Overview of the Social Media ecosystem in China

According to Statista, there were around 926,8 million social media users in China in 2020 and it is expected to grow significantly. Despite Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter being blocked in the country, Chinese social media sites such as Douyin, WeChat, and Weibo have been attracting millions of users, making China the world’s biggest social media market. 

Chinese people increasingly depend on these platforms as a place to share their opinions, ask for product advice and connect with others. Out of the 904 million Chinese people now using the internet, 897 million people are on a mobile device showing how much the mobile is used in China.

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Social media users in China

Around 90% of the Chinese population uses the internet. Social networking plays a huge role among netizens, especially the younger generation. In fact, after the ’90s, people of the Z generation are the biggest portion of social media users. To maximize social media marketing in China, it is necessary to create content that targets this group to lead to positive results efficiently. 

Chinese social media not only serves as a way to communicate online, but also as one of the main sources of news and entertainment, shopping advisors, dating channels, and e-payments.

Why are social media so important for brands in China?

Social media as a channel wins more trust over the consumers. Consumers believe more in the message they directly communicate on social media, whether via WeChat, Weibo, or Little Red Book posts.

People get a more solid connection to the brand via social media and at the same time brands can reach Chinese consumers and interact with them. As a matter of fact, companies should develop a good digital marketing strategy on these platforms.

What are the best and most effective ways for a brand to communicate with its audience?

  • Deliver customer’s service 
  • Introduce new products
  • Native advertising of their products
  • Give people the opportunity to interact with a brand directly
  • Communication their purpose and value

Tech Giants rivalries in China

China’s social media market is dominated mostly by China tech giants. The key players are:

  1. Alibaba group (Weibo,Alipay, Taobao, Tmall, Taobao live, fliggy)
  2. Tencent (Wechat, QQ, wechat pay, JD, tencent video, Pinduoduo, Mafengwo)
  3. Baidu (Baidu search engine, iQiYi)
  4. Byte Dance (Douyin, Toutiao)

Note that: Kuaishou, Bilibili, and Xiaohongshu are part of both Tencent and Alibaba.

What are the most used social media apps in China?

Wechat (1.21 billion monthly active users as of 2021)

WeChat is the main Chinese social network. Born as a messaging platform, over the years it has introduced several innovative and advanced features that have made it more than a simple online chat. (More data here)

User Can do Many things on Wechat

  • Create a circle of contacts and chats with them
  • Post content or better “moments” on the bulletin board
  • Stay informed about news in any area
  • Make reservations (taxis, restaurants, flights and much more)
  • Use WeChat Wallet to shop online, see their balance, transfer money to other contacts, pay via mobile
  • Use QR codes which provide a very low-cost way to connect the digital world inside our phones to things, people, and places in the real world around us.

Use a complete Wechat CRM through:

  • The ability to create Wechat official accounts (Subscription, Service)
  • Interact with followers and keep them updated on brand news
  • Mini-programs, are small apps inside the WeChat system that cover various functions, such as e-commerce, games, and much more.
  • Wechat pay which is used by 900 million monthly active users with 1 billion transactions per day, from O2O connections, mini-programs, or Tencent platforms.
  • Wechat advertising (Wechat moment ads, wechat account promotion, wechat mini program ads, wechat article banner ads).

Weibo (520 million monthly active users as of 2021)

Weibo is the second most used social network in China. It can be considered as a mix of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, presenting itself as a micro-blogging platform.

On weibo Users can:

  • Open personal accounts
  • Follow accounts and be followed by other users
  • Publish textual and visual content
  • Stay updated on the latest news by following the so-called “hot topics”
  • Watch live streaming

Create a Weibo verified brand profile and:

  • Communicate to the masses, as it is a one-to-many platform
  • Increase their brand awareness
  • Convert users into customers
  • Retaining those already acquired
  • Collaborate with KOL to increase audience ratingsRecommendation through word of mouth
  • Weibo advertising (Display ads, search promotion, fans headline, fans tunnel)
  • Sell their products

Douyin (475 million monthly active users)

Douyin 抖 音, the Chinese counterpart of Tik Tok, is a short video app. Used by users to scroll through fun mini-videos, it has often proved to be strategic for international brands in China.

On Douyin Users can:

  • Watch short video base on the algorithm of the preference of the user
  • Stay up to date on trending topics
  • Follow celebrities, brands, and KOLs
  • Watch live streaming
  • Find brand-related sales activities and hashtags through the verified brand profile

Companies thorugh the verified brand profile can:

  • Capture users and keep them in front of the screen through captivating and funny short videos
  • Launching challenges (internal challenges to the App that invite users to join and respond by publishing new content)
  • Interact with people
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Gain consumer confidence
  • Highly targetted paid advertising
  • Brands can create partnerships with Douyin KOLs and sell their products through videos or live streams to lead the campaign and create brand buzz

Xiaohongshu (85 million monthly active users)

Little Red Book, or Xiaohongshu in Chinese, is a perfect mix between a social network and cross-border e-commerce. It is especially suitable for Beauty, Fashion, Luxury & Lifestyle Brands.

In addition to creating networks of contacts and publishing content, it is in fact possible to directly purchase the products shown on the screen through the practical “link-to-buy”.

Opportunities for brands on RED:

  • Open an Official Account to sell products cross border
  • Easy interaction with customers because it is also a social media
  • Logistics, customer service, and marketing support provided for brands account
  • In-app advertisement
  • To promote themselves on the App, brands can also collaborate with KOLs increasing the credibility and desirability of companies. In addition, they also have a strong power over brand awareness
  • Cosmetics is the top industry utilizing KOLs on this platform.

Other interesting Chinese social media platforms

Zhihu (34 million monthly active users)

Zhihu is a Chinese question-and-answer site like Quora. On Zhihu, questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its users. In Classical Chinese, “Zhihu” means “Do you know.”

Thanks to additional functions developed by Zhihu, users can also:

  • Write articles
  • Participate in discussions
  • Read e-magazines containing the best answers related to certain industries
  • Give an online presentation about a specific topic
  • Interact with an audience in real-time
Chinese Social Media Apps Zhihu -Perfect Diary Account - Cosmetics - Forums

Companies can develop Zhihu:

  • Q&A Campaigns (Answering questions, brands can establish a relationship with users and build their reputation this way. It allows them to promote themselves and introduce their products)
  • KOL Endorsements to enhance a brand’s image and reputation (brands can invite experts or key opinion leaders to answer questions for them. Answering questions on Zhihu allows them to showcase their expertise and connect with both industry experts and general users)
  • Zhihu Live (it allows brands to conduct online presentations on specific topics. Brands can have opportunities to provide in-depth knowledge and communicate with users in a more direct way)
  • In-Depth Articles (Brands can publish long-form content to gain credibility in their industry which is highly valued by people in that industry)

Kuaishou (more than 200 million daily active users)

Kuaishou is one of the most famous short video apps in China. 80% of users are born after 1990, among which the average of using time can achieve more than 60 minutes per person per day. As of June 2019, the app announced the one billion monthly active users (MAU) mark.

Chinese Social Media App Kuaishou - Short Video - Novo cosmetics make up brand

In the user distribution, users in first-tier cities only account for 10%, while users in second and third-tier cities are the main users of Kuaishou.

From May 2020 it collaborates with JD to offer an e-commerce function on its app. This function is very useful for brands to sell products directly on the Kuaishou app.

Kuaishou has also been working on its eCommerce feature, you can learn more about it here

Taobao live: China Social Ecommerce

Live is the live streaming service integrated into the Taobao App, divided into categories of interest such as food, travel, lifestyle, etc. Taobao live is first on the list in popularity and market share.

The use of the online video platform has continued to grow in recent months, as the brands and merchants that have suffered repercussions from the coronavirus emergency have increasingly turned to live streaming to resume business.

Opportunities for brands on with Taobao Live:

  • Gain popularity among Chinese consumers as it is the most popular live streaming tool in China
  • There are a wide range of industries and a wide range of consumers
  • Increase brand awareness in the Chinese market
  • Engage followers and consolidate the old ones
  • Create brand loyalty
  • Increase sales thanks to its e-commerce platforms (Taobao, Tmall)
Chinese social media apps - Taobao live

Chinese Video streaming platforms

Tencent video (540 million monthly active users and 106 million paid subscribers)

Tencent Video is a Chinese video streaming website owned by Tencent.

Chinese Social media apps - tencent Videos

Launched in 2011, Tencent Video has shifted its strategy from spending on overseas content to developing original content that links to Tencent’s stakes in games, literature, music, and sports.

This app is useful for brands to present their products, how they work, and how to increase brand awareness.

Iqiyi (538 million monthly active users and 107 million subscribers)

Founded in 2010 by internet search giant Baidu, iQiyi is most often referred to as the “Netflix of China.”

IQIYI - Chinese Social Media Video App

iQiyi leads the Chinese market for online dramas and original films. In addition, IQIYI provides over 30 different types of content that include not just film and TV series, but also cartoons, sports, news, gaming, etc. in an ecosystem of its own, that is busy creating new channels of content creation.

Bilibili (130.3 million monthly active users and 8.8 million paid subscribers)

Bilibili is the central hub for China’s ACG (anime, comics, and games) subculture, and became somewhat notorious for requiring users to pass a 100-question “geek test” in order to become “official members” with additional privileges on the platform. Bilibili is also a creative hotbed for China’s active meme culture.

Bilibili - chinese social media video app

The network has more recently gained acclaim for original documentary content that appeals to an emerging class of foodies and travelers. It is also investing in content creators with a particular emphasis on the current vogue for vlogs in the Chinese market and eCommerce.

Read more about Bilibili Marketing

Brands seeking to reach a young and trendy audience must be more experienced in their efforts to get and keep their attention, either by launching their own channels with fun content or by collaborating with established creators.

Chinese trends on Social Media in 2021

Male beauty

Cosmetics that target men have seen remarkable growth in the Chinese beauty market.

Many brands are capitalizing on the growing popularity of men’s grooming and beauty products in China, launching advertising campaigns specifically targeted to Chinese men. Especially, urban Chinese millennial men have growing disposable incomes and more favorable attitudes toward male beauty categories.

How male ambassador can help brands to boost sales?

Though male ambassador brands can:

  • Engage new followers and consumers
  • Increase exposure and increase brand awareness
  • Develop e-reputation through relevant and interesting content
  • Increase ROI

Mobile payments are unavoidable in China

Nobody uses cash in China which has jumped straight to mobile. Paying with your phone in China has become a way of life. 

Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate the market.

  • Alipay is a standalone app
  • WeChat Pay is embedded right inside WeChat and is more heavily used to pay for services in daily life.

KOL as social marketing formula

Stars and opinion leaders are the main communicators of product information. In fact, 49% of Chinese consumers depend on KOL recommendations, and 84% trust online reviews by peers.

KOLs promote live-streaming and content style drive the sales significantly in one day.

Several industries are involving KOLs in their marketing strategy ( food and beverage industry, beauty and cosmetics industry, automotive industry, maternal and infant industry).

China Live stream Craze

Live streaming in China has become the most popular video format because they are more engaging and interesting and keep the user glued to the screen, also gives the possibility to send messages and receive a live response and the possibility to see the product in person and evaluate whether to buy it or not.

  • In 2019, Chinese users who saw live streaming exceeded 504 million and forcasted to reach US$76.42 billion by 2025
  • China Short Video market is expected to reach to US$134.30 billion in 2025
  • The host of the live streaming can be a KOL (Key Opinion Leader), a KOC (Key Opinion Consumer) or even a simple user.
  • China is also exploited a lot in terms of online sales. In fact, while watching a live stream, Chinese users can inquire about a product and buy it immediately, without ever changing the App.
  • Taobao live, Douyin, Kuaishou are some of Chinese live streaming platforms
Chinese live streaming ecommerce with Kol

Social commerce “From think and search to see and purchase”

Social commerce is the merging of social networking and online shopping functionality. Thanks to these platforms:

  • Brands can increase Awareness though social media
  • Brands can focus on sales conversion through e-commerce platform
  • Increasing numbers of consumers are making their purchases through social media platforms such as WeChat and Xiaohongshu.
  • E-commerce platform have content on the product page, accelerating purchasing
  • IP cooperate with e-commerce, turning culture into cash

Need help with your Social Media Strategy in China?

Gentlemen Marketing Agency is a Digital Marketing Agency that is an expert in helping foreign companies to establish or strengthen their position in China.

GMA can help you through:

  • Successful social media campaign
  • Full- range of social media service in china
  • KOL cooperation on social media 
  • Creative content production & management on social media
  • Tailored, localized social media strategy & consultancy

Do you want to know more about how to use social media as your digital marketing strategy? Contact GMA a digital marketing agency, specialized in the Chinese digital market.

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  1. very good article. Social media is the fuel of China market.

    “Today, making money is very simple. But making sustainable money while being responsible to the society and improving the world is very difficult.” – Jack Ma

  2. Please, do you know something about Renren?
    What happend with this social plattform?
    Is it no longer more a Social Network, Social media?
    Thank you for some informations.

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