Chinese social media is huge, fragmented, and tends to change fast. Staying on the right side of the government and taking censorship seriously are givens, but there are a ton of other things you need to keep in mind for success on WeChat, Sina Weibo, RenRen and their peers. Here are some of the essential rules of engagement on Chinese social media that can make — or break — your success there.
First, get a verified account
China is notorious for cyber-squatting and it is a major challenge on social media platforms. Popular companies stand the risk of having their brand names hijacked on Sina Weibo. So, secure your identity as soon as possible. Also, to help users understand that you are the original brand, apply for the blue V sign to appear on your Sina Weibo brand page. This is similar to the verified accounts on Twitter.
More posts do not equal more engagement…
On Sina Weibo, sheer quantity does not guarantee engagement. In an engagement analysis of how well five European football leagues performed on Weibo over a month’s time, it was found that Dortmund had the most engagement — although it posted only 15 times during that period, their content was specifically targeted to the Chinese audience. AS Roma, on the other hand, had 126 posts, but their most engaged post had only six people interacting with it.
For luxury brands, especially, it is critical not to bombard users with messages, for fear of being seen as too commercialized. According to China Contact, 1.5 posts per day is the average frequency for luxury brands — this is lower than in other sectors such FMCG with a more active posting frequency of three to four times per day.
…But call-to-action posts do
In the same engagement study of European football leagues, it was found that call-to-action posts with rewards/prizes generated the highest engagement. Freebies or discounts are also the hook with which you can draw in users on WeChat, thus giving you more chances to interact with them.
Keep the content light
Thanks to censorship, topics on Chinese social networks usually tend to exclude current events, society or politics. Lighter topics such as entertainment and “emotional” posts show better engagement. Emotional content usually refers to that dealing with advice on love and relationships, while entertainment includes gaming.
When in trouble, tread carefully
If ever you have to manage a social media crisis, carefully identify the sources of the negative posts and take appropriate action depending on whether they came from competitors or real consumers. This is necessary because in the past, some companies have indulged in unethical practices of creating artificial controversies by employing people to create negative posts about their competitors. The key here is to get to the root of the problem; otherwise, you risk drawing the wrong conclusions about consumer behavior and brand preferences.
Be as responsive as possible
People love it if you respond to each and every post. Durex understood this and catered accordingly with its corporate account on Sina Weibo: it built a marketing team that monitors online comments around the clock and collaborates closely with agency partners to create original, funny content.
Say more in Chinese
In the Chinese language, each character is a word. Hence, Sina Weibo users are able to pack in much more information than Twitter users. In a sense, it truly becomes a micro blog. Game the system by packing in more information. (While Sina Weibo has lifted the limit on characters, still only 140 characters can be seen in the preview of the post.)
Localize content for China
Content related specifically to China tends to be popular — no surprise there. For example, if a Chinese festival is around the corner, your users would be interested in campaigns tailored to the event. Choose topics popular with your target demographic and create your messages accordingly.
Starbucks on Chinese social media
Choose the right partner
A localization company understands the challenges involved in crafting a strong identity on social media. It can provide you with the exact level or type of expertise that you need for digital marketing in China, of which social is a large part. It brings the following advantages:
- A keen understanding of the Chinese language and culture. Your localization provider will help translate your original marketing messages while keeping your style and tone intact. It will not merely replace the source (originating) language’s words with those in Chinese, but will transcreate the message so that it resonates with your audience.
It will also advise you on the different types of Chinese and whether you need to choose one over the other. Simplified Chinese or Mandarin will, by and large, suffice everywhere in China. But if you are targeting a Hong Kong-specific audience, Cantonese might endear you better to your market.
- Knowing why “global” social media campaigns won’t work. There is no “global” media campaign, just as there is no global marketing: it’s all local. You need nuanced campaigns for the different types of social media platforms in China. For example, while short clips are popular on YouTube, on Youkou people don’t mind watching longer videos.
Being grounded in the local ethos brings insight that you would have otherwise missed. For example, your localization partner will inform you that Chinese netizens love gaming so much that most popular social networks include gaming in some form or the other; so do marketing campaigns that go viral.
- Provides sentiment analysis. Understandably, you would want to know exactly how people in China are perceiving your product. And, this information needs to be relayed to headquarters. Many companies employ machine translation (MT) to do this, but remember that there are many issues with the quality of Chinese to English MT. In many cases, machine-translated user content gets transformed from noise in one language to noise in another. Your translation provider can advise you on how editing MT output can give you more insight into what your customers are talking about.
In China, the path to a consumer’s heart goes through social media. Nearly the entire online population uses it — not just to stay connected with their friends and family, but to conduct an array of transactions in their daily lives. So, you have no other option in China but to do social media right.