The Chinese consumer has always had a voracious appetite for technology and innovation. More than a decade ago, every teenager on a city bus could be seen furiously texting on a mobile phone. It’s no surprise that well over 550M Chinese are online, over 400M are connecting via mobile, and over 300M of those are now on social media.
The world of social media in China is a complicated web, with several platforms that seemingly do the exact same thing. But for luxury marketers, being able to tell a story is as crucial as being able to reach their target demographics. From that perspective, below are five networks to keep an eye on:
With a daily active user base of over 36M users, Sina Weibo is easily the most popular social network among Chinese consumers. Frequently referred to as a Twitter/Facebook hybrid, it caters to its users by offering a buffet of features, including a “hall of celebrities” that Weibo organizes and promotes very seriously. As a brand, you even have the option to sponsor a badge that users can earn by interacting with you. And like Twitter, there’s a character limit of 140 – however, in Chinese, you can say a whole lot more.
Tencent moves into the era of mobile with the enormously popular app WeChat, which has over 200M young, urban, largely middle-class users, and grew 100% in just 6 months. At its core, WeChat is a mobile messaging service. But beyond that, it’s a super-aggregator. It taps all aspects of the user’s digital life as a hybrid of chat, social networking, micro-blogging, and even QR scanning. Brands can create official accounts that users can follow, and they can target broadcasts to either the public or specifically to followers, unlike Twitter or Weibo, allowing for sharing of exclusive content and developing deeper relationships with fans.
Previously two different services, Youku and Tudou recently merged to prevail as China’s main video-sharing platform with a combined reach of 310 million users each week and only a 14% daily overlap. Having just kicked off a differentiation campaign, Tudou’s redesign emphasizes its target for a younger, fashion-forward, entertainment-focused demographic with real-time discussion capabilities and original programming. Youku continues to cater to the wider, general audience.
While its bigger competitors, like Kaixin, lost traction in the wake of Sina Weibo, Douban maintains popularity with a niche but highly engaged, trendsetting middle class audience who love art and culture. Sometimes referred to as China’s original social network, Doubon’s clear cut focus is providing a platform for discussing and sharing music, fashion, art, film, and literature—all subjects familiar and relevant to luxury brands.
Renren launched this Tumblr clone last September, having tailored it to white collar professionals. Its focus is on special interests and partnerships with a number of media and cultural organizations. Literally “station,” Xiao Zhan features various topic groups like design, travel, photography, fashion, and numerous others. Its users share rich media and interact easily with each other, and the emphasis on imagery makes the site more engaging and interactive. While the leader in China’s light-blog race is still unclear, Xiao Zhan has a leg up in its visual and experiential design.
Also worth mentioning is Renren, which has a similar story to that of Facebook in that it began on a college campus targeting students. That demographic still makes up a good portion of Renren’s user base, which skews young, but a unique characteristic of the platform is that it is highly popular among the Tier 2 and 3 cities. As those regions become increasingly important for brands to tap into, Renren should be one to keep in mind.
One last parting word—be ever nimble. Competition is evolving quickly and platforms update and change frequently. Pay close attention to the development of platforms and players and be ready to alter your strategy as new and better opportunities arise.
Cece Liu is a digital and brand strategist currently based in Shanghai specializing in fashion and luxury. She led digital marketing and social media efforts at kate spade new york and has worked with global brands Karl Lagerfeld and Tommy Hilfiger, among many others. You can follow her on nearly every major social platform @ceceliu.
Photo Credits: Tom Stoddart Archives