China is home to one of the world’s largest and most active social media populations, with over 1 billion internet users and more than 900 million social media users. As a result, Chinese social media platforms have become a critical tool for businesses looking to engage with Chinese consumers and promote their brands.
In this article, we will provide an overview of the most popular Chinese social media platforms and their unique features, target audiences, and user behaviors. We will also discuss the latest trends and best practices for businesses looking to succeed on Chinese social media, including strategies for content creation, influencer marketing, and e-commerce integration.
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Overview of the social media landscape in China
According to Statista, there are more than a billion Internet users in China in 2023 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 more than a billion Chinese people now using the internet, more than 90% are on mobile devices showing how much mobile is used in China.
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 ecosystem 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 from consumers. Consumers believe more in the message they directly communicate on a Chinese social media app, 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.
Top Chinese Social Media Platforms in 2023
There are many different popular social media platforms in China with all of them having distinct features and serving different audiences, but when it comes to popularity, there are no more popular platforms than the big four; WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) and Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok). Let’s take a look at their offerings.
WeChat is the main Chinese social network and one of the most popular messaging apps in the world, boasting an audience of more than 1.26 billion monthly active users. 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.
WeChat has many different features and allows users to:
- Create a circle of contacts and chat with them
- Post content on WeChat Moments, which work as a Facebook feed
- 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
- Play games in WeChat mini-programs
- Shop using WeChat stores and pay with WeChat Pay
- Watch short videos
- Check the updates and announcements on their favorite WeChat Official Accounts
And many more. WeChat is one of the biggest super-apps in China, providing users and brands with a seamless experience without the need of leaving the app.
WeChat is a social networking platform offering brands many diverse ways to promote their products and interact with customers within the app. As it boasts an audience of over a billion users, you can make sure that your target customers in China are definitely using this social media channel every day.
Brands can use a complete Wechat CRM through:
- The ability to create Wechat official accounts, that work like brands’ pages
- Interact with followers and keep them updated on brand news
- Mini-programs, which 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).
- WeChat Channels, which are a short-video sub-platform of WeChat
Weibo is the second most used social media in China. It can be considered a mix of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, presenting itself as a micro-blogging platform. As of 2023, it gathers an audience of 573 million active monthly users, with 94% of them using this top social media platform on their phones.
Weibo is one of the most open social media networks on the Chinese Internet, allowing brands to reach out to potential customers easier than on WeChat. Therefore, it’s a great platform for viral marketing and influencer collaborations.
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
Weibo is the go-to platform for Chinese Internet users looking for the latest brands and promotions endorsed by key opinion leaders. This dynamic platform sees an impressive 130 million words published daily, along with 1.5 million videos uploaded by users. Brands take advantage of Weibo’s vast reach and popularity by implementing paid promotion campaigns, making it an ideal marketplace for influencer marketing in China.
By creating an official Weibo account, brands can interact with their followers and increase brand awareness through interesting and visually appealing content and online events. It’s also worth collaborating with relevant Key Opinion Leaders from your industry, that can help you reach a wider audience of consumers that might be interested in your products. Weibo also has paid advertising options for those with verified official accounts.
Douyin, the Chinese version of Tik Tok
Douyin 抖音, the Chinese counterpart of Tik Tok, is a short video app and the only Chinese social platform that succeeded in the Western social media landscape. Used by users to scroll through fun mini-videos, it has often proved to be strategic for international brands in China.
Today, the app has more than 700 million monthly active users, with the majority of them being under 30 years old. It’s a great platform for targeting young Chinese netizens that use Chinese social media platforms for leisure and check Douyin mainly for entertainment.
On Douyin users can:
- Watch short videos based 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 that set up and verify their Douyin official accounts can capture users and keep them in front of the screen through captivating and funny short videos. But the rule is that those videos need to be entertaining and interesting, inviting social interaction, as Chinese social media users go to Douyin mainly for entertainment, and not marketing.
Brands can also use Douyin to launch challenges, which are internal challenges within the app inviting users to join and respond by publishing new content. This is one of the most popular Chinese social media trends in 2023, helping brands to increase interactions with users, raise brand awareness and gain consumers’ trust.
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. Many Chinese use this platform to look for product recommendations and reviews.
RED has more than 200 million monthly active users with the majority of them being Chinese women that focus on user-generated content centered around beauty and fashion topics.
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 through cross-border e-commerce
- Easy interaction with customers because it is also one of the most popular social media sites in China
- Logistics, customer service, and marketing support are provided for the 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
Apart from the main four platforms, there are many other social media platforms you need to consider, depending on your target audience and product category. There are many other platforms available on the market, that are more specific, so let’s take a look;
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.”
It’s one of the top 10 Chinese social media apps and the most popular Q&A site, with more than 100 million members. Zhihu users are mostly highly-educated consumers that earn more than average, so it’s a specific audience for businesses targeting this type of consumer.
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
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 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 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 2023, it has almost 600 million monthly active users.
Kuaishou is very often compared to Douyin, as it’s its biggest competitor, but it’s important to mention that those apps differ a lot in terms of audience, engagement rates, and features available for users and brands. Kuaishou is targeting people from lower-tier cities and rural areas in China, making it the best app for very casual content.
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.
Taobao Live: China Social E-commerce
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 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 Video streaming platforms
Chinese video streaming platforms can be compared to Netflix and Youtube, but all of them have different content and audience, making it impossible to select one equivalent for the multipurpose Netflix or Youtube.
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.
Founded in 2010 by internet search giant Baidu, iQiyi is most often referred to as the “Netflix of China.”
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 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.
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.
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 social media trends in 2023
We’ve selected some of the latest trends seen in Chinese social media marketing, so if you’d like to get started with social media marketing in China, it’s good to get familiar with some of the things that might be new to Westerners.
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. Therefore, if you want to include e-commerce in your social media marketing strategy, you need to be able to receive payments using at least one of those two methods.
KOL as social marketing formula
Celebrities 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 to drive sales significantly in one day. Several industries are involving KOLs in their marketing strategy (the food and beverage industry, the beauty and cosmetics industry, the automotive industry, and the maternal and infant industry).
The live-streaming craze
Live streaming in China has become the most popular video format because it is more engaging and interesting and keeps the user glued to the screen, also giving 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 are forecasted to reach US$76.42 billion by 2025
- China’s Short Video market is expected to reach 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, and Kuaishou are some of the Chinese live-streaming platforms
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 through social media and focus on sales conversion through e-commerce platforms while engaging with consumers on a very informal and casual basis.
Increasing numbers of consumers are making their purchases through social media platforms such as WeChat and Xiaohongshu. It is very convenient both for consumers and brands to use social e-commerce, as it makes the whole promotion and purchasing process faster and easier, as it all happens in one app.
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 services 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, specializing in the Chinese digital market and e-commerce solutions.