Content Marketing on Chinese Micro Blogs

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.


Creating buzzwords

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.


Clickbait: Information overload! How can brands cut-through all the noise?

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.11.34You won’t believe the hidden message in this blog post! Or rather – there isn’t one, I just wanted you to click through and read this. But bear with me – I’m about to suggest something incredibly controversial – a never-heard-before admission by a social agency!*

As much as clickbait is the emotional catnip of our online experience and can drive consistent traffic for publishers like The Daily Mail and Huff Post who churn out multiple stories each day, it’s still hugely annoying to discover you’ve been duped by an over-excited headline promising to give you all the feels. For brands, adopting the same practice can negatively affect perception and ultimately – sales. So how can brands cut through all the sensational copy and deliver successful results without falling prey to creating clickbait themselves? How do they beat them rather than join them?


Platform crackdown

In the early days of social, Facebook optimised content based on engagement, meaning that if users clicked on a piece of content, it received a higher ranking in newsfeeds. In 2014 Facebook took steps to try and crack down on those gaming this ranking using clickbait, and in February this year it introduced an update based not just on what users engaged with in their feed, but what they wanted to see. Facebook’s advice is that Pages should avoid encouraging people to take action (such as encouraging lots of clicks), because this will likely only cause temporary spikes in metrics that might then be rebalanced by feed’s ranking over time – meaning the latest ranking favours content that users naturally engage with rather than content that users click on through coercion.


Last month Instagram followed suit and announced it would alter user’s feeds to optimise the content users “care about the most”, and Twitter has also adopted a similar change (although users can opt-out and revert back to the chronological feed). The changes will hopefully make it harder for clickbaiters to game feeds with meaningless content, but the real aim for the platforms hosting is to surface more engaging content more frequently so users return often and stay longer.


The same goes for brands on social. If the content they produce is consistently engaging, then users will interact more frequently, leading others to discover it through preferred ranking. Ultimately, these new newsfeed algorithms exist to generate more meaningful engagement, driving not just clicks, but conversations via comments, and shares.


Learn and adapt

Meaningful engagement begins with relevant content that creates value for the user and the brand. While an insight-driven content strategy is key to delivering this, brands should also adapt stories and messages based on the emotional needs and behavior of their audience. This is more than just a case of ‘test and learn’ or refining what has already been done. Brands must also evolve their approach in line with new behaviors, platforms, competitors and rankings or risk being left behind by those who do.


A good example of a brand that does this well is Buzzfeed, who’s CEO recently shared their new strategic thinking, revealing how their objective has changed from getting users to click through to their main site to view stories, to allowing content to be consumed directly on other platforms. The new direction was prompted by analysing which content generated clicks and discovering that users prefer to consume some types of content within the platform they are already on. The company also found a discernable difference between user interactions with the same content on different platforms, demonstrating how content demand and consumption vary across sites. What spreads like wildfire on Facebook might fail miserably elsewhere.


Relevance is key

For brands looking to use social content to drive click-through to their site, it’s important to balance the goal of the company (clicks to eyeballs, or conversions to sales, for example) with the desire and behavior of users on different sites, and monitor response over time. Relevance is key to interaction, and brands that think like publishers will know that relevance is an ever-changing chameleon. While users are bombarded with meaningless clickbait, there is ample opportunity for brands to channel the social zeitgeist by delivering valuable content that meets audience needs in the format, time and platform that suits them. If they get this right, they won’t need clickbait.


At Mindjumpers we help companies and brands to think as publishers and provide end-to-end social media management across multiple markets, encompassing full social strategy, planned and reactive content creation, analysis and reporting.


If you’d like to find out more please get in touch.


*Don’t be naughty and scroll to the last paragraph – I’ve hidden the controversial part somewhere to optimize your dwell time in finding it!