The Internet in China – 5 Things You Should Know
1. WeChat and Weibo are where social is at
When considering a global social strategy, a lot of people forget is that some of the major ‘global’ networks are blocked in China. Apart from small zones around Beijing, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and some Google services are banned, meaning that alternative brands have become huge in China, with massive user bases and big brands from around the world now scrambling to engage them.
Specifically, the Whatsapp-like WeChat and the Twitter-like Weibo (each with 400-600 million users) are two of the major players. Both are very mobile-centric, and more and more Western brands are trying to develop their social strategies to include these channels. For instance KLM have recently started offering a 24/7 Weibo service, and Starbucks pioneered WeChat engagement with this campaign a couple of years ago.
2. The big cities are a relatively small slice of the pie
To put the size of the Internet in China into perspective, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba is bigger than Amazon.
The importance of ecommerce in China cannot be underestimated – in a country spanning nearly 10 million square kilometres, online commerce allows for people to buy and sell as they never have before, and so far 302 million of them are doing just that.
By the end of 2014, it is estimated that 10% of all commerce in China will be done online.
But what is often overlooked is that nearly 3 out of 4 of these shoppers are based outside the tier 1 cities, highlighting to both Chinese and international brands the importance of social and digital engagement over a potentially costly physical presence outside the main urban centres.
3. The ‘one child policy’ has shaped the use of social media
Although in the process of being relaxed, China’s long-standing one-child policy has affected society in a number of ways, including the nature of social media use.
“Little Emperor Syndrome” is the common term for the effects of being a child in a one-child society, and includes the potential for poor social communication and inflated parental expectations. Social media has provided a generation of “Little Emperors” with both a way of communicating and building relationships that they previously would have been unable to achieve, but also provides an outlet for the pressure many feel to succeed and prosper.
The shape of the society has resulted in a greater need to connect, engage and get involved – significantly more people in China view themselves as opinion leaders compared with their Western counterparts.
4. CSR and giving back are very important
As awareness of social issues increases in China, a real appetite has developed for contributing to causes and further raising awareness. For instance, WeChat run an initiative called Voice Donor where all 600 million users are invited to ‘donate’ a minute of their voice to produce audio books for the blind. Within the first two months they had produced 10 full length audio books, and the cause continues to gather momentum.
One of my personal favourite cause-related initiatives is the Baby Back Home photo/face recognition app to help reunite missing children with their families – a great concept that attracted 20,000 downloads in the first week. Take a look at the video and you’ll see why. Even more so than Western consumers, Chinese people also want to see transparency, consistency and evidence of social responsibility from brands. Examples of the investment that big brands are making in CSR in China can be seen in this TV spot by GE and in this section of the BMW China website.
5. The Chinese Dream is becoming defined, and it’s rooted online
The ‘Chinese Dream’ may be a new concept to some, but in China it is gradually becoming defined as a political, social and economic reality, centering around “Opportunity, success, and the revival of the great Chinese nation.”
Fundamental to its realisation are access to information, knowledge, wealth and community – all of which can and are provided by social and ecommerce channels. As Carol Chan of integrated communications agency Comms8 recognises that the Chinese Dream is “framing and shaping the behaviour and aspirations of the Chinese people”, and much of this happens online.
For a number of reasons, the significance of ecommerce and social media in China transcends what we have experienced in the West. The scale and difference in nature of the online landscape in China necessitates a different approach based on an understanding of the social, economic and cultural nuances of the fastest growing market in the world.
Particular thanks are due to Carol Chan (@Carolchan9394), Tom Nixon (@China_buzz) and KC Chano (@KCChano) for introducing me to many of the stats and concepts mentioned in this article.
If you are interested in doing business in China please get in touch. Our team has over 25 years experience in international marketing including the Asia Pacific region.