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For foreign companies trying to use social media to grab a larger share of the market, China presents new challenges in terms of unfamiliar platforms, shifting social media trends, and a unique consumer culture
By
Yin Wu / SBS Radio Mandarin

13 Jul 2015 - 4:12 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2015 - 9:49 PM

With nearly 470 million active users of WeChat, just one of China’s social media platforms, China has risen to become the world’s largest, and one of the most dynamic sites of social media use.

Although YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are blocked in China, Chinese equivalents, like Weibo, Wechat and Youku, are growing fast and becoming more sophisticated.

Is it enough for companies looking to succeed there to use strategies that have worked at home?  Should they be doing things differently?

SBS Mandarin journalist Yin Wu discussed the topic with Dr Regina Chen, Assistant Professor in Communication Studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University, and Rod McGuinness, Social Media Editor at ABC Radio.

Transcript

With nearly 470 million active users of WeChat, just one of China’s social media platforms, China has risen to become the world’s largest, and one of the most dynamic sites of social media use. Although YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are blocked in China, Chinese equivalents, like Weibo, Wechat and Youku, are growing fast and becoming more sophisticated.

For foreign companies trying to use social media to grab a larger share of the market, China presents new challenges in terms of unfamiliar platforms, shifting social media trends, and a unique consumer culture.  Is it enough for companies looking to succeed there to use strategies that have worked at home?  Should they be doing things differently? Yin Wu reports.

Dr Regina Chen, from Hong Kong’s Baptist University, is a researcher specializing in Social Media Marketing. She says because Chinese state media lacks variety, and is subject to censorship, many people are keen to use social media as another way to keep informed. Moreover, they also expect social media to break news first. For this reason, Regina feels its important that marketing managers don’t just focus on promoting products, but also cater for the thirst Chinese have for the latest news and information.

“Your corporation or your band has to be the first to be out there. You have to provide the latest news or provide most interesting news, more provocative news. That is very important.”

Foreign companies have had success setting up new social media trends, according to Dr Chen. However she feels they can do more to meet Chinese customers’ demand for value adding elements, like exclusive offers and subscriber-only sales. Chinese companies are aware of this demand and often advertise such features. And she suggests foreign firms would benifit by following suit. Dr. Regina Chen,

“So they are providing extra services or value to their potential customers. Not just talking about their products or services, but providing something that is important and valuable to the potential customers. Also generate the stickiness or interest of the users, social media users to use the official account of any corporate brands.”

People want to look cool. That’s why peer pressure, boosted by social media networks, has become a bigger factor behind the purchase of luxury goods. While Chinese tend to use social media to show off items like fashion accessories or tech products, Dr Chen thinks companies could go further if they use their own accounts to give followers a platform to showcase themselves to a wider audience.

“Lots of corporations will call for photo competitions. Or they'll say, 'Join us. Give us your thought of the day. Give us your comment on that. Or send us whatever you think can demonstrate who you are into the post.' Potential customers can show their photos and whatever they are doing and their mood on their own social media account. But it makes so much difference that you can show yourself on a corporate account. It means you are sort of like a celebrity. It's kind of like give you the credential of a celebrity, and then you become someone that other people will know. ”

How should firms evaluate the success of their social media use? Conventionally this is done by looking at hard numbers, like the amount of views or re-sends. However for Rod McGuinness, ABC Radio’s Social media Producer, numbers don’t always tell the full story.

“A lot of time is spent on looking at the number of followers or the number of retweets for a post on social media. My personal point of view is that isn't really significant. It depends on what the real engagement is and the people who are retweeting and those who are interacting with your social media accounts. There are occasions we may see an account with thousands, 50,000 of followers. But it's not an engaging page, you know, they are not interacting with the audience. Whereas another social media account may have 1,000 or 5,000 people not only follow the page, but they interact, they share, give good or even negative feedbacks. That to me is more successful, even  if the numbers are not as high. ”

 Dr Chen agrees,

 “If you want to make evaluations, you need to know what you are trying to achieve. So you'll start with your objectives. Is your objective to shape your brand image, or to increase the sale figures? Or simply to understand what your potential customers are talking about you, so that you can embrace their opinions. After you have objectives straight out, you can base on the objectives, trying to figure out what will be the most value indexes for you to do that evaluation. ”