Internet users in China are very keen on social media – predominantly local platforms – and they like to access these networks from their mobile phone. Companies that want to engage with customers via social media need to be aware of their specific preferences.

Chinese Internet Users Prefer Local Social Media Sites, Plus Mobile Access

The Chinese market represents the largest Internet user base in the world, with 513 million users, more than double the connected population of the United States, and the sheer size of this user base makes it difficult to measure the impact of an Internet-based campaign. And China not only has the largest user base, but also the world’s most active environment for social media, with active users numbering over 300 million, i.e. equivalent to the combined total populations of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. These are just some of the aspects which could make Chinese social media a real gold mine for foreign companies who want to engage with customers there and create a high profile for themselves. However, as McKinsey points out in a report on the subject, if a company wants a publicity drive to have impact, it must get to know how the sector works rather than just counting on the potential from the big numbers. The McKinsey report highlights the main trends of the sector. First of all, companies should know that Internet users in China spend more than 40% of their online time on social media – 46 minutes a day – compared with 37 minutes in the United States. In addition, 80% of Chinese consumers have multiple social-media accounts, compared with 39% in Japan. And what’s special about these platforms is that they are local China-based providers.

A so-lo-mo country

Each social media and e-commerce platform has at least two major local players. In microblogging (Chinese word weibo), for example, rival players Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are going head-to-head. Each player in the different social media segments has its own strengths, priority interests and often its geographical priorities. Chinese consumers are very fond of using their mobile devices for accessing social media. In 2010 more than 100 million of them used social media via this channel and the number is rising by 30% per year. Another interesting aspect is the trust consumers place in opinion leaders. Figures show that 66% of Chinese people rely on advice from a friend or family member before making a purchase, compared with 38% in the United States. McKinsey explains that the Chinese are known to be highly sceptical of formal institutions. Moreover, users also keep a close eye on brand behaviour on social networks, and expect to receive a response to each and every post.

Similarities with Western Markets

In spite of these differences, the Chinese market shows a number of similarities with Western markets. McKinsey identifies three, and illustrates them with examples. First, there’s the need to provide information which is authentic and user-oriented. This is what the firm Clinique has done, launching a drama series of 40 episodes on its site. Second, adopt a test-and-learn approach, as when Dove China first tried to import its social media campaign from other markets and female Chinese consumers regarded the women featured in the campaign as overweight and unattractive. The third rule is to support overarching brand goals with sustained social-media efforts. This is what Durex did, when it developed a genuine online strategy on Sina Weibo, building a dedicated team to work on the microblogging platform.