Chinese Social Media for the SME
- November 13th, 2015
- in Best Practice
Social media for businesses, whether in China or the West, is a lot like marriage: darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
If you do, you’re making a commitment to sharing, caring, and time and energy spent to keep the relationship(s) strong. But hey, getting married and getting a social media account are free – in theory!
If you don’t, you’re missing out on a rewarding experience essential to your growth as an individual, or enterprise. Who’s going to get behind an enterprise that doesn’t even have a Facebook page? Get with it!
The key question for the SME, and this ongoing guide, however: is Chinese social media scalable? That is, can a modicum of effort and resources be invested, so that traction is gained and targets met, with enough measurement available to point the way to increasingly high ROI without increasingly high activity?
WHY SOCIAL MEDIA ISN’T SCALABLE (AS A RULE)
In general, no. But pray don’t scroll on, yet. Or do, to the penultimate section. But know first that unless you yourself are proficient in Mandarin, possessing time and feel for Chinese social media, you will need to use an agency…for most social media approaches. Such agencies are usually located in China, but a growing number are opening in major western cities to capitalize on interest in the China market, and the unwritten law that social media is a crucial channel.
Wherever these social media-oriented agencies are, they share a distinct lack of focus on driving top-line revenue and keeping your bottom line trim.
That’s not what traditional social media (as we know it) is for! It’s for sharing, caring, and showing the world topline revenue and bottom line management is the last thing on your mind. Rather, you’re socially responsible, committed to having a positive impact on the community, your stakeholders. The world.
As such, agency-managed social media is for the larger enterprise whose marketing department has to spend half a million minimum on social media for the budget to be renewed next year. True, likes and follows and brand engagement metrics are fluffy, but at least that Facebook page is always there, grabbing eyes, unlike those magazines asking $50k for a back cover that Lord knows how many people will see, let alone act on, before said mag is relegated to the top of a toilet tank.
This is why the articles you see in Adage celebrating the power of social media are always pointing to clever celebrity endorsement campaigns and creative million dollar sweepstakes as proof.
Of course, there are the occasional examples of teenagers making millions on Youtube by commenting on video games, or the twenty-something who raised a million for his startup using Snapchat. These are edge cases used to hype the potential returns of savvy social media.
There is also the art/science of social media display ads, a good tactic outside the scope of this guide.
If you’re shaking your head in disgust, thinking how dare your author have the temerity to suggest social media doesn’t work, you’re getting the wrong idea. It can work, and does work, but it takes a lot of work, especially for non-iconic, unsexy brands. Therefore social media, in China or the West is, by and large, not scalable, save for the elusive “viral video” or other unlikely business communication scenarios.
FOCUS, THE FIRST STEP TO SCALABLE CHINA SOCIAL MEDIA
While there are still a baker’s dozen relevant big social media properties in China’s Internet ecosystem, the majority of SMEs need only trouble with two: Weixin (WeChat), and Weibo.
Now, if you’re a small college looking for Chinese recruits, you might be interested in a college demographic-focused platform like RenRen. But WeChat would still deserve at least 80% of your efforts.
As for Weibo, it’s the MySpace to WeChat’s Facebook. Except WeChat, born a humble What’s App clone, has developed into a Franken-app that is changing the way marketing, sales, branding, and heck – culture is done in China. Still Weibo can be used as a funnel to gather contacts, customers, and KOLs who join you on WeChat as a second step.
To know a bit about WeChat is to know the way the Chinese consumer works, and will get the more attentive among you thinking of scalable possibilities.
A BIT ABOUT WECHAT
With over 600m Chinese users and new user growth still double digit YOY, it’s hard to wrap your mind around WeChat’s ubiquitous reach. Then consider that more than half of all users check the app more than ten times a day, spending more than 40 minutes, and you begin to see how WeChat is driving China’s transformation into a mobile society.
The appeal goes way beyond its Facebook-esque “Moments” wall. Text, 60-second audio messaging, file transfer, and free in-app calls (including video) add Skype capabilities, only with much more spent on making messaging fast and clear. After all, WeChat is owned by Tencent, China’s richest IT company.
Now factor in the integration of Tenpay, Tencent’s online payment system linked to Chinese bank accounts.
What do you get? Boom, the advent of mobile O2O (online to offline) and C2C (customer to customer) selling, both monopolized by WeChat, the most popular hand-held lifestyle tool since Mao’s Little Red Book.
WECHAT O2O – HUGE, BUT NOT FOR YOU
Now, never forget that the holistic appeal of WeChat has little to do with buying things online, and much to do with making the mobile experience richer than waking life (waking life= delayed, monotonous; mobile life= instant, constantly distracting.)
That’s why WeChat’s main commercial segment is O2O. WeChat takes much of the delays, monotony, and inconvenience out of consuming goods and services in the real world. Book your next Zoomba class on your gym’s in-WeChat app! Make an appointment with a doctor! Order a bouquet delivered to your wife’s office, or even a fake fiancée to your parents’ home for New Year’s (seriously)!
Sure, all these things are possible on traditional websites, but WeChat is the perfect ecosystem by virtue of ease of account establishment/integration, unfathomably huge interconnected user base, and easy payments.
So that’s where most of the WeChat commercial action is. Be thankful that, as a western SME, supplying O2O service to WeChat consumers has nothing to do with your strategy. It’s hellishly competitive. If you’re not offering free delivery, deep discounts, freebies, and great content, your competition is, and eating your lunch.
SOMEBODY TOLD ME ABOUT WEIDIAN STORES….
Agencies in China continue to pay rent for swanky offices, so with the Weibo boom over, they’re flogging WeChat social media for “brand engagement” and other metrics that will leave an SME broke and bitter.
More technically-apt agencies are offering WeChat stores, or weidian. The pitch is that since everyone is on WeChat, that’s the place to have a traditional, albeit mobile optimized, ecommerce store. This pitch is baloney. Nobody goes on WeChat so they can link to stores and browse for items to purchase. That’s still Alibaba’s world. WeChat has moved on….
SO WHAT DOES WECHAT HAVE FOR THE SME?
Affiliate marketing. Not the sordid linking to Russian bride sites kind, nor the quasi religious Amway-pyramid style, although such scammy practices are already well-established on WeChat (600m people folks, and many Chinese can’t afford to pass on such “opportunities”.)
Scams always have and always will be with us, online or otherwise. So will the unbeatable power of the friend’s recommendation. This is where the assiduous western company with a good value proposition will shine in China. If you are authentic, or organic, or truly premium, or a combination, or otherwise add value, you have a fan base waiting in China! Make it possible for these fans to save with you , or better yet make money, and you have the basics of a growth-hacking model, where honest but rewarded word of mouth drives adoption and awareness.
Watch out! There is already a cynical version of this ideal method available via WeChat, wherein an agency will find you someone vaguely in your niche with a lot of followers, and pay them a pre-arranged amount to repost or link to your product.
Not good! This KOL (Key Opinion Leader) is not invested in your product. The KOL knows it. The followers of the KOL know it. Everybody knows it. Far better a relatively anonymous KOL who is stumping for you into the mid-term, with any luck long term, then one expensive, cynical blast from the trumpet of an “Internet authority.
SO WECHAT, MAYBE WEIBO? THERE’S A LOT OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHINA
Yes, and there are 1.3 billion customers in China, too, putatively. As an SME focused on scalable growth, you want to find and focus on your targeted Chinese audience. Similarly, you want to focus on the social media most geared to small steps and large potential leaps. That would be WeChat. Exceptions may apply.
For example, the uncommonly careful reader may be wondering, “What about video sites?”
Get in touch to find out.