The Chinese social media landscape is one of the most unique, fragmented and dynamic in the world. In the 12 years that Kantar Media CIC has been analysing Chinese social media, the rate of change has only gotten faster. Here we take the pulse of China’s social landscape and present five changes and developments that brands, agencies and tech players should understand for 2016.
1.BATS, the core of the China’s social and digital landscape
Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Sina (AKA ‘BATS’) together have upwards of eight different social media and/or e-commerce platforms, each with hundreds of millions of active users. They are the absolute core of China’s social and digital landscape because of their cumulative almost 4 billion users. These apps are at the heart of making the Chinese Internet VIRAL, INFORMATIVE and PRACTICAL (VIP). The “I” and the “P” are particularly important in differentiating China from the rest of the world. Trusted Information in China can be scarce, while the plentiful Information on social media such as news, word of mouth, and rumours is often the type of content that cannot be found anywhere else. This makes social media more important in China than most global markets. The Practicality of Chinese social media is unmatched due to the deep integration of payment solutions and services such as, Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s Tenpay. For over 700 million netizens, WeChat is the go to platform not only for e-commerce transactions, but also P2P transfer, bill payment and even mutual fund investment. Nowhere else in the world is there a complete social media ecosystem connecting internet word of mouth and payment so seamlessly.
2. Developing E-commerce categories reflect the complexity of China’s retail market
As the number of consumers’ increases, the desire for a wide variety of products grows as well. Even today, some products are not always readily available offline or even on some of the largest E-commerce platforms like Taobao, Tmall, JD and Yihaodian. We are seeing an increasing number of E-commerce categories emerging in China. Some of these new platforms include, group sales sites such as Nuomi (糯米) and Meituan (美团); flash sales sites such as Glamour Sales (魅力惠); second hand sales sites such as Xianyu(闲鱼); crowdfunding sites such as JD Finance (京东众筹); O2O sites such as ticketing service Gewara (格瓦拉) and cross boarder retail platforms such as “Little Red Book(小红书).”
Now that payment is so integrated with social media, we are seeing the boundary between social media and E-commerce becoming blurred. Traditional E-commerce sites are integrating social features such as Taobao’s Weitao (微淘), Tmall’s Fun (范儿), JD’s Discover (发现), and Yihaodian’s Yipintang (一品堂). Not to mention, social platforms integrating E-commerce, such as Little Red Book (小红书).
3. Video continues to rise as it fragments
Traditional video sites like Youku and iQiyi continue to be important platforms. These platforms allow netizens to watch legal versions of local and imported long form content like TV dramas. Recently, many other sites have started to integrate Danmaku, the “rapid fire,” in-time netizen commentary, where the text appears right on your video screen. Danmaku was initially an innovation from the original Danmaku sites, Acfun and Bilibili, which show more youthful content like Anime, Cartoon and Games. Other video categories include short video apps like Meipai and Miaopai. These two apps have recently become a primary source of UGC on the social web. “Live” video broadcasting apps similar to Periscope, including Panda TV and Zhanqi TV, have also gained traction with consumers and even the watchful eye of government regulators. Brands like Maybelline have started to use live video platforms to promote their products. Maybelline quickly sold over 10,000 units of lipstick in two hours, via a live video broadcast hosted by celebrity spokesperson @Angelababy.
4. Q&A reinvigorated with AMA as platform for deep engagement
Have you ever wanted to ask a celebrity how much money she has? If you haven’t, at least now you have the option on “Ask Me Anything” sites like Fenda and Zhihu Live. Recently, these platforms have gained significant traction.
For a fee ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand RMB, Fenda allows netizens to ask celebrities questions. Recently, celebrity Wang Sicong made over US$45,000 on Fenda for answering questions involving his personal gossip. Another platform, Zhihu Live provides a platform featuring experts from various industries. The app launches private sessions which allow KOLs to share information and insight with netizens. This gives netizens who are interested in certain categories the ability to easily communicate with industry leaders. Brands can consider how to utilize these sites to more effectively leverage their key opinion leaders (KOL) and celebrities.
5. KOL landscape evolves with Wang Hong
Recently, the rise of “Wang Hong” (网红) has added a layer of complexity to the Key Opinion Leader (KOL) landscape. We are now dividing KOL’s into three basic categories: experts, “Wang Hong,” and celebrities.
Experts tend to focus on their specific fields, like beauty or fashion, where they are able to persuade and inform the masses with their expertise and experience. Wang Hong, such as QKXLJ (呛口小辣椒) focus on turning their online fame into an actual business. This is achieved by creating unique personal brands. Wang Hong tap into their social media following to promote and sell their products, leading to e-commerce sales that could not have been achieved without their social media promotion. Wang Hong are more willing to share their personal life on social platforms which can make them seem more “authentic.” Celebrities that are famous online and offline command a premium price, yet do not appear as “authentic” as Wang Hong. With this increasingly complex KOL landscape, brands need to pay more efforts to obtain the right “fit” to optimize media impact.
In summary: the China social landscape is unique, fragmented, and dynamic
Underpinning these 5 trends is the everlasting trifecta of defining characteristics of the China social media landscape mentioned earlier: unique, fragmented and dynamic. In the West, you may be able to get away with a two platform strategy consisting of Facebook and Google. However, in China, there are not only unique platforms that do not exist anywhere else, but also multiple, overlapping platforms, as well as, multiple, overlapping ecosystems all of which are in constant flux. An environment like this requires persistent diligence in order to understand, plan and execute for maximum and appropriate impact.
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