The psychology behind social media in China: Just why is it so popular?
The collective nature of Chinese culture: Chinese people tend to make decisions collectively, and spend a great deal of time talking to each other. Consequently, recommendations play a critical role in their decision making process. A recent survey stated that 66% of Chinese consumers rely on recommendations; a figure far higher than other countries’.
Freedom of speech: many believe that freedom of speech is a key motivator, the opportunity of expressing oneself generally is a major step forward in Chinese culture. Often individuals do not have many opportunities to make their voices heard. With the equal opportunity provided by social media, anybody can make a statement and even become an overnight sensation. Increased mobile social media tools and devices also give users the flexibility to check, communicate and interact with one another at any time and in anywhere in China, or the world.
Immediate connection: by comparison with traditional media channels, social media enables a vast amount of first-hand information to be shared immediately with no time and geographic limitations. For China this symbolises an evolution of communication methods from one-way broadcast, to a two-way dialogue, now to group discussions.
The popularity of voice messaging: typing in English on a small mobile device can be a nuisance; the process of writing in Chinese on a phone is even more complicated. Not only do apps like WeChat enable the user to combine many methods to interact with one another, but also the user experience has also significantly improved. With many Chinese people travelling between one city and another and international jetsetters roaming around the world; this particular method is having an amazing effect on people’s lives.
However, whilst the Chinese social media scene is vastly different to that in the West, the ingredients for winning business are not so far apart. Similar to the West, social media influences consumers’ decision-making journeys at each and every stage and the basic rules for engaging with them are similar. This is because ultimately the key questions for all marketers remain the same worldwide: where and how can you find your target audience? What are the best ways to engage with the audience and convert them to sales? And how do you measure the effect of your marketing efforts, especially through social media? To help demystify how companies market themselves and their products through social media in China, let’s take a look at the Chinese social media landscape.
The popular social media platforms and tools enjoyed in the West such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google are not available in China. Instead, a range of local equivalents have taken their place: Sina Weibo, Renren, Kaixin, WeChat, Youku/Tudou. Momo and Baidu.com (a Chinese search engine). According to McKinsey’s China’s Social-Media Boom report, active social media users in China are mainly divided into four groups: social enthusiasts, researchers, readers and opinionated users. Therefore, companies will need to investigate and decide on the right channel for their research or message delivery before proceeding.
Using social media Companies are able to create a buzz before the arrival of their new product and pave the way for a successful launch. With the interactivity of social media, companies can learn from the feedback received from real customers or conduct market research to ensure that new products meet the demands of their customers. One recent success story is that of Volkswagen. Their 2010 marketing campaign started with a core brand proposition. Instead of “making cars for the people”, Volkswagen launched a campaign called “build the cars with the people, for the people”, called “the people’s car project”.
They stimulated and participated in millions of conversations on relevant social networks, listening to what potential customers had to say. They then challenged the local community to come up with ideas focusing on car designs and functions. The participants were given online design tools to create ideas, supplemented with videos, pictures or words if the ideas were too complex to convey. Then the ideas were shared again via social media for further discussion, with engagement incentivised by badges, points and test driving experiences. As a result, they received 50,000 ideas and 450,000 votes on unique and interesting ideas. Their fan base reached 2.9 million. The national campaign of their new models of cars also involves these very ideas. It is unsurprising that these clips were watched by more than 3 million people, creating 19 million views and clicks. With such a dedicated online following, 173,000 people made visits to their promotional events, generating 700 articles of PR. Clearly their ROI would have been significant.
Online and offline marketing activities must now be integrated and complementary to one another to ensure effective marketing outcomes. Perceiving Sina Weibo, Renren, Youku and Wechat, literally, as the equivalent of western platforms such as YouTube, Facebook etc., or applying the same strategies simply wouldn’t work. Overlaying what worked in the West is not necessarily a recipe for success in China.”
With the unstoppable economic momentum in China and the fact that social media is spreading at an explosive pace, it is vitally important for companies to gain a good understanding of how social media works and how they might work for their objectives in China.