The State of Chinese Social Media in 2015: What You Need to Know

Six Takeaways about WeChat, Weibo and Up-and-Coming Platforms

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WeChat's welcome screen
WeChat's welcome screen

The Chinese social media landscape is one of the most unique, fragmented and dynamic in the world. In the 10 years that Kantar Media CIC has been listening to Chinese social media, the rate of change has only gotten faster. We've just taken the pulse of China's 2015 social landscape, as we have every year since 2008; here are six changes and developments that brands, agencies and tech players should understand.

WeChat continues to dominate, while its role and influence evolves

For anyone doing anything with China or with Chinese consumers, the impact and dominance of mobile app WeChat is obvious. It is everywhere and seemingly does everything. With Whatsapp-type messaging, an addictive Facebook-like news feed called Moments, a PayPal-like wallet, mutual fund products, taxi ordering, restaurant reservations and many other built-in applications, WeChat is more than just another social platform, it is an indispensable social media Swiss army knife that melts the lines between online and offline. It's an operating system for getting things done in life.

WeChat users' Moments content, similar to Facebook newsfeeds where consumers share content with each other, cannot currently be tracked by brands. However, WeChat public accounts managed by brands, celebrities, key opinion leaders and media, can be tracked, and they are playing an increasingly important role as a new form of owned, earned and paid media and as a place to wield influence. Just as brands, celebrities, key opinion leaders and media can have a Twitter or Facebook account, they can have a WeChat account to push out content that serves as the magazine articles for the new generation. Brands can track the owned media performance of their own and competitors' accounts. And they can track the earned and paid media performance of KOL, celebrity and media accounts to make more informed media buying and content strategy decisions.

Weibo is still relevant, since it takes the pulse of what's viral

While some say that the Twitter-like Weibo platform is dying, we believe this is an extreme overreaction. It is true that grassroots content has moved to WeChat Moments. However, Weibo is still the place to keep your finger on the pulse of what's buzzing in the country. And while WeChat public accounts are increasing in importance, a tweet on Weibo can reach hundreds of millions of accounts, versus WeChat, where the most popular articles receive hundreds of thousands of reads. Brands, especially mass, luxury, fashion and beauty brands that tap celebrities and KOLs, should absolutely include Weibo in the mix of their social strategy.

Interest communities have gone mobile

Before WeChat, before other social platforms like Weibo, Kaixin, RenRen and blogs, there were basic online forums, known in China as BBS (bulletin board systems). These vertical interest communities have now gone mobile in the form of vertical interest apps. Some, like Autohome and Liba, are simply mobile versions of the PC versions of BBS, while others like Red (for luxury travelers), Dayima (for women) and Lamabang (for moms) are native mobile apps with communities, some of which can host millions of active conversations. We see this as a significant evolution, signaling a decentralization of the landscape away from WeChat. The key categories include auto, parenting, fashion, health and others. From our pilot work with clients, we have seen that these apps serve as great sources of targeted consumer intelligence as well as targeted media.

New forms of expression emerge

With parents, grandparents, teachers and/or bosses all on WeChat (like Facebook in the West), the "kids" need to find unique spaces and their own ways of communicating. Two examples are Nice (a photo app similar to Instagram) and Meipai (a video app with parallels to Vine). Though brands like Ray Ban and Bulgari have begun to put campaigns there, neither app has gained dominance, as there are multiple competing apps in their categories. We expect the fragmentation of the landscape through such categories of apps to continue, which means brands will need to remain vigilant to find the right place to engage their audience in the right way.

E-commerce reviews explode

With the massive growth of e-commerce in China has come an explosion of product reviews -- like those found on Amazon in the West, but often more detailed. As a rich source of user generated content, CIC currently tracks reviews across nine e-commerce sites in China and has found that 70% of all the buzz for some brands come from e-commerce reviews, with 30% coming from BBS, Weibo and other sources. Tracking this rich content is a "must" for brands as a source of consumer intelligence as well as an influential media.


Retailer-generated content is a 'fourth media'

E-commerce sellers, especially those with small- or medium-sized stores on Taobao or WeChat, aggressively market products in categories like beauty, fashion and electronics. Some of these stores are official distributors, but many are not. The stores engage with consumers, promote on social media, and post content on their own sites. There is no guarantee that what they post is "on message" or even accurate. The stores may be small, but they make an impact accounting for upwards of 40-50% of the buzz for some fashion brands. The buzz is not just spam, but genuinely informative and useful content that educates and influences consumers' perceptions with advice and suggestions on how to use the products. Brands are on top of paid, owned and earned, but for this "fourth media," which is beyond their control and influence, the must be vigilant in systematically tracking such content to determine if and to what extent it is making an impact on brand perception and/or sales.

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