Understanding China’s digital and social media landscape

Pudong
China is the world’s most populated country, with over 1.3 billion inhabitants. It also maintains the world’s second largest economy, on track to become the largest by 2016. This growth has contributed to the rise of consumer classes within the country and in turn captured the attention of global brands.

As brands ramp up marketing efforts in China, they are increasingly prioritizing digital channels. The country has 560+ million internet users – more than any other country – and the average user spends more hours per week online than with TV, print, and radio combined. Despite this high amount of time spent online, adoption of major digital and social platforms in China has been limited. Many Google properties including YouTube, Blogspot, and Google+ are blocked to regular web browsing, along with Facebook, Twitter, and others. Instead, Chinese users spend their time on country-specific sites like Kaixin, Douban, and Jiepang.

From what I’ve observed, there are many similarities to global marketing tactics than one might assume, given China’s restricted access. However when you get past differences in channel and focus on consumers and content, the lessons are similar. People have become the medium. Listen first. Your real job is storytelling.

But of course there are differences as well. China’s social media sites are similar to US sites and analogies can help keep things straight, but they have different capabilities and user bases. “Weibo” (微博) is Chinese for microblog, but should you use Sina, Tencent/QQ, or another? Pinterest-like sites Mogujie and Meilishuo don’t have monetization challenges, however many brands (particularly outside of the fashion industry) are struggling to find a place for these sites within their digital strategy.

And don’t forget scale: during the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, Twitter recorded almost 10 million related mentions. Sina Weibo? 119 million. The biggest day in the history of US e-commerce was Cyber Monday 2012, with an estimated record US$1.5 billion in sales across online retailers in a single day. Last year, Taobao doubled that on Singles Day (11/11), seeing US$3.06 billion in sales.

On the surface, the landscape appears similar to the rest of the world, but the details are where the differences start to matter.

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