Many new marketers entering the world of social media incorrectly assume this medium is just ‘social network sites’ (SNS) like Facebook. I agree that Facebook has done a lot to make this channel mainstream but in doing so it has also overshadowed other sites and categories.
Social media can be considered a diverse set of online media that each have its distinct functions and usages. That in turn, creates unique social spaces for users to share, engage and interact.
To illustrate what I mean by unique social spaces, I have put together a list of 14 categories and nominated the leading (most popular) Chinese site in that category. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the Chinese site as you will be hearing a lot more about them in the subsequent chapters.
Chinese Video sharing:
Video-sharing sites allow you to upload and share your videos with the rest of the web community.
In the West you tend to have tighter content rights and therefore most videos being uploaded are user generated. This is in contrast to the large numbers of movies, soap operas and professionally generated content being uploaded in addition to user generated content in China on the various video sites.
For marketers, this channel is suited for B2C brand; but it would be a mistake for B2B brands to ignore the potential of this channel. The leading video sharing sites include Youku and Tudou.
Micro-blogs are websites that allow you to post short postings (for example 140 characters on Twitter). Over the past few years I have noticed the types of content being used in micro-blogs changing.
Initially, micro-blog postings were about what you are doing or thinking, but this type of posting has decreased and I now notice that we have many more links (spam, promotions, interesting links) and more hash-tag related competitions.
B2C brands are starting to exploit micro-blogging for customer service.
Additionally, some B2C brands are figuring out ways to integrate the real-time functionality of microblogging platforms into their marketing efforts which can potentially raise the returns on the micro-blog. The current leading micro-blog in China is Sina Weibo.
Chinese Forums & Message boards:
Message boards are websites that allow you to post messages into a forum with a specific topic or to start a thread with a new topic. This sub-channel
Excluding those social networks that were designed for a niche market, mainstream social networks tend to be better suited for B2C brands. This
is more popular in China than in the West.
Message boards tend to be better suited for B2C than B2B companies as the people frequenting message boards tend to be mainstream consumers more so than businesses. B2C companies can use message boards to raise interest and awareness about their product offerings. The most popular message board in China is Tianya.
Chinese Social networks:
Social network are websites that allow you to create a personal profile that you can use to chat, discuss and share information with others such as friends, family and customers (for businesses). In China, these types of sites are often referred to as SNS (social networking sites).
There are many types of social networks; many niche social networks that are specifically designed for specific purpose, such as professional networking/recruiting. e.g. UshLcn(like LinkedIn) is as people on the social networks can sometimes ‘discover’ the brands their friends like and this presents an opportunity for brands to be introduced to more potential customers.
Additionally, many social networks offer in-network multimedia communication options. Example: Renren and Facebook allow you to create a dialog with your audience through images, video, text, and interactive applications; while Twitter only allows you to create a dialog using text & links. The leading social networking sites in China are Renren and Kaixin.
Blogs are websites where you can post articles of various lengths on any topic of your choice.
Generally, blogs work better for B2B brands because they require a certain level of prior knowledge and interest. The effort required to follow blogs generally means that the audience already has an interest in the industry. That is why there are so many industry-based blogs.
B2C brands can still take advantage of 3rd party blogs; but generally don’t get the return on investment (ROIl required to justify maintaining their own blog. Widely used blog hosting platforms include the Sina blog and Sohu blog.
Chinese Question & Answer sites
Q&A sites are websites that allow users to post questions that can be answered by others. It matches up people who have questions with others who have experience or suggestions about what the answer should be.
Q&A sites are once again better suited for B2C sites due to the type of questions asked by users (who tend to be consumers). B2C companies can raise their level of customer service by keeping a eye on the relevant section of Q&A sites and provide consumers with reliable and useful information. The leading Q&A site in China is Baidu Zhidao.
Wikis are websites that allow the creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages about different or related topics.
Wikis seems to be fairly equally suited for B2C and B2B companies as both types of companies can benefit by putting their accurate, relevant information up on wikis for the benefit of their customers. The most widely used Wiki in China is Baidu Baike.
Chinese Social bookmarking sites:
Social bookmarking sites allow users to publicly bookmark web pages they find valuable in order to share them with other internet users.
It is easy to maintain and easy to integrate into campaigns. Although these bookmarks might be used more by B2B customers, the SEQ opportunities and find ability support makes them just as useful for B2C brands. The most commonly used social bookmarking site in China is Baidu Soucang.
Chinese Review sites:
Review sites are websites on which users can post reviews about people, businesses, products or services. There are many review sites that cater to mainstream consumers or special interest groups.
Chinese Instant messaging:
Instant messaging (IM) services allow users to make use of the Internet to communicate with others using text under real-time conditions.
Review sites are useful for both B2C and B2B companies as they provide relevant third party feedback about the quality of product or services. The leading review site in China is Dianping.
Instant messaging is equally suited for B2C and B2B companies. It is now increasingly used as a form of customer service by offering live chat support to customers. The leading instant messaging platform in China is QQ.
Chinese Location-based services / Check-ins:
Location-based service platforms provide users with information or entertainment services through a mobile device and network that has the ability to identify the geographical location of the device.
Location-based services are better suited for B2C companies as their customers tend to directly frequent shops while clients of B2B companies
Chinese Daily Deal Websites:
Deal-of-the-day sites allow users to buy a specific product at a significant discount. Each offer is only open for 24 hours before the next deal takes over.
tend to prefer emails and phone calls as a main form of contact. The leading location-based services platform in China is Jiepang.
Deal-of-the-day sites again are better for B2C companies as the users of the sites are mostly mainstream consumers. Additionally, many of the deals have a large discount and/or a minimum volume (i.e. deal goes on if more than 100 people buy) which makes it more difficult for B2B companies to successfully use deal-of-the-day sites to their advantage. There are a variety of popular deal-of-the-day sites in China which we will introduce in greater detail in a later chapter.
Chinese E-commerce & Online trading platforms.
Online trade sites are websites that allow people to buy and sell goods freely without the need to rent any actual physical store space.
Many reading this may say, eCommerce. How does this relate to social media? But on the contrary, I would say watch this space and look for new platforms that combine social elements along with commerce capability. Social Commerce is going mainstream and China is already seeing some early signs as Renren moves in.
These sites are more suitable for B2C companies due to the audience and in turn nature of the products that tend to be put for sale on these sites. The most extensively used site in China is Taobao.
Chinese Image sharing sites:
Image-sharing websites allow users to upload pictures and images to a personal account which can then be viewed by web users all over the world.
Again, while it might seem that this channel is made for the B2B market, there has been many great B2C campaigns that involve image sharing sites. Although not as engaging as video sharing sites, image sharing is quick and easy to use.
It is not really surprising that China has developed its very own set of social media platforms and with a few notable exceptions their Western counter parts have tried to enter and have failed. These failures arose either through Chinese Government site restrictions or through an inability to capture Chinese netizen usage.
Specific image sharing sites like Babidou are used but not as commonly used as social networking sites like Renren that also allow users to share images with friends.
The social media parallel universe
The social media channels mentioned above are examples of popular platforms within each of the social media subcategories.
Although we are focusing on Chinese social media, using recognized Western social media sites would help frame the sub-category when discussing Chinese platforms.
In the following diagram, we see a spectrum of social media channels and the corresponding Chinese site (outer-circle) for each western site (inner-circle).
Is social media all the same?
This landscape is constantly changing as more types of social media sites become available and others come to pass.
A common mistake that many Western marketers make in working in the Chinese social media context is that they perceive all social networks to be the same as their Western counterparts. For example, many may think the same ad campaign they have for Facebook will work on Renren. After all, the platforms share a lot of functional similarity.