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5 tips to harness the power of Chinese social media

By Juwai, 25 July 2016
chinese social media app mobile

By 2019, China's social-media driven online sales is expected to hit $1.4 trillion.1

China’s online retail market is already being hailed as the world’s largest online market, and now, driven by rapid growth in smartphone usage, social media-driven online sales is expected to skyrocket in the years to come.

Smartphone users in China is expected to surge from 436.1 million users in 2013 to an estimated 687.7 million users by 2019.2

Considering social media in China generated an astonishing $334 billion in mobile-driven retail sales in 2015 alone1, this feat is entirely achievable, if not more.

Powering this trend, undoubtedly, is the increasing popularity of social media platforms, such as Tencent’s WeChat – China’s most popular messaging app with 762 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) users as of Q1 2016.3 WeChat has, as we predicted back in 2014, taken the market leader crown in China from Weibo – China's equivalent of Twitter with 261 million users as of Q1 2016.4

Such platforms are proving a huge hit with companies across all sectors, including international retailer Burberry5 and high-end auction house Christie’s6, because not only is social media platforms a direct channel to the lucrative Chinese consumer market, but it can also offer users rapid product updates, swift comparison across product lines, and integrated payment systems.


Maximising online reach via ‘cewebrities’

Savvy businesses are not just investing in their own social media platforms, they are also investing in the emergence of ‘cewebrities’7 – product and lifestyle influencers active on social media – who possess the ability to connect with China’s massive social media user base, spread brand and product awareness, and subsequently sway their followers to gravitate towards the promoted brand/product to at least, give it a go.

Let’s just look at the case of ‘Papi Jiang’,8 a Shanghai-based amateur video millennial who posts about lifestyle and social issues on social media. Papi Jiang’s social influence online has so much draw and influence that she sold a pop-up ad at the end of her post for $3.4 million.

For comparison, a 30-second ad slot at the Superbowl sold for $5 million.9

With companies so convinced with the power of social media to connect with consumers, cewebrities such as Papi Jiang are forecasted to generate RMB 58 billion ($8.67 billion) in revenues from ad sales and endorsements in 2016 – beating even the RMB 44 billion ($6.58 billion) generated by box office sales in China in 2015, according to a report by iResearch and Sina Weibo.10

More importantly, with the expansion of online retail through social media, Chinese buyers now increasingly expect this medium to be their main form of engagement.

81% of consumers in China’s first-tier cities and 72% in second-tier cities do their shopping online, says McKinsey.11


5 steps to build a compelling social media presence

What's vital to note, as well, is that the trend of Chinese increasingly shopping online – driven by social media – extends across all business sectors, from groceries to clothing, and from travel to property,

Indeed, it’s the increased comfort with shopping online combined with the convenience of rapidly comparing product that has led both China Vanke and Country Garden – two of China’s largest real estate developers – to market their new property projects online through an array of social media posts that is linked up with their sales offices.

In other words, social media is now a must-have to be factored into any marketing plan that targets the China market, and we mean beyond merely creating an account on WeChat or Weibo. Here are five steps to boost your social media presence within the affluent China market:

#1 Maximise your social presence

Having a listing and a few photos on Chinese social media is one thing, going the extra mile in an increasingly competitive market is another. From sharing property videos and divulging regular industry-related updates to creating interesting content – a dedicated and well-organised social media campaign is vital to grab Chinese attention.

#2 Sync up with key buying seasons

Chinese New Year in January/February and Golden Week in October are peak buying seasons for property in China. Why? They are both national holidays and an ideal time for property searches. Given more mainlanders are heading overseas for travel – many who look to kill two birds with one stone by slotting in a property tour whilst abroad – it makes sense to ramp up your offerings and market weeks before these periods.

#3 Focus on Chinese buyer motivations

The millions of would-be Chinese property investors largely have a core range of motivating factors when looking overseas for property: education, lifestyle, travel, generational investment, retirement, business needs, and the comparative value between overseas properties and those in China. By orienting your sales pitch around these factors to speak directly to Chinese buyers’ key concerns, you stand a higher chance of capturing their attention and interest.

#4 Open lines of communication

Think of online marketing less as something you might update on a weekly basis but more as a constant, ongoing conversation with your followers. This way, you get to build up trust and guanxi, have more opportunity for your content to be shared, and present a range of properties to would-be buyers.

#5 Use data to understand your customer

Take a step back and look at how your social media presence is being used. Look at search trends, the most frequently clicked links on your site, average view times, and other indicators to understand what your potential Chinese clients are on the hunt for. Once you better comprehend your social media strategy, including where and what that you’re doing wrong, you can then tweak your strategy accordingly to be more powerful within the China market.


Leading the future by going social

That said, having shared the above five factors and pointers, we hope you have a better grasp on how to leverage the impressive – and essential – power of social media to more effectively cater to China’s online market.

After all, while the growth of the online market has been one of the most disruptive trends of the past five years, there’s no sign of it being yesterday’s story.

Total online retail sales in China were up 27.7% between January and May 2016, and compound growth is estimated at 20% per year between now and 2019.12

And while the future is hard to see, the one thing that is clear is that online and social marketing is the way to go when targeting one of the most dynamic markets in the world.  



Sources: 1. China Internet Watch: China m-commerce retail sales market to exceed $333.99B in 2015; 2. Number of smartphone users in China from 2013 to 2019 (in millions)*; 3. China Internet Watch: Monthly active users of WeChat reached 762m in Q1 2016; 4. China Internet Watch: 85% Weibo monthly active users from mobile in Q1 2016; 5. Luxury Daily: Burberry, Cartier set standard in lagging Chinese ecommerce adaptation; 6. Christies: 2015 Annual Report; 7. Li & Fung: Cewebrity Economy; 8. Quartz: China’s satirical internet queen just sold her first video ad for $3 million; 9. Chinese cyber celebrity Papi Jiang draws 20 million viewers for first live streaming show; 10. China Internet Watch: 81% of China population in tier-1 cities shop online; 11. China Daily: China retail sales up 10% in May; 12. Forrester: China online retail forecast, 2014 to 2019;