As most marketers know, however, marketing to Chinese citizens is not exactly like marketing to those on other continents. Chinese citizens do not always interact with the internet and their favourite brands in the same way those in Western countries do, and they don’t have the same platforms.

You won’t be able to rely on old faithfuls such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in China.

But China has its own brand of social media, and if you know how to market through social in any Western country then you can use those similar concepts and apply them to these unfamiliar platforms. Don’t worry, they won’t be unfamiliar for long.

Check out how to get started with social media marketing in China and see where your marketing efforts can go.

And for more on this topic, download Econsultancy’s State of Ecommerce in China Report or read these other posts from the blog:

Choose a social media platform

Chinese social media platforms mirror many Western sites like Facebook and Twitter, but even so, they’re not quite the same in terms of looks and function.

Though they have some similarities, you should still familiarise yourself with the major social media platforms in China and understand how they function. Here are the top platforms that you’ll want to get to know better:

  • WeChat or Weixin in China: This social media site allows users to send text and voice messages to each other as well as play video games, watch videos, shop and pay via mobile payments. For marketers, WeChat has ads that can be broadcasted to certain audiences, and marketers can also create their own accounts and post content of their own. They can also offer special discounts and other offers to increase both brand awareness as well as loyalty.
  • Sina Weibo: This site is China’s answer to Twitter. A microblogging site, Sina Weibo allows 140 characters per post and users can add links, photos and videos. This is one of China’s most popular websites and marketers can use it to gain followers by posting their own original content as well as links to other content.
  • Qzone: Perhaps the most popular social networking site in China right now is Qzone. The platform currently has over 600m users and is projected to grow even more. Users can blog, listen to music, send photos to each other and watch videos. As a marketer, this platform would be your best blogging site, though you can also build microsites to fully customise as well as integrate your own multimedia content.
  • Youku: This platform is China’s answer to YouTube. Users upload content, comment and then give it a grade. This is a great platform to post your own videos.

Naturally, you don’t have to stick to just only one platform, but having a strong presence on one platform might be more beneficial than having a weak presence on three. Start slow and get to know and master one platform before moving onto the others.

What to know before you start social media marketing in China

Before you start creating accounts on these social media platforms listed above, there are a few things you need to know about China and its internet policies.

It’s true that your marketing strategy won’t differ much on Chinese social media platforms. Engagement in general, however, will be a bit different.

Here are eight things you need to know about social media marketing in China:

  1. Google is banned from Chinese servers. This includes Google+. You should be focused on Baidu and 360 Search for your search engine needs.
  2. The number of mobile social media users stood at around 335.9m in 2015 and is expected to increase to 480.4m, which represents about 34.8% of the total Chinese population. Therefore advertising on mobile phones is huge.
  3. Remember that Chinese culture is not the same as others. Back in 2009, Dove took its “Real Woman, Real Beauty” campaign to Chinese marketers, and they didn’t get it. They thought the women featured were fat and ugly. So Dove changed its strategy and partnered with the Chinese version of “Ugly Betty” and launched a whole new campaign. In short, be ready with Plan B incase Plan A doesn’t match consumer needs.
  4. Censorship is real. Don’t do anything stupid.

Keep these points in mind as you start to develop a social media strategy.

Define a social media strategy

When starting out on social media in China, your first step should be to develop a creative strategy that will define which sites you’re going to concentrate on as well as who your target audience is going to be.

Once you decide on your who, what, where, when, why and how, you then need to sit down and do some serious research on Chinese culture, translations and etiquette.

Some things as harmless as a name can have a very diverse translation, like Coca-Cola. When translated, the brand name came out to “Bite the Wax Tadpole.” Not very useful.

When Coors beer translated the “Turn it loose” slogan into Spanish, they didn’t know that the phrase was slang for having diarrhea.

Familiarising yourself with Chinese culture, translations and etiquette will help you create better messages and content. You might also look to other Western brands for inspiration. What made the Dove/Ugly Betty partnership work so well?

Once you have your audience defined and enough research under your belt, it’s time to decide how you want to reach your consumers. The platforms listed above are great starting points, but don’t be afraid to branch out.

Social networking in China is an exciting new frontier for any Western marketer. This is your chance to recreate your brand for a new market so get creative and remember to keep your audience’s interests at the forefront of your mind all the time.