Understanding the Chinese Social Media Landscape

Image of Chinese social media apps on orange podium
Image of Chinese social media apps on orange podium

Chinese social media is a contextually vast and culturally rich landscape. Undeniably, there is a huge market opportunity. The country’s most downloaded super-app, WeChat, has a billion monthly active users and is widely used by people across the world including Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States.

Despite its massive native uptake and the amount of data these apps offer, Chinese social media are still a lesser known commodity to the west of Asia Pacific region. For example, there are more than 45 billion messages produced daily on WeChat. Tapping on that market data and learning what they say about your brand is immeasurably beneficial. 

Chinese social media represents a gargantuan opportunity for brands to capitalise. Extending a brand’s influence and reach within Chinese social media can boost your marketing strategies in the Chinese market. Each platform has its own definitive traits which cater to different social functions which the Chinese audience use them for. 

Depending on the content angle or demographics a brand is looking at, Chinese social media plays an influential role in consumer behaviour. The conversations surrounding a product or post-event discussions are critical because they set the tone of sentiment revolving around your brand. 

Infusing insights from Chinese social media data to your current array of marketing intelligence and analytics is a must-have if a brand wants to make their foray into the burgeoning Chinese market. Read on as Meltwater delves into the intricacies and unique marketing opportunities in the Chinese social media landscape.

In this blog, you will learn:

Image of two Asian mobile users checking their apps

The Top Chinese Social Media Apps

Before launching that marketing strategy for your Chinese social media strategy, it is imperative that you understand the definitive apps in the market. With thousands of apps out there in the market, these are the four main social media players in China. 

WeChat

As highlighted earlier, this is China’s super-app. This is the foremost social media app that has become a function for everyday life. From displacing physical money to creating micro-communities to housing end-to-end retail experience within its system, the app has become a necessity. 

With that being said, its user base ranges across demographics. Only WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have a higher user base than WeChat, but the breadth of their functions are far less comprehensive than the Chinese super-app. 

The best way brands can utilise this platform is to capitalise on how WeChat users share their location, send video messages, make voice calls, file complaints, and make appointments, among many other things. As a brand, your presence on WeChat is crucial because it’s the only messaging app that has the potential to directly reach and engage the Chinese market from the get-go.

Douyin

Despite only being a fledgling social media app which only celebrated its fifth birthday, ByteDance’s Douyin is a behemoth in the Chinese social media landscape. The social media video app is primarily used for creating and sharing short-form videos with content ranging from lip-synching, comedy, and discovering talent. In short, Douyin is the Chinese version of TikTok, which is also owned by ByteDance. 

There are more than 600 million monthly active users in 2021 and hosting a similar architecture as TikTok, people are scrolling through an endless loop of content in the app. This has led to a boom in social influencers and brands are finding new ways to reach out to their consumers. 

Through Douyin, there is a shift in the way consumers respond to brands. They want to participate in the experience and brands looking to connect with the Chinese market should look towards Douyin. This platform is the best way to build your brand’s influencer marketing strategy in the Chinese social media space.

Image of Asian man on smartphone and laptop

Sina Weibo

Being one of the forerunners of Chinese social media, Sina Weibo is the Chinese version of microblogging platform Twitter. Launched in 2009, it is one of the biggest social media platforms in China, with over 550 million monthly active users in 2021. Brands know that social listening is a powerful strategy to identify “hot” topics and emerging trends. This is more important when it is related to their brand. 

With the dynamic conversations evolving within the Sina Weibo community, it becomes an excellent tool for social media managers to use when they are looking for new ideas. Brands can engage directly with their audiences and people can instantaneously voice their opinions, attracting other opinions from the community. By focusing on a keyword search within the Sina Weibo data, this method allows brands to get insights into what people are talking about and the nature of the discussions. 

Brands can also see trends such as when is the best time to post, search through the results and see if there is any activity on relevant topics. The results will give you a good idea of what people might be looking for and how relevant they are to your brand.

The Little Red Book or Xiaohongshu

Consumers love visuals and this is the core push for the next Chinese social media giant. Xiaohongshu or Little Red Book, is China’s topmost fashion and luxury shopping social media platform. Consumers and influencers flock to the platform to inspire and get inspired from visualising products in real-life presentations. 

The content sharing site allows brands and users to post pictures of products while at the same time curating visual experiences of what they are doing with a certain product. Reviews, tips and criticism are collated within the platform and huge followings are established for trendy products and influencers. The widely known Pinterest app shares similar characteristics and Little Red Book is the Chinese market equivalent.

With insights drawn from an app such as Little Red book, which draws about 30 million interactions per month, brands can better target their audiences in the Chinese market. Brands can boost the sales of their best-selling products as well as optimise strategies according to their popularity. 

Using the Right Strategy for Chinese Social Media

A social media strategy is key for any brand these days. Undoubtedly, a comprehensive social media presence gives brands an extra boost to their reputation and business. This is not new knowledge.  However, in China, the social media landscape is different in so many ways. To better understand social media in China, you have to realise that a different set of rules applies there. 

Social media networks that are popular with users in China, such as WeChat, Sina Weibo, Douyin and the Little Red Book, wield widespread influence in the country’s economy. The vast opportunities to be found in these social media networks make China’s social media landscape an highly relevant place for brands to explore. 

With Western social media apps such as Instagram, Snap and Twitter focusing on the networking and monetising their platforms to generate ad revenues, Chinese social media apps have taken a different approach. These apps are aimed to become part of their networks, the first port of call for how the Chinese market behaves and lives. These apps have become synonymous with everyday life, especially WeChat. 

Image of hand stacking growth cubes on pink and blue background

It is no secret that social media has become an integral part of Chinese society. It is used to create connections, build communities, and share experiences, but it is no secret that these networking sites are also being used as a platform for brands to reach out to their customers, grow their reach, and promote themselves.

Social listening then becomes a key component of how brands connect with their customers and audiences. With Chinese social media, brands can roll out their campaigns in a less prominent way, but highly effective, and involve the interaction of a loyal customer base

Niche and upcoming brands should also capitalise on the powers of Little Red Book because the platform is a great way to establish a digital presence in the market without incorporating a physical space. Through analytics, they can find out which influencers are driving their brand growth and focus on that area to develop a cult brand status.

Brand Awareness in Chinese Social Media: Lululemon

Making a splash in the Chinese social media landscape is a big task but it is not an impossible one. Armed with well-researched market strategies and a nuanced understanding of what makes the Chinese audience tick, brands can make that leap into the Chinese market.

Brands can use Chinese social media to accelerate their brand recognition in the market by simplifying the consumer journey. Consumers these days are ultra-curious and the ease of searching information within Chinese social media is the first step of that journey. Incorporating an e-commerce aspect is also imperative as well as a comprehensive influencer or Key Opinion Leader (KOL) strategy in place. 

Here is a brand which has made a huge impact in the Chinese social media landscape with the help of media intelligence and analytics.

Image of search result of Lululemon

How Lululemon Cornered the Athleisure Market in China

Founded in 1998, Canadian yoga-inspired activewear brand Lululemon have found a niche in the Chinese social media landscape. Creating a positive buzz on their products, Chinese social media users have started raving about the brand’s relatively quiet but exponential growth in the Chinese market. Positive reviews and community-driven content have been an excellent jumping board for the brand to launch their strategy in the highly competitive sportswear industry. 

With more than 68,000 mentions across the biggest Chinese social media apps, Lululemon is building an engaged fanbase. Fitness enthusiasts are parading their products in Little Red Book and conversations are driving interest in the brand through Sina Weibo and WeChat.

What is most impressive is that most of these mentions began in the second half of 2021. The company became the talk of the Chinese market and conversations buzzed with excitement in the Chinese social media apps. These trending conversations on Lululemon drove the brand’s popularity in China.  

Trend graph of Lululemon mentions in 2021 in Chinese social media

Recent reports show that China was Lululemon’s biggest growth market in its international operations. Results in the third quarter showed that revenue doubled in China and drove the best growth in overall sales in the international arena. This super-fast growth mirrors the trending social conversations in the graph above, emphasising the correlative relationship. 

With 59 stores across China, the brand is doubling its efforts in Chinese social media and focusing on community-based marketing. Diversified approaches include empowering local teams to reach out to their customers as store ambassadors and engaging customers on online community boards with product launches and events. With athleisure wear becoming the norm for work, Lululemon has cornered this market to its advantage in China. 

This correlation between brand mentions and an uptick in revenue highlights the importance of understanding the Chinese social media landscape. Increasing brand awareness strategies as well as retaining customer loyalty within the Chinese social media has become an important aspect of any marketing plan in China.

Image of woman in social media metaverse in the future

The Future of Chinese Social Media

Social media is an integral part of Chinese society. Social connections are built, people create virtual communities, and they also become a platform for self-expression. To put in perspective, social media is a digital representation of an old Chinese culture called ‘guanxi’ — or the cultural practice of developing trust, building personal relationships and connections. Communities build that trust and if a brand can do that, it is difficult to detach itself from their everyday life.

This brings us to finding the right social media platforms for your brand. Finding one that works across all functions of marketing is an important step. Understanding the social media landscape in China is incredibly useful. There are so many complexities in navigating the Chinese social media landscape and without contextual knowledge may prove to be tricky. 

Having a tool that gives you that advantage with analytics from these four Chinese social media platforms is a necessity. Knowing your market and gaining crucial insights about consumer habits is advantageous especially in a market such as China.

Whether you're a marketer, business owner, analyst or even a research professor, we have the tools and insights you need to start making your plans, and get your business talking to your customers in the Chinese social media landscape. 

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