As Western brands flock in ever-increasing numbers to market to China, one of the most immediate channels they must master is the powerful social networking space. But Chinese social media platforms are different from those in the West, and there is no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.

The good news though, for Western marketers is that there are hugely powerful social media platforms in China that offer excellent marketing and advertising possibilities. And with a potential audience of over 800 million digitally-savvy Chinese netizens, it is possible for any motivated Western brand to find its target market and engage with them.

There are dozens of active Chinese social media platforms, from the mainstream through to niche or subject-specific, and their functionalities and purpose vary widely. However, these are the five most important for all marketers to know.

WeChat

Launched by Tencent, WeChat is an ‘all in one’ app with over a billion active users every month – and 92% of users checking in daily. Each user spends 66 minutes on average, and 30% spend 4 hours or more.

It combines a staggering around of functionality. Basically, imagine a single app that combined Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Uber, your online bank, PayPal, JustEat, Tinder, your games and a dozen other favourites in a single app – and that’s WeChat.

It allows users to connect with conventional social media type functionality, to call cabs, scan and pay for travel, play games, shop, order food, find friends, provide electronic ID through facial recognition, pay bills, book appointments, donate to charities, track steps and more.

Already, the app is used by 92% of the world’s luxury brands for marketing, and it is being increasingly adopted by smaller Western eCommerce brands too.

In the West, brands can use WeChat to build a follower basis, launch mini-apps, advertise and to offer seamless experiences for Chinese customers. For example, Western HE institutions can use it to recruit students, to connect with successful applicants as they prepare to travel overseas to their new university and to provide orientation content for students and parents alike. They can use the inbuilt QR code functionality to access on-campus translation for signage, send tailored welcome messages, share schedules and set up groups to help Chinese students make new friends. By including WeChatPay on campus, Chinese students also feel at home and can make easy and fast payments in a way that they are familiar with. This all helps to create rapport, a feeling of close engagement and a warm welcome to nervous students – and their parents – as they travel overseas to learn.

Weibo

Sina Weibo is a microblogging platform which is similar to Twitter. It is a powerful player in the Chinese microblogging space, despite growing competition from WeChat, Zhihu, Toutiao and Douyin (amongst others.) Western brands can use it for marketing in various ways. Influencer campaigns with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are the most common, along with targeted advertising. Other approaches include the Weibo lottery functionality (with shares for exposure and follower growth) and cross-promotion opportunities.

This Chinese social media platform is great for trend-spotting and for providing entertainment and news, with features such as live streaming, short videos and 24-hour ‘stories’, akin to Instagram stories.

The platform has a public, open format and it is valuable to brands who want to grow their brand awareness and build followers – especially if they are newer entrants to the Chinese market. There are excellent resources on the site to deliver campaigns, invite KOL interest and run online paid advertising. With Weibo Window, it is also possible to sell directly on the platform.

As an example, Lancôme uses Weibo to provide beauty guides and tips on style and make-up, with product guides. It posts product announcements and tutorials and often has hundreds of comments from its engaged online audience.

YouKu

Think of YouKu as China’s own version of YouTube; with more than 800 million views daily. It’s the ideal platform for brand building and awareness via content and offers plenty of flexible and highly targeted advertising options. Use this feature to drive traffic to your website and grow sales, whilst building a following of engaged prospects and customers through rich and interesting content that appeals to Chinese needs, wants and interests.

Travel brands are one industry that is beginning to use YouKu heavily in the West, finding its ability to reach second and third-tier cities extremely useful. For example, KLM launched a targeted and interactive campaign in China that focused around the character, Miffy, and its European travels. Miffy flew KLM around the world and kept a diary of her experiences – with videos of her destinations and flights watched by over 4 million Chinese people and resulting in 88,000 new followers for the brand.

Little Red Book

With 200 million Chinese users, Little Red Book may fall short of its giant competitors on the size front, but it is growing fast and already has a 6% share of cross-border eCommerce and an impressive 8% conversion rate. It combines social media intrinsically with eCommerce. Users learn about new products, share their reviews and have the option to purchase immediately in-app if they like what they see – making it extremely popular with Western luxury brands, in particular, as well as more mainstream Western e-commerce brands that are keen to break the Chinese market; such as GNC supplements.

The platform has a quality, trusted feel, with a strong sense of community and a high proportion of fashional, urban and highly-connected employed females with money to spend. Key topics are travel, beauty, fashion, lifestyle and luxury goods and the content is usually of the highest quality, curated under key lifestyle categories.

Brands use targeted, authentic content and KOLs to build an online community of engaged fans, enjoying the low barriers to entry on the site and the high conversion rates for instant in-app sales.

Douyin (TikTok)

Douyin is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in China after it signed up 100 million users in just one year and a billion daily views! it’s a short-video app which offers powerful user functionalities for users and their smartphones (which of course, the Chinese love!) Users can create short videos with in-app filters, stickers and emojis, and create content purely for fun. The app is notable for gaining traction in all cities, including Tier 4 cities which have been harder to reach, and it is popular with educated and young users – with seamless integration to WeChat and Weibo.

Brands such as Chevrolet and AirBnB are already using the platform to share sponsored content. In fact, with KOLs included, half of the platform’s content tends to be branded. Airbnb, for example, creates clips and uses pop-up ad displays to increase awareness of its brand. As a result, it has seen a 200% increase in brand recognition. Pizza Hut has successfully created its own unique digital stickers. Brands can deliver hashtag linked campaigns, deliver paid advertising campaigns, create short ads that look like fun and quirky user-generated content and include the shopping cart icon to encourage immediate conversions.

Find out more about Chinese social media platforms.
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