It’s official. According to the Congressional Research Service, China is the world’s largest economy, manufacturer, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. However, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate has slowed down in recent years, dropping from a nearly 30-year record of 9.5% GDP growth rate to 6.2% in Q2 of 2019. Policymakers are hoping to drive up domestic spending, and companies are more than eager to reach the 1.4 billion people in China. An extraordinary 802 million people in China use the Internet, 98% of whom do so via mobile devices. (For comparison, the U.S. only has 300 million people using the Internet.) To help you understand the Chinese market, we’re rounding up key insights from our global social media usage survey and sharing tips on how to make your company stand out.
Social Media Usage Survey of the World’s Largest Economy
Ipsos, our parent company, conducted a social media usage survey with over 9,000 people across ten countries. Here are the essential insights on social media users in China.
Although Western social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are blocked in China, social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo are booming. A shocking 90% of respondents post content on WeChat at least once a month. On Sina Weibo, that number drops to 53%, which is still over half of China’s 1.4 billion population.
To help you understand the Chinese market, we’re breaking down these two platforms and giving you a glimpse into their top influencers.
WeChat: The All-In-One App
WeChat, known as Weixin within China, is the country’s most widely-used platform, with more than 1 billion active monthly users. So, what makes WeChat so unique?
Socializing Made Easy
WeChat’s messaging features allow users to easily communicate, much like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. But the app is far from only a messaging platform. In its “Moments” section, users can upload pictures or post updates that other users can then like or comment on.
The “Search” section of the app acts as a search engine. Popular searches, typically current events, will pop up as suggested searches. The following suggested search reflected online buzz about the daughter of Chinese actress Xuan Dong, who had just made her first catwalk debut as a child model.
Buy Your Groceries… or Luxury Handbags
WeChat combines the convenience of Apple Pay and Venmo into one feature called WeChat Pay. WeChat Pay is connected to your bank account and allows you to transfer money to other users. Some users even pay their utility bills using WeChat! Mobile payment has become so popular in China that street food vendors and local markets also accept WeChat Pay. So wherever you are in China, chances are that WeChat Pay will be an accepted form of payment.
Access Any Web-Based App
WeChat lets users connect with external sites and apps. When clicking on an external link in the app, WeChat acts as a browser and opens up your desired page within the app. This feature allows users to call taxis, place an order for dry cleaning, or go shopping online — all in one place!
The convenience of WeChat explains why 70% of Chinese Gen Z shoppers prefer to “buy products directly from social media,” compared to the global average of 44%. But that’s not all. Our social media usage survey found nearly no difference in the social media usage rates of Chinese young adults and older adults.
Consumers in China, regardless of age, are using social media for lifestyle and product recommendations. Businesses, especially B2C companies, need to pay attention.
Attracting Followers For Your B2C Service Account on WeChat
If B2C companies want to reach Chinese consumers, WeChat is the place to start. Businesses can open official accounts on WeChat in two different ways: a “Subscription” account or a “Service” account. Because Subscription accounts allow a max of one post per day and do not support WeChat Pay, we recommend that businesses use a Service account.
The bad news is that people only receive notifications about business posts if they follow your account. The good news is that many social media users in China follow official business accounts, often incentivized by exclusive deals and offers for WeChat followers. This is a tried-and-true method for increasing brand visibility and followers.
Service accounts also allow you to open up a “micro-store” within the app. Think of it as a website that lives inside WeChat and enables users to browse and purchase items easily. These micro-stores are incredibly profitable for both business and influencers, many of whom have started their own e-commerce micro-stores. For example, influencer Yu Xiaoge generates more than $1.5 million USD of monthly sales through her micro-store.
Social Media Usage Survey of Weibo, China’s Top Micro-Blogging Platform
Alongside WeChat, Weibo is another giant of social media in China. As of December 2019, Weibo had over 462 million active monthly users and adds an average of 70 million users per year. In essence, it’s a micro-blogging platform where users can publish content, forward or share content, follow favorite users, upload pictures or stories (like Instagram), and much more.
People often compare Weibo with Twitter, but research has shown otherwise. Users approach Weibo in a personal way, as demonstrated by the 19% increase of Weibo posts on weekends, compared to the 11% decrease in tweets on the weekend.
Another key difference between Twitter and Weibo is that Weibo users typically do not discuss politics on the app. This aspect of the platform makes influencer marketing extremely fruitful. Weibo users trust deeply in the opinion of influencers they follow, known locally as KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders).
Who are the top KOLs in China?
The power of KOLs in China should not be underestimated. KOLs have spent years fostering their relationships with their followers, so product recommendations are taken seriously. Partnering with these influencers exposes millions of people to your brand at once. Let’s take a look at one of China’s top KOLs.
In 2017, KOL Becky Li sold 100 Mini Cooper Countrymen cars in five minutes on WeChat! This model of the car was painted in a unique turquoise color and made available first to her followers.
Li has over 7.5 million combined followers on WeChat and Weibo. Since her transition from journalist to full-time blogger, Li has gone from working from home to running a business with 70 employees. Two years ago, her clothing line sold out seven minutes after its launch. So far, she’s collaborated with Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany & Co, and many other international brands.
In a recent post, she promoted Nivea.
In an interview with South China Morning Post, Li comments that the new generation of shoppers are more rational and focus less on trends and more on personal needs. Therefore, Chinese consumers remain closely connected with KOLs who they trust for lifestyle advice and product recommendations.
A tactic that Li has successfully used is the creation of separate Weibo pages for different interests. In addition to her main page, she has three different channels: one for cosmetics and home decor recommendations, one for travel, and another specifically for handbags.
Li understands that different segments of her fan base have different interests. She directs these groups to distinct platforms and channels. It’s personalized marketing at its finest, and it’s working.
Using A Social Media Usage Survey To Understand A Tech-Savvy Population
It’s hard to see a future without social media in China, or anywhere in the world. In China specifically, where young and old are equally plugged into social networks, businesses are moving headfirst into the market. The inter-connected world of social media, e-commerce, and business allows for more targeted marketing efforts than ever before. Before wasting precious marketing resources, take a look at social media usage in China (and nine other countries) to fine-tune your strategy.