By the year 2020, the most important luxury market in the world will be China, which is why brands are already fighting to get their hands on a piece of it. The best part for them is that this can be done remotely since Chinese citizens are frequent social media users who are heavily influenced by various platforms.
In fact, people in China use social media more than anywhere else in the world and place a lot of value into what top social media influencers and other users say. But, for as great of as the opportunity is for luxury brands in China, the country’s totally different media eco-system and language barrier may make this a hard nut to crack. So to help you navigate through China’s social media culture, here’s a handy guide on how to decode Chinese influencer marketing.
Social Media in China
Social media is nothing new in China, as today it’s one of the most popular ways for citizens to interact socially.
According to a survey done with a sample size of 5,700 Chinese citizens, the country has by far the highest percentage of active social media users in the world. 91 percent of respondents say they’ve visited a social media site in the previous six months, which is a much higher percentage than other traditionally tech-savvy countries such as Japan, the United States, and South Korea.
Their high use of social media even dominates that of other online markets. The messaging app Wechat has 899 million monthly active users, while their most popular search engine, Baidu (considered the “Chinese Google”) has 660 million monthly active users.
In larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, WeChat’s usage rate is even higher at 93 percent and, outside of the country, Chinese citizens use the app more often than a phone or email to keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. Given this high use, it’s no surprise that 94 percent of WeChat users open the app daily.
With that said, high social media usage rate is only part of the reason why the Chinese market is so valuable and will continue to be.
Peer Recommendations are Highly Valued
Another aspect of social media usage in China that stands compared to the rest of the world is that social media has a greater influence on its user’s purchasing decisions.
Chinese consumers say they are more likely to consider buying a product if they see it discussed positively on a social media site, and more likely to actually purchase a product or service if a friend or acquaintance recommends it on a social media site. This can partially be explained by the fact that Chinese consumers disproportionately value peer-to-peer recommendations, while being more skeptical of formal institutions.
This can be seen when brands who use KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) to sell in China, which has been trendy for years. A good example of this was when the Chinese blogger ’Mr. Bags’ published a WeChat article announcing his promotion with the French Luxury brand, Givenchy, to sell 80 pink handbags for 14,900 RMB ($2,170) each. Mr. Bags has an estimated 1.2 million followers on WeChat and within 12 minutes, every bag was sold–amounting to 1.192 million RMB ($173,652) in sales.
It’s important to know that almost all the western media platforms are banned in China. Instead, the Chinese have their own media eco-system, which might be more mature than that of its western counterparts. So in order to engage with China via social media, you must learn about their most popular platforms.
According to a 2016 survey by Bain & Company’s, 60% of the surveyed Chinese identified WeChat and Weibo as their online source for information on luxury goods.
In its infancy, WeChat was just a voice and text, instant messaging app. But after several years, WeChat has grown into a powerful multi-functional app that covers the daily life of a Chinese citizen.
Today, with WeChat you can text, voice, video chat, browse photos and articles shared by your friends, subscribe to your favorite media’s accounts, check out your favorite products of a brand mentioned in one article, and pay with WeChat wallet–all without leaving the app.
WeChat posts are ideal for detailed storytelling of a brand’s history. If readers like the content they can check out the public account of the brand and start following it. Once a reader becomes a follower (or subscriber), the brand can push content to their followers on a regular basis.
Just like Twitter and Facebook, with WeChat you can view the number of likes an article gets. Additionally, you can also view the number of reads a specific article gets, which is a great means for brands to set a right expectation of the article’s impact before the campaign start. However, only the account administrator can check the audience size (number of followers) a public account has, so finding the right influencers with a certain audience size may be somewhat tricky and time-consuming.
Weibo is known as the Chinese twitter and as of December 2016 has 313 million active users. On it, the type of content influencers can share is short texts (up to 140 characters), several photos at once (up to 9), and videos.
The biggest advantages Weibo posts have are their high reach and visibility, and they are often image-focused. This makes it a great channel to showcase images from a brand’s new collection of products.
Similar to WeChat, Weibo is also a closed system since only registered users can browse all available content.
For a specific post, the figures of “retweets”, comments, and likes are public. However, the number of users reached can only be checked by the account administrator.
Similar to Quora, Zhihu is a social Q&A network for knowledge sharing. In ancient Chinese, the name of the platform means “Do you know?”.
As of January 2017, Zhihu has 65 million registered users with 18.5 million daily active users. The site has received over 6 million questions and 23 million answers in 2016, according to data from the company.
Zhihu can help brands that come up as answers to positive questions such as “What’s the best swiss luxury watches brands you need to know?”, as this can certainly be influential to consumers who’s doing his/her research online before the purchase.
Meipai and Other Livestreaming Platforms
Over the past several years, there’s been a live streaming boom in China, with numerous live streaming platforms competing with one after another. These are companies such as MeiPai (美拍), Yizhibo (一直播), and Huajiao Zhibo (花椒直播), to name a few. Of them, even though it only started in 2014, Meipai is the fastest growing live streaming and user-generated short video platform in China.
The e-commerce giant Taobao & Tmall, and the biggest video sharing platform Youku, have also opened their livestreaming channels to catch the hot wave. So far, live streaming videos are mainly efficient in selling street fashion and cosmetic products. However, thanks to its live interactions with the audience and their time-limited purchase function, luxury brands also like to use popular platforms to live broadcast their important events, such as runway show and a branded VIP event.
There are three primary forms of content that effectively connect with China’s luxury market. The message must provide entertainment, education, and/or a giveaway.
Entertainment is the most popular content category on Chinese social media, which is heavily shaped by pop culture. Chinese people have a strong interest in content that is entertaining or related to the entertainment industry. From pop culture and entertaining social media influencers, a large number of buzzwords and internet-specific expressions are created every year and these are often reused by the KOLs in their posts.
That’s why, in order for a brand to successfully collaborate with a popular influencer, it’s suggested to allow the influencer flexibility when they’re sharing sponsored content. This allows them to keep their authenticity, which has already proven to effectively engage users.
The Chinese audience loves to get knowledge about brands associated with western culture. For example, 醉鹅娘 (drunk mother goose), a Chinese KOL, found popularity by sharing tips and knowledge about wine tasting on various platforms. On social media, informative articles such as “The top 5 luxury watches/haute couture brands you must know” often get a large number of reads.
Lastly, in a WeChat post, brands are encouraged to talk about their brand history and the inspirational story behind a collection, which will add value to readers, instead of only focusing on the collection to promote.
Drawings, surveys, photo contest, red pockets giving-aways, and free product trials are also efficient ways to increase the engagement and interactions on social posts. You just need to figure out what free products or services are going to attract your desired audience the most.
What to Focus on when Leveraging your Brand
In summary, the Chinese social landscape is fragmented and changing quickly. Previous market leaders such as Renren (Chinese Facebook) have lost supremacy quickly, while newcomers such as WeChat have taken their place as the most used.
Because of this, any brand new to the Chinese social environment should focus on the most matured and proven channels such as Weibo and Wechat, while keeping an eye on the new trends and fast-growing hot channels. If you do this, you should be able to get into the Chinese market quickly and be prepared for the next big medium to take off.