Golden Rules to Social Media Marketing in China (Updated 2020)

China is the world’s largest social media market and offers big opportunities for Brands to communicate to the right consumers.  China has a whopping 911 million active social media users, compared with the U.S. figure of 207 million.

Social media has become an integral part of life for Chinese people where they come to show their feelings, moments, opinions; to discover about their friends and the world; to be entertained; to read reviews and experiences of other people about any product or service, or to shop directly on the platforms. Meanwhile, digital players themselves also update new functionalities to compete for users.

As brands try to serve this market, it is obviously critical to be present on its social media. However, since the digital landscape in China is unique and constantly evolving, brands should – once in a while – reflect on their own performance for learning as well as get themselves educated about trends, emerging platforms, and changes in Chinese consumer buying behaviors.

This article brings you the latest numbers, trends as well as golden rules to master social media marketing in China.

Read as well: How to Promote your Brand on Social Media in China & Top 10 Chinese Social Media for Marketing

Social media makes up a large part in customer buying journey

In most markets, businesses have come to realize the importance of social media in reaching consumers, but in China, social media has permeated throughout the end-to-end customer journey.

Chinese customers use social media to discover new brands and products (45% vs 35% globally), validate the product quality through reviews, comments, and feedback (54% vs 47% globally), purchase directly through a social channel (25% vs 15% globally), and write a review about the products or experiences (27% vs 20% globally).

Therefore, it is important for brands to build and participate in social communities, or engage with customers on social media across their buying journey.

Traditional and advertising is no longer enough to capture the attention of customers. With all the possible tools provided by Chinese social media platforms, brands can create more sophisticated, impressive campaigns that can generate distinctive moments of delight for customers throughout their social commerce journey.

79% Chinese customers (vs 46% globally) say that positive interactions with brands on social media have driven them to endorse the brands more; and 71% customers (vs 44% globally) have spent more as a result.

Unique features of Chinese social media

A totally different system from the West and strictly regulated

Put up by the Chinese government, the firewall controls the information to which the population has access. It’s the reason why popular social media sites in the West like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Quora… aren’t in China.

Instead, China has developed its own system of apps tailored to the demands of Chinese users (more later). Be aware that even though these Chinese platforms may take the basic concepts and functions from the West, they are equipped with much more diverse features.

If digital platforms in the West strive to serve the main purpose such as Facebook as social media, Whatsapp as instant messaging, Amazon as e-commerce…, it seems that the Chinese counterparts aim to own an ecosystem where users can perform a wide variety of activities without leaving the platforms. Therefore, bringing your digital strategies applied in Western countries to China may not work.

Additionally, seeing the Great Firewall as the Chinese Government’s serious effort to control what its citizen can know and learn, brands should be conscious of its content strategy as well as its “official” status by which I mean anything that makes brands look “official” and “verified” in China.

Besides, regulations are always changing, and it is important to keep on top of the latest trends or rules from the Government or the platforms themselves.

China Digital Landscape is Fragmented with new platforms emerging regularly

A few years ago when the Internet just started to take off in China, we have familiar names such as Wechat (instant messaging and social media), Baidu (similar to Google search engine), Weibo (like Facebook and Twitter combined), Youku (similar to Youtube)… There have been multiple sources talking about these platforms and their dominance in the Chinese digital landscape, so I won’t repeat them here.

Nowadays, with such a huge domestic market and its eagerness to adopt new digital trends, different new platforms have been born and also win popularity such as Toutiao, Xiaohongshu, Zhihu, Douyin…

Chinese digital landscape now becomes more fragmented, diverse, and complicated requiring that brands have a more integrated marketing strategy to reach and convert users.

This is an opportunity considering that brands now have more tools for marketing but also a challenge that easily makes new brands overwhelmed when first entering this market.

Rather than being dominated by a small group of companies, the Chinese social media landscape is more dynamic, with platforms rising and falling on a faster timescale.

Mobile-first, Mobile-second, and Mobile-third

What does it mean for you as a brand?

Your websites, campaigns, and other digital marketing activities should make it very convenient for users to access and engage on their mobile phones.

The way users look at their phone, using their fingers to interact with the screen, the frequency and duration of checking on phones, browsing behaviors… all can be different from when users are with their laptops or desktops.

Therefore, it is not redundant to remind brands repetitively in our social media articles about excessive mobile usage in China.

Mobile and social media can be combined to create powerful campaigns that help brands enhance their image and sales dramatically.

KOLs as an integral part of your Chinese Social Media Strategy

You can’t get anywhere without the help of KOLs in China. In such a huge market with massive options, Chinese consumers trust their KOLs to choose the best solutions for them.

KOLs are Chinese personalities or ‘experts’ who have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of followers holding them and their preferences in high esteem.

According to the 2017 AdMaster Chinese Digital Commerce Trends Report, 72% of brands interviewed in China indicated that they would continue to focus on social media marketing, while 63% revealed that they would enhance their collaboration with influencers in terms of product or brand promotion because they believe in the ROI from influencer marketing.

KOL strategy is “essential for growth” for three reasons:

  • KOLs can drive faster awareness than traditional marketing tactics
  • KOLs help strengthen brand credibility through endorsement
  • A KOL strategy, when effective, can deliver much better results at a fraction of the cost

Perhaps more so than anywhere else, working with influencers can make or break your social media success in China.

Work with the right people, and form strong bonds with them so they know and trust your brand first.

Trends in social media marketing in China

Live-streaming and short videos

Deloitte, a consultant, estimates that China’s live-streaming revenue will hit $4.4 U.S billion by the end of 2018, up 32% from 2017 and 86% from 2016.

Short videos are not getting the short straw either, with a report by iResearch showing China’s short video market being valued at $900 U.S million in 2017, a YoY increase of 184%, which means that users increasingly prefer this type of dynamic, engaging content.

Young people are constantly immersed in live streaming and short videos every day in China, and it’s much more mature than in the West.

While brands may have to increase their budget to shoot short videos for social media, it is worth the effort, as videos drive deeper engagement.

Live-stream and short videos platforms to watch out for:

  • Yizhibo

Yizhibo is the live streaming platform of choice for Chinese millennials. Users can live stream almost anything, such as singing, dancing, tutorials, discussions, Q & A sessions. The audience can interact with broadcasters in real-time by asking questions, commenting, sending virtual gifts…

Yizhibo is one of China’s most popular live-streaming apps with over 3,000 celebrities using it daily. While MAU figures are unclear, since it is so closely linked with Sina Weibo, we can assume it could have anywhere up to 200-400 million monthly active users.

Yizhibo’s popularity is attributed hugely to its partnership with Sina Weibo, which allows users to view Yizhibo live streams and interact with broadcasters directly through Weibo without installing any other application.

The main users of Yizhibo are female, young, tech-savvy, and affluent with 30% being located in first-tier cities. Spending power is often mid-level or higher.

Brands and KOLs can do live-streaming on Yizhibo to debut new products/ collections, to discuss beauty trends, to educate the audience about certain topics… and many different ways to enhance engagement with customers and generate sales.

  • Alibaba (Tmall and Taobao) Live Streaming

Alibaba Live Streaming is essentially two different streaming services for two different e-commerce hubs: Taobao and Tmall.

A bit different from Yizhibo, Tmall/ Taobao live streaming has the sole goal to promote consumption and to make sales immediately.

Taobao Live Streaming has over 10,000 hosts, with a 32% conversion rate on content.

Small Live Streaming is used by 67% of Beauty brands in China. Using famous personalities for Tmall live streams is highly beneficial, as live streaming with celebrities can generate 23 times more engagement.

Popular live-streamer on Taobao successfully promoting a product (Credit: Techinasia)

As Alibaba Live Streaming connects to their e-commerce malls, it allows brands to more effectively increase conversions. This makes Alibaba Live Streaming ideal for e-commerce and even better effect if coming with big discounts or promotions.

  • Douyin

Douyin is an emerging social media app in China. Its main use is to upload short videos (no longer than 15 seconds) for people to watch.

Coupled with robust editing capabilities and quick consumption anywhere anytime, Douyin has become extremely addictive to the young Chinese crowd.

Douyin has seen massive success in growth, with 300 million monthly active users and 150 million daily users, and consistently tops international charts with its global app Tik Tok.

80% of users on the platform are under the age of 30; 66.4% are females; 40% live in first and second-tier cities; making Douyin a platform for brands (especially luxury fashion and beauty) to market to Chinese future consumers – gen Z.

Ways to maximize Douyin:

  • Hashtag challenges
  • KOLs marketing
  • Short video campaigns
  • Douyin stickers

Selling directly on social media (Social – commerce)

Social-commerce is properly one of the most mentioned phrases during the past few years in China’s digital scene. Basically, it means the combination between social media and online shopping, allowing users to shop for products immediately and within social media platforms while they are browsing and having fun on these platforms.

So, social media is not only about building brand awareness and increasing customer engagement but also about selling.

Wechat shop

Besides being an information hub and social media, WeChat is also an e-commerce platform as brands can build an online store on WeChat.

In a WeChat article, brands can link the pictures or words to relevant products and purchase links.

The prerequisite is that the official account opens the function of WeChat Pay, a Chinese online payment method. Only verified accounts have this function.

Integrate e-commerce with your Weibo account

Brands can link Taobao stores and products in their posts on Weibo.

With many users already having Alipay linked to their Weibo accounts, they can purchase featured products with just one click. Therefore, Weibo can be very effective in driving online sales.

Xiaohongshu – born and rising as a social commerce platform

The rise of social commerce platforms with Xiaohongshu being an example reinforces the trend of socialized e-commerce. Xiaohongshu (or Little Red Book) started as a forum where users could show their passion for cosmetics and fashion by sharing with other product reviews, advice, tips, how-to tutorials…

This quality and genuine content attracted a huge audience who were looking for more objective information about brands and products before making purchases.

From a pure information sharing platform, now Xiaohongshu has developed its eCommerce business and become one of the most popular places to shop for international cosmetics and fashion brands in China.

Must-have Chinese social media platforms

Here are the two most powerful social media in China, a must-to-have for brands.

WECHAT (Top Chinese App) 

Wechat started as an instant messaging app but now has developed an ecosystem where users can perform a wide variety of activities such as making transactions, ordering food, booking movie tickets, calling a taxi, playing games… The more users commit to Wechat and the longer the time they spend on the app, the greater the marketing opportunities it offers.

  • In Q4 – 2018, WeChat had almost 1.1 billion monthly active users.
  • On average, users spend more than 66 minutes on WeChat daily.
  • 60% of WeChat users open the app more than 10 times a day.
  • By the end of 2017, the number of WeChat’s Official Accounts surpassed 20M.

Brands can engage in various ways:

  • Official accounts
  • Mini programs
  • Customer service
  • Mini games
  • HTML5 campaigns
  • Wechat ads
  • E-commerce

Read: Wechat Marketing Guide

WEIBO (Good for Branding)

Weibo is basically an open social media platform (more than Wechat) where people not only post, share and interact but also get updated on trends and news. This is the place for content to go viral and for KOLs to build their online communities.

  • Number of Weibo active users: 465M (2019)
  • and the number of daily users: 203M (2019)
  • There are over 100 million messages posted by users each day
  • 82 percent of Weibo users shop online

Brands can engage in various ways:

  • Verified account
  • Content marketing
  • KOLs marketing
  • Micro topics
  • Weibo ads
  • E-commerce

Read: Weibo Marketing Guide

Other important social media platforms to consider

  • TOUTIAO: The hottest news platform

Toutiao, which literally means “Today’s Headlines”, is an emerging mobile platform of content creation, aggregation, and distribution, featured by machine learning techniques.

Toutiao App’s daily active users reached over 200 million An average user opens the app 9 times per day and uses it 76 minutes per day.

Known as the No. 1 intelligent content distribution platform in China, it has got over 1.1 million accounts, which update over 380,000 pieces of content and achieve 4.2 billion views per day.

Placing advertisements on the platform or releasing advertorials can have exceptional effects on brands.

Brands can also register an account on Toutiao to publish quality content and gain followers. Various renowned news firms such as CCTV news and have joined to seek greater exposure through the platform.

  • ZHIHU (The Chinese Quora)

Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora, is a popular online Q & A and social platform in China:

  • 160M registered accounts in 2018
  • Daily active users exceeds 26M

Zhihu’s user base is high income, high consumption, and highly educated people. 30% of Zhihu users make more than 10,000 RMB per month.

This is a good place to do content marketing, especially for B2B brands.

Zhihu Marketing Guide

  • YOUKU (The Chinese Youtube)
  • 580M active users (2018)
  • Average Daily Active Users (DAU): 39.6 Million (Sep 2018)
  • With an average no. of daily video view: 1.18B video views
  • An Average Visit Duration: 4 minutes 7 seconds (Dec 2018)

Youku is often called the Youtube of China. Yes, like Youtube, it’s a video hosting service. In China, Youku is one of the most important online video and streaming service platforms.

The unique point of Youku is that it offers long-form videos.

Despite the emergence of short video and live-streaming platforms, longer videos are still preferred when users want to gain deeper knowledge, learn about a topic, or watch the news.

Golden rules of doing social media marketing in China

The goal determines the choice of media

Just being on those above platforms will not equal success; you’ll need to get to know what works for your audience and your brand.

  • Get set up right

You’ll need to be “official” for consumers to trust.

Some social media has verification service such as Baidu, Weibo, or Zhihu… The procedures are a bit lengthy but not impossible. You can team up with a local partner to help you sort through this paperwork.

  • Be personal

The technological development of Chinese platforms plus the huge amount of data they accumulate allow brands to target small and specific, as well as have personalized approaches to different segments of customers.

  • Get creative

Quirky and creative will get your campaign trending, but don’t take it too far. Be mindful of cultural sensitivities.

  • Beware of the Zombies

China’s social media is riddled with fake profiles and bought user activities. Numbers don’t always tell the truth. Just be cautious and evaluate carefully all performance numbers.

  • Test and learn

In China, you can never sit and rest on the knowledge you already have.

Constantly learn and analyze what is going on, then adjust your strategy. Besides, keep updated on trends and changes which are part of the game.



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    How much does it cost for a Social Media Marketing strategy for new luxury Brand in China?

    • it depends on which platform you use.
      If you are looking a general idea, I would say its costs start from RMB 50,000 through WeChat adverting, and other platforms charge much much higher.

  • How To Use Chinese Social Media To Create A Fanbase for an new artist In China …

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