mini program allows customers to be more connected to the brand while browsing what they have to offer.

Tencent QQ

Tencent QQ user statistics

  1. 731 million monthly active users (2019)
  2. 700 million monthly active mobile users (2019)
  3. Percentage of internet users, age 16-65 in China that use QQ
  4. 60% of QQ users under the age of 30

What is QQ? 

Tencent QQ, commonly known as QQ, is an instant messaging service developed by Chinese tech giant Tencent (the same company that owns WeChat). First released in 1999, QQ is regarded as the founding father of instant messaging in China. Although its popularity has waned in recent years, QQ still reaches around 650 million monthly users, making it a powerful digital marketing tool. The platform remains popular with younger demographics, with 60% of QQ users being under 30 years old. QQ also tends to be popular at workplaces, due to its ease of use and its capability for transmitting large files like images and videos.

What can QQ do?

As well as sending instant messages, users can also blog, listen to music, send photos, keep a diary, join online groups based on similar interests, play online games and watch videos. QQ is also a great place to keep up with celebrities – Chinese boy band TFBoys, for example, boasts over 42 million followers on QQ. 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.

Who is on QQ?

Chinese netizens under 29 year old account for 52.2% of total user. With a growing number of young users on QQ, the platform has made arrangements to explore the field of social and entertainment to continue adapting to the demands of this age group.

Advertising on QQ

Companies that are able to invest in some paid media activity in China might also want to explore Qzone, QQ’s advertising platform, which allows organisations and brands to target users based on their interests. The ads appear in the user’s QQ newsfeed, like WeChat moments ads.

Because of its younger demographic and ability for one-on-one communication, brands targeting young people might find QQ a useful addition to their social media strategy. Universities, for example, could set up QQ groups to communicate directly with potential students and deliver information about their institution.

Successful QQ campaigns

Like all social platforms, content that is interactive and relatable usually does best on QQ. One campaign that has stood out amongst all would be Fanta. In commercial, an uptight but beautiful young ballerina learns to loosen up and enjoy different styles of dance, boys and gaining popularity by drinking Fanta.

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Weibo

Weibo user statistics

  1. Weibo’s monthly active users (MAU): 523 million in June 2020
  2. Weibo’s daily active users (DAU): 229 million in June 2020
  3. Weibo’s total net revenue in Q2: 387.4 million

What is Weibo?

Often called ‘China’s Twitter’, Weibo was once the most popular social media platform in China. Though it now sits second to WeChat, it is still used by over 61% of internet users in China, making it a key platform to be aware of.

With a monthly active user base of 497 million (as of Q3 2019), Weibo is a multimedia micro-blogging platform where users can upload their own posts (under 2000 characters), photos and videos; share content; buy and sell products; start polls; play games; and broadcast live. Many users also use Weibo to stay up to date on the latest news and their favourite celebrities, taking part in discussions on popular topics ranging from entertainment, the economy, society, sports and so on.

What can Weibo do?

Weibo is a well-rounded, all-in-one application. With Weibo, users can explore new content using the discover button, watch videos sorted by categories and play video games using their game center. Not only that, other features also include Weibo Fit where users can track their health data, and Weibo wallet which enables users to make payments directly through the app. Similar to WeChat, businesses can obtain a corporate account to gain a verification badge using it as a source of credibility for their customers.

Who is on Weibo?

With more than 462 million monthly active users on the platform, Weibo’s demographics range from users aged 16 to users age 41 and above. 35% of users are in the 18-22 year old category, while users age 23-30 occupy 40% of total users.

Marketing on Weibo

Because Weibo is a more open and public platform, there is a potential for greater exposure and outreach than what might be possible on WeChat. Marketers could also consider using leveraging the popularity of celebrities and KOLs (key opinion leaders) to increase brand awareness. Weibo can also be useful in terms of gathering information on your target audience and staying on top of consumer trends.

Successful Weibo campaigns

In 2013, the Italian luxury fashion brand Fendi launched an interactive campaign on Weibo called “Fendi Play with Colours”, featuring their latest handbag collection “Crayons”. Fendi asked Weibo users to vote for their favourite colour in the collection via the brand’s Weibo page, and encouraged the brand’s followers to forward the campaign to their friends.

The results speak for themselves: the brand’s activity increased by 44%, the number of reposts increased by 536% to 4547, and their number of followers increased by 255% to 7301 in just a little over three weeks.

weibo-chinese-social-media-infographics

Little Red Book

Little Red Book user statistics

  1. Most active users: post 90’s and post 95’s / 70% of users born after 1990
  2. 80% of users are female
  3. Over 200 million registered users

What is Little Red Book?

Little Red Book (also known as Xiaohong Shu) is a curious mix of social media crossed with e-commerce – one observer dubbed it “Instagram and Pinterest sprinkled with a dose of Taobao”. It’s main focus, however, is user-generated content. Users can post their tips, recommendations, how-to demonstrations and product reviews, and they can comment on and save these posts to themed boards (much like Pinterest). And yes, they can even purchase products directly from the platform.

What can Little Red Book do?

Little Red Book is driven by user-generated content – indeed, direct advertising is not permitted on the platform. One 2020 campaign showed how much traction can be gained by using KOLs.

Homegrown cosmetic brand Perfect Diary collaborated with the Discovery Channel to create nine animal-themed eye palettes, including a dog and cat palette. To promote the collaboration, Perfect Diary joined forces with China’s top beauty influencer and livestreamer Li Jiaqi’s puppy named Never. They also enlisted hundreds of beauty KOLs – mega and micro – to share makeup tutorials on Little Red Book.

Though the brand did not launch any official hashtags for the campaign, users spontaneously created hashtags such as “Li Jiaqi Never Eye palette”. The palettes’ monthly sales on Tmall have since hit 85,000, and the presale for Perfect Diary’s “Super Brand Day” received over 156,000 orders.

Who is on Little Red Book?

The 300 million users on Little Red Book are primarily women (80%), though the platform is currently trying to grow their number of male users with content focused on topics like exercise and grooming. Their users also tend to be young (around two thirds of them are 30 years old or younger), live in top-tier cities and have a high purchasing power. This demographic doesn’t just value quality, but also social cachet. They want to be at the forefront of trends, and right behind the tastemakers – as a result, luxury brands tend to perform very well on the platform.

Marketing on Little Red Book

Not all social media platforms will suit the needs of your brand. For example, Little Red Book is an application targeting young affluent women that are interested in fashion and beauty. If your brand does not fall under this category, that doesn’t necessarily mean its not for you. Other categories such as food health and travel are also quite popular. Make sure you evaluate if the platform will meet your brands needs before investing in a marketing strategy.

What can you do to make the most out of your marketing strategy? Because Little Red Book is driven by content, this should be the central focus of your marketing strategy. For example, a how-to video for using your product or tips and tricks to address customer concerns. Another great strategy is to partner with KOL’s and have them speak on behalf of your company and gain the trust of your followers as well as theirs.

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Youku

Youku user statistics

1. DAU: 150 million users
2. MAU: 500 million
3. 2018: $944 million revenue

What is Youku?

With around 580 million monthly active users, it is one of China’s top online video streaming service platforms. Youku has become a content hub for users in China. The platform boasts a dedicated section for creators to manage and interact with subscribers. The greatest asset of the platform is that Youku has professionally produced video content, whether from Youku themselves or other production companies.

What can Youku do?

Youku is useful for brands who want to develop videos for their other marketing assets, such as their WeChat account or website. Remember, YouTube is inaccessible in China, so if you want to embed a video on your website, you’ll have to link to Youku. Brands can also create their own channels on Youku, which (unlike YouTube) can be linked to an online store, facilitating a ‘see now, buy now’ approach.

Marketing on Youku

Those with bigger budgets may also want to consider investing in advertising on Youku, as the audience there is highly captive – particularly if you purchase pre-roll ads, which are shown before the video and which the user is unable to skip.

Successful Youku campaigns

In March 2016, Pizza Hut conducted a Youku/Weibo video campaign called “Sharing love is natural (天生爱分享)”, using celebrity Hu Ge. Hu Ge, a Chinese actor, shot a 3-minute video showing how ordinary people love to share in their daily lives. The campaign also invited KOLs and other users to shoot their own related short videos and share them on Youku. In only 3 months, the videos had tallied more than 800,000 views.

Douyin

Douyin user statistics

  1. 600 million daily active users (DAU)
  2. 57% of the Douyin Userbase are in China
  3. Byte Dance has a revenue of $17 billion

What is Douyin?

Owned by Byte Dance, Douyin is a highly addictive video app, where users can produce and browse short videos up to 15 seconds in length. With powerful editing capabilities, users are able to add music and effects to their videos at the press of a button.

What can Douyin do?

As one of the most popular up and coming short video platforms, it’s a matter of asking what it can’t do! From posting viral short videos to e-commerce, Douyin does it all! Douyin provides video editing capabilities with engaging special effects and funny stickers to inspire users. It also allows the user a opportunity to access the brand’s e-commerce website if they wish. Not only that, by creating a unique voice and style for your brand, you can capture the audience’s attention in a couple of seconds!

Who is on Douyin?

There is a bit of a perception that Douyin is particularly popular among teens, therefore making it less attractive to marketers as a platform, as this is not a demographic with a huge amount of disposable income. While those under the age of 20 do make up a significant percentage (around 20%) of users, a closer look at the demographics reveals around 60% of its users are aged between 20 and 29 years old. Women make up around two-thirds of users, though Douyin has a significantly higher percentage of men compared to other platforms like Little Red Book.

Marketing on Douyin

Gaining momentum on social platforms can be tough, so how do you get start? Typically, short form videos can be monetised in a couple of ways including advertising, access to e-commerce and online gift purchases. Douyin also offers clickable content that provides consumers access to the brand’s e-commerce website, and retail store information if requested. In the past, brands have collaborated with Douyin influencers to share content in a way that is consistent to the Douyin tone.

Successful campaigns on Douyin

One-way marketers can take advantage of Douyin is to plug into the viral aspect of the platform through the use of hashtag challenges. Even museums have been getting in on the fun – on International Museum Day in 2018, seven national museums turned treasures from Tang dynasty figurines to Shang dynasty bronze cauldrons into choreographed dancing relics, and posted videos of the figurines responding to popular dance hashtag challenges on Douyin, performing moves like the ash-sweeping dance and the 98k electric eyes (don’t ask us). Participating museums received millions of plays and gained 360,000 followers in a single day.

Bilibili

Bilibili user statistics 

  1. 172 million monthly active users
  2. 87 minutes of average daily time spent
  3. 8 million monthly creators

What is Bilibili?

Bilibili is a Chinese video streaming website themed around animation, comic and games. Users can submit original content and add overlaid commentary over video clips. The video streaming platform also provides live streaming services where the audience can interact with streamers.

What can Bilibili do?

The main feature of Bilibili is video streaming unique animation, comic and games content on the application. Bilibili’s core feature is a real-time captioning system that displays user comments as streams of scrolling subtitles are overlaid on the video playback screen. This replicates an experience of users watching and playing together with others.

Who is on Bilibili?

Bilibili’s user base is slowly broadening across all age groups. Traditionally Bilibili was popular amongst Gen Z Chinese netizens. Now, the platform is welcoming more users born in the 1970 and 80s. Today, 78% of users are between the ages of 18 and 35.

Marketing on Bilibili

Traditional forms of marketing like those listed above will just not cut it when you’re marketing on Bilibili. The platform is recommended to be used as a way to gain attention, and brands that are unfamiliar with user needs on the platform might want to sit this one out.

One main way of gaining traction on Bilibili is by live streaming and the live comment interaction section. By targeting Bilibili’s main differentiation point is the loyal and active community it boasts. The real-time interaction will help gaining valuable customer insights. Bilibili’s e-commerce mini program allows businesses to sell goods. And to tap Gen-Z users with an appetite for anime subculture, Taobao and Bilibili regularly cooperates to launch initiatives for its users.

Successful campaigns on Bilibili

In February 2020, Xiaomi Mi launched their 10 pro model and collaborated with well-known KOL and video creator Keji meixue 科技美学. His account focuses on doing testimonial videos for all kinds of technology products ranking him as one of the top100 content creators on Bilibili. This collaboration produced a testimonial released on the platform resulting in 1.168 million playbacks, 44,000 likes and 12,000 comments.

Recently, Fanta collaborated with Bilibili to launch a campaign to attract high quality user generated content. The winner of the contest would receive monetary awards for their contribution. Meanwhile, on Fanta’s official account, the company posted videos co-created with popular video creators and KOL’s in topics to gain further exposure. Videos including incorporating Fanta in Halloween costume ideas or inspired makeup were all shared and viewed. In the end, there were over 7000 video submissions with 12 million total playbacks, making it a successful campaign for Fanta.

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Ready to dive in?

As you can see, China’s social media landscape is complex and multifaceted. But if you’re ready to dip your toe in, there is one obvious place to start: WeChat.

For an overview on how to integrate WeChat into your China marketing strategy, check out our free WeChat Marketing 101 guide – download it now.

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