Recently, Jiao Li shared her insights on the Chinese social media landscape in a business briefing session organised by BESA – British Education Suppliers Association. Jiao discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with entering the Chinese digital world. She also highlighted and summarised the four main social media platforms in China, with a particular focus on WeChat.
The Chinese digital world is large and complex, with 4.43 million websites and 3.5 million mobile apps. China is not a single market, and encompasses a variety of cities with different tier-levels, so entering business must ensure to assess different marketing strategies depending on the target region or cities.
Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu dominate the Chinese digital world, with Bytedance catching up quickly. These three different companies exist n almost all perspectives of people’s lives, yet each has its own strengths.
Alibaba owns the top e-commerce site in China, while Tencent dominates the social media world. Moreover, Baidu is more strong in its Search function, albeit with an algorithm less advanced and accurate than Google. As a result, people have begun to search on alternate platforms including WeChat, Weibo and Zhihu.
It is easy to differentiate between Chinese and Western technology giants. Facebook has developed vertically: to continue on the path of social media, it bought WhatsApp and Instagram. Conversely, Alibaba and Tencent expanded horizontally to not only covering social network, but also e-commerce and many other aspects of people’s daily life.
Their development of a digital ecosystem, as opposed to different channels and sites, defines the key characteristics of the Chinese digital landscape.
In China, almost everyone owns a mobile. As long as you have a mobile phone, you can access social media. Below is a short introduction to the four main social media platforms most relevant to the education industry.
Weibo is one of the largest information sharing platforms in China. Not only does it attract ordinary users, but also representatives from a variety of sectors including media, government, and corporations. Almost all corporations have their own Weibo accounts to make announcements and introduce campaigns. Compared with WeChat, Weibo serves as the first touchpoint for users to check news updates and short messages,. Weibo has a significantly younger user demographic, with over 50 % of users aged below 30. Therefore, Weibo is seen as the optimal platform for targeting younger audiences.
Weibo’s basic functions include sharing stories and news updates. Businesses can take advantage of these functions and develop marketing strategies including promotional campaigns, content marketing or paid advertising. Weibo also has a list of ‘trending searches’ and ‘hot topics’, showcasing trending discussions so users can have regular access to information. Lots of businesses work hard to be featured on this ‘Hot Topics’ list, in order to enjoy enormous reach and discussions among different target audiences. Furthermore, businesses utilise paid advertising including through KOLs, loading screen advertisements and display ads etc. to promote their company and brand.
WeChat is a multi-purpose messaging, social media and payment app developed by Tencent in 2011. WeChat is commonly considered to be an ‘app for everything’ or ‘super app’ in China because of its wide range of functions. Chinese people typically spend 1/3 of their time on WeChat. In 2020, WeChat’s monthly active users exceeded 1.2 billion, and the number of users is still keep growing. As a ‘super app’, people can almost use WeChat to do everything from text messaging, to video conferencing, to location sharing and more.
Beyond social functions, WeChat has its own payment method called WeChat Pay. Data shows that in 2017, 70% of mobile phone users in China used a phone to pay for goods and services. WeChat Pay has greatly strengthened the online payment and E-commerce environment. It also provides third-party authentication and publishing services, such as checking driving records and news subscriptions. Moreover, WeChat stickers are an essential part of communication in China and other Asian countries. They are very expressive and engaging, so can help users to express a wider range of emotions, values, and lifestyles than emojis. They are quick, valuable tools that can be used to reach potential consumers.
WeChat accounts can be divided into Personal and Business accounts. With personal accounts, users can join different WeChat groups for networking and general communication. WeChat groups have organic traffic and so are good for person-to-person engagement, whether it concerns corporate internal communications, professional networking or information sharing. Personal WeChat accounts are also good for social networking; users are able to share their WeChat moments with their friends, read official account articles in the ‘Top Stories’ section.
There are two types of official account: Service account and Subscription account. Service accounts appear as friends and can send four push messages per months. On the other hand, Subscription accounts appear in a specific folder and can only send one push message per day. With Official Overseas Accounts, registration and is extremely important, as these accounts are owned by companies themselves and are eligible to be verified and have more functions.
Mini programs are apps within WeChat. 95% of e-commerce brands in China use Mini Programs; there are more than two million Mini programs in China at the moment. Many EdTech businesses utilise WeChat's mini-programs, as any WeChat user can search directly within the mini-program interface, purchase lessons, and attend live streaming of online lessons.
Zhihu is a content-driven platform for professionals. Zhihu has high authority on a lot of search engines. If you run your Zhihu account very well, then you have a large chance to be picked up by other search engines. Zhihu is a heavy text-driven platform, so requires good quality content.
Douyin is a Chinese version of the popular short video sharing app Tiktok. In 2020, Douyin had over 600 million users, with a varied age demographic. It recently introduced Douyin Pay; its own payment service to add to the list of existing payment options within the app.
Douyin is becoming a powerful marketing tool for brands. Live-streaming is an extremely important tool on Douyin, that KOLs and other businesses utilise in order to sell products or services. Especially after the pandemic, many online education companies are using live streaming to gain more attention and provide their services to a wider audience.