Social Media in China: What Global Marketers Need to Know
For today's digitally native consumer, the beginnings of a buyer's journey often start on a social media platform. Whether it's a Facebook post, Instagram ad, or Snapchat story, social media marketing has transformed from a niche tactic to a dominant marketing strategy that influences customer purchasing decisions.
Similarly, social media platforms in China also play a critical role in influencing customers' buying decisions. Platforms like Douyin and RED (Xiaohongshu) are now where the consumer journey begins as they look for product recommendations from influencers. Additionally, WeChat and Zhihu play a key role in the B2B buyer's journey for organizational buyers to make informed decisions.
Although social media plays a similar role in both China and the West, Chinese platforms and the accompanying digital population have evolved in their own unique way in the past decade, resulting in significant differences in many aspects when compared to Western social media platforms.
For global marketers, understanding these differences and learning how to leverage them is key to engaging their audiences effectively.
Here are the three key differences every international marketer should know before they start social media marketing in China.
Mobile Reigns Supreme
China's entire technology stack was built with a mobile-first approach. Over 93% of its immense online population accesses the internet via mobile, resulting in vastly different user habits and expectations for digital products. A few of them include:
One App Fulfills Multiple Functions
Whereas Western apps often fulfill a single function, Chinese apps start with one function and eventually grow into a super-app to try to own the whole user. Instead of designing and launching a new app or a website feature, brands can build a WeChat mini-program and leverage the social sharing function to quickly grow followers.
Earlier Adoption of Short-form Videos and Livestreams
Short videos and live streams took off in China a lot earlier than in the West due to the better fit for the mobile form factor. For marketers, it means adopting new content formats on social media is not an option. Today, we're seeing more and more B2B brands use short videos and live streams to engage with their audiences and increase brand exposure.
Building Social Media Presence on Multiple Platforms
Chinese internet users are no strangers to using multiple social media platforms for different purposes——Zhihu for finding direct answers; RED for checking product reviews; WeChat for researching company background and authority,.etc. It's important for brands to be on multiple social media platforms in order to capture audiences' attention across various platforms.
This is not to say that companies need to be on EVERY single social media platform. Brands must conduct customer research and understand their customer's online behaviors in order to develop an effective social media strategy.
Algorithms Drive Content Recommendations
Most Western social platforms still use "who a user follows" as the key factor in determining what content to show the user. Even with the introduction of ranking algorithms, platforms like Instagram and Facebook still sort the feed in chronological order based mainly on your followed accounts.
In China, however, almost every social media platform pushes content recommended solely by the platform's algorithm, a design philosophy aimed at capturing the maximum amount of user attention. Open Douyin or RED, and the first page shown is the "Recommended" page, determined by the user's past browsing history and content popularity.
So, What Does it Mean for Marketers?
This means that optimizing their content, both in the sense of adapting the content to local Chinese culture and posting quality content best suited to the specific platform, will be key in driving traffic on algorithm-dominant platforms.
If brands can consistently produce engaging content that has a high % of view/click-through rate and garners lots of likes and comments, the algorithm will funnel more users to the account, allowing brands to go viral and gain a significant amount of followers in a short amount of time.
The opposite holds true as well: substituting quantity for quality and blindly building up the accounts without paying attention to engagement metrics will seldom result in the outcomes wanted. As the algorithm recognizes the low-quality content churned out by the account, and over time, decreases the amount of exposure given to it.
Closed-loop Social Media Experience
Compared to Western social media platforms that only offer advertising capabilities (with some starting to venture into e-commerce), nearly every platform in China offers brands the chance to interact with customers across the entire buying journey, creating a closed-loop social media experience to keep the audiences within the platform.
For example, WeChat can be integrated with SCRM which allows companies to nurture leads, convert them into sales, and even provide post-purchase customer services. RED and Douyin offer social commerce capabilities to purchase on the platform.
For global marketers, this means understanding the characteristics of each platform and the online journey or their target customers are crucial to crafting a seamless user experience.
As the social media platform capabilities continue to evolve, Chinese platforms will be able to offer brands a chance to integrate discovery and purchasing into one seamless journey for the consumer. Having a good understanding of these social media platform capabilities will not only enable you to grow followers and engage with them but also convert them into customers.
As a Chinese social media agency, we have local knowledge and experience in developing an effective social media strategy to help you harness the social media strategy.
Interested in discovering the best Chinese social media platforms for B2B and tech brands? Download the comprehensive guide: