Social Media Marketing in China

What you should know
Jul 01, 2020

With the Covid-19 outbreak, Chinese consumers’ daily time spent on social media platforms exploded: they use it to chat with their friends, stream content, shop, work, and are therefore connected 24/7. This is a very important fact that needs to be taken into consideration by brands when drafting their marketing strategy for China. Counterfeits in China are very popular thus brands should focus on transmitting their reputation, history, quality, and branding in their marketing and communications.
Social media marketing can no longer be avoided and a great emphasis is to be made on understanding the differences and the roles of each platform.

Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs), Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), nano Key Opinion Leaders, micro Key Opinion Leaders, influencers, celebrities, what are the differences?

Influencer marketing allows brands to better capture their targeted audience through word-of-mouth and storytelling.

First of all, an important clarification to be made: KOLs in China are essentially influencers in the western world. The difference between nano and micro KOLs is in the size of their communities which highly depends on the social media platforms they use as well as their topics of specialisation.

KOLs are mostly present on Weibo, the “Twitter” of China, a platform where people interact with everyone and not just their circle of friends and family. KOCs instead are using WeChat, Xiaohongshu, and Taobao, platforms which incentivise more private interactions between users.
The challenge of using KOLs and KOCs is that to find the right ones, specialised tools and expertise are necessary. To be effective, these collaborations need to be done on a large scale which might require the help of a marketing company that has the technology and know-how.
Nevertheless, KOLs and KOCs are now essential for brands to start a multiple-way conversation and step away from the traditional, old-fashion one-way communication. Brands need to turn from talker to listener. Moreover, KOLs and KOCs can help brands with product and market-testing before entering a new segment or launching a new product as thanks to the multiple-way conversation, they can easily collect feedback.

Why this recent shift towards KOLs and KOCs marketing?

Celebrities turn out to be very expensive, thus brands decide to put all their investment on one head which can be a risky choice. In addition, celebrities have very broad communities and therefore, it may be harder to perform targeted campaigns and personalise the offer to a certain segment. On the contrary, KOCs and KOLs have smaller audiences with a common interest and thus have a higher level of trust by customers in respect to celebrities.
Furthermore, people are more sensitive to emotional experience. Therefore, brands should start conversations directly with customers to build a personalised bond. This is easier to achieve with KOCs and KOLs than through a celebrity endorsement. Lastly, due to their lower overall popularity, a single partnership is much cheaper than working with a celebrity. However, a successful KOLs or KOCs campaign implies finding and selecting the right individuals which might be challenging and costly.
As an example when searching for KOCs and KOLs, brands should pay attention to fake accounts; it has been estimated that 40% of all active social media accounts in China are fake. There are a few tricks to evaluate the accounts such as the ratio between original content and the number of followers, empty profiles, or the ratio between the number of following and the number of followers.

How can you leverage on Key Opinion Consumers and private traffic?

Before choosing a strategy, the brand needs to identify its objectives. KOCs collaborations can usually increase the number of conversations with the audience and bring authentic reviews.

Private traffic instead refers to the interaction between a brand and its audience via private chats. To do so, brands create avatars on “private” social media platforms (i.e. platforms on which users interact only with friends and family). These avatars act as brand ambassadors, friends, product consultants, and real-time customer service representatives. Behind these avatars, an employee of the company can more easily address consumer needs in a personalised way and make the client feel special. This also makes the interaction more authentic and enables faster customer service. The main advantages of private pools, i.e. private group management on social media are:

1. Cost-effectiveness
2. They can improve brand image and conversion rates.

However, these groups are hard to build and require a lot of time and energy to manage. As of today, WeChat and Taobao are the most popular platform for private traffic.

KOLs or KPC and private traffic are two very important strategies as consumers rely heavily on reviews and recommendations, particularly in China.

KOCs can be used in different ways:

1. To create buzz among a niche segment of customers,
2. To drive traffic to a website, inserting the link in their communication on social media,
3. Act as personal shoppers, sharing their selection of products with their community through the brand platform, for instance, having their own page on the website,
4. Organising live streaming sales sessions on social media, or,
5. Organising sales in private groups, directly interacting with their fan base to sell the product of the brand they are collaborating with.

New trends for 2020

As consumers are increasingly looking for authenticity, not only the shift from celebrities to KOLs will continue, but it will go further and KOCs will become the new trust-person for brands to communicate in an authentic way with their audience. KOCs can be found in the CRM base of the company. Building a loyalty program or members’ clubs are other ways to identify potential KOCs.
Private traffic will continue to increase and therefore brands will increasingly invest in it. This implies a strong presence on “private” social media platforms in China, mainly WeChat. Note that a WeChat group can host a maximum of 500 people and therefore large brands will have to manage several of these groups.
Live Streaming is becoming a must, especially after the Covid-19 outbreak. A lot of brands started entertaining their fans during the lockdown and as it was very successful, will highly probably continue this new type of video content.

To conclude, digital marketing is now an unavoidable pillar of the marketing strategy of brands. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, online sales and strong customer support are essential to let brands overcome their loss from brick-and-mortar shops and diversify their presence. In China, as the culture, the social media platforms and e-commerce are very different from what we are used to in the western world, and significant time needs to be spent to ensure a successful digital marketing strategy. As Chinese tend to be ahead of the other nations in terms of digitalisations, this time spent on decoding the latest trends in China will surely be useful in building the digital strategies for other countries later on.

Do you want to learn more about digital marketing in Asia? Check out our article on the top e-commerce platforms in Asia to become the master of both social media and e-commerce.

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