Guest post written by Weijia Zhong, who has lectured in Communication at Sichuan Normal University in China. Her research focuses on new media advertising. Meanwhile teaching, she has held a position as marketing planner at Chendu Media Group. She has always been interested in social media marketing, in particularly in its development in China.
Many Chinese netizens complain a lot about the Great Firewall by which they feel isolated from the rest of the world. But they often don’t realize that they are part of one of the most booming social media markets. The explosive growth began with mimicking the networks China was isolated from (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc.). Now, however, it has evolved into a unique ecosystem with distinctive Chinese characteristics.
According to a report released in June 2012 by CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center), the Chinese netizen population has reached 538 million of whom 95% are social media users as well. Nearly 50% of these users have three or more different social media accounts and profiles. The map below shows the massive social media presence in China: more than 100 fully functioning networks.
The micro blog uprising!
Micro blogs are without doubt a dark horse in the Chinese social media landscape. They first appeared in late 2009. However, they have expanded at an average rate of about 40% annually, currently penetrating more than 50% of the market with close to 300 million users in total. According to CNNIC, Sina Weibo (87.67%) and Tencent Weibo (84.69%) hold the majority of the users’ time on social media, leaving little room for the remaining competitors such as Netease Weibo and Sohu Weibo. Although the user growth is slowing down now, the next round of increase by the prosperity of mobile Internet can still be expected. In fact, 2012 could also be seen as China’s mobile Internet year, as mobile phone netizens in 2012 exceeded desktop counterparts for the first time, reaching 388 million users.
Content marketing on micro blogs
In China, 85% of companies have official micro blog profiles according to a survey conducted by PRNewswire in the period from January to August 2012. For most brands, Sina Weibo is the most important channel to consider. Having observed a large number of cases on Sina Weibo, I found two reoccurring characteristics of content marketing strategy in regards to both platform and consumers: ”Heat” and ”Timing”.
These are the two most frequently heard words in the Chinese social media marketing awards during 2011-2012. The majority of winners had all done a great job regarding either seizing the perfect timing or taking advantage of the hottest social events. When there is hot news or widely discussed issues, even when it’s a political scandal, many brands will go out of their way to use it for publicity – even if the connection between the hot news and the product seems rather far-fetched. Meaning that Chinese brands seem to value reward rate and comment amounts much more than actual contributions to the brand image.
The Durex case
Durex, the big social media winner in 2011, showed a positive way of capturing the timing. This post was released by a grass-root celebrity when a thunderstorm raged in Beijing city in June 2011. The photos show him putting Durex condoms over his shoes for protection. The post was then picked up by the official Durex Weibo account and it became a viral success. The campaign reached an estimated 50 million users in China.
Although the content is not outstandingly creative, making condom into the rain-boots was a great way to boost the brand image as well as the great quality of the product.
As to original creation, Chinese brands prefer creating buzzwords as their primary content marketing tool. Chinese people have always had a great passion for new buzzwords. Previously, these new buzzwords originated from movies and TV-shows. Today, the main source is the Internet, especially micro blogs, which is why many brands’ social media teams now consist of writers and text editors in order to get in on the buzzword action.
The Ariel case
As a catalyst for brand realted buzzwords, Ariel designed a personification of their brand, Sister Ariel. The character is based on the brand’s endorser, the popular Taiwanese actress and singer Dee Xu (nicknamed “Little S”). Sister Ariel shares views about fashion, daily life trivia and news with fans in a witty, funny and vixen-ish tone of voice. During this process, she has been creating a lot of buzzwords surrounding the Ariel brand. Buzzwords that are called the “Ariel Body”.
The reason and direction
Regardless of the two cases above, it seems that the threshold to do content marketing in China is relatively low, you might say. The reason to why content marketing is still just on the verge of entering marketing departments is most likely due to the characteristics of the Chinese market. Chinese brands, especially small and medium-sized private brands who are accustomed to strong promotion and fierce competition on market shares, have neither much money nor patience. They are eager to gain the most attention quickly, generating immediate ROI. A surprising 88% of Chinese companies still use press releases as a major part of their content marketing, according to the PRNewswire survey.
Learning how to create highly interactive and diverse content and how to be dedicated towards a daily maintenance of their social networks is a major issue for Chinese brands. What is important when creating content marketing for the Chinese market is being able to be sensitive to current affairs and skilled in hyping up your brands’ buzzwords. When looking at the above best practice cases, it is therefore important to not only acknowledge their momentary success – but also to acknowledge these brands’ continuous work on creating a strong strategy for their content marketing as well. They have understood the dynamics of social media that most Chinese brands have yet to understand and incorporate in their content marketing initiatives.