Op deze sociale netwerken hangen de Chinezen uit

Weibo, de Chinese tegenhanger van Twitter, kennen ze misschien nog nét. Maar dan is het wel gedaan met wat Westerse bedrijven weten over Chinese sociale netwerken. Zonde, want zo lopen ze miljoenen potentiële klanten mis. Business Insider laat je kennis maken met vier belangrijke Chinese sociale netwerken.

The digital demystification of China continues; brands are gradually learning the ropes of the leading social channels, search engines, and e-commerce platforms. Most executives are familiar with WeChat, Weibo, Alibaba, and Baidu. Perhaps a few have even heard of Youku, the Chinese YouTube.
But as in the West, China’s digital landscape is rapidly evolving. And with cultural barriers that separate East from West, most brands’ strategies are built upon the echo chamber of common wisdom. Get on Weibo. Get on WeChat. Hire a local agency to run both. Buy some ad words on Baidu. List your stuff on Tmall, if you’re feeling plucky. Profit?

The truth, however, is that there is a vast world of Chinese digital channels that Western executives aren’t thinking about — a “second layer” that includes messaging services, local offer networks, social commerce platforms, and more.

Despite the fact that these social channels cumulatively represent well over 500 million unique users — many of whom are savvy consumers looking to build relationships with Western brands — an overwhelming majority of executives haven’t given a second thought to this deeper subset of the Chinese digital landscape.

The result? Brands end up fighting over consumers and paid influencers through the same channels (Weibo, WeChat), not realizing that there’s an arbitrage opportunity to reach that same consumer somewhere else. Here, we’ll take you through some of these channels, how they work, and why they can prove invaluable for a brand’s success in China.

Douban

With more in common with a Bulletin Board System (“BBS”) than a top-tier social network, Douban is all about blending deep discussion threads and visual media. The bulk of the service is built on sharing personal opinions on hot topics, and is most commonly used to rate media (movies, books, etc) and retail (restaurants, boutiques, etc) in groups that share similar interests (e.g. high fashion, beauty, etc).

Following a period of significant churn, Douban has gone through something of a rebuilding period as the company now claims over 100 million active users. Their recent relaunch has come on the back of immersive brand profiles that allow for a full, on-brand multi-media experience - photos, videos, and more. Coach is among the small group of progressive brands who have embraced the reworked platform, giving them a powerful share of voice. The challenge for Douban is now moving past the largely intellectual, “artsy” population that dominates their platform in a more mass market play that can be monetized.

Dianping

Think Yelp meets Foursquare and Groupon, blending the features of each into a location-based deals behemoth with mass market appeal — that’s Dianping. The company’s mobile app recently surpassed 150 million users and the company reached 130 million active users for Q’2 2014, 86% growth Y/Y. Users primarily use it to find restaurants, bars, and group discounts — and while less popular with the older crowd, some young people are using it to share location. Want to meet with someone in the immensely complex streets of Beijing? Dianping will provide you with directions to that person.

This is a great example of a social network that brands often overlook, and to their detriment if they have a retail presence. When orienting to new cities or neighborhoods for shopping, Dianping is a go-to solution. Brands must make sure that their stores are listed, or there’s a very real chance they won’t be found or frequented by the younger wealthy set. Additionally, brands can leverage it as a social monitoring tool, as there’s a very popular rating and comment section like Yelp. Brands can also extend offers and host special promotions on Dianping, though this is mostly the purview of smaller brands, as well as bars and restaurants.

Meilishuo

Formerly a poor man’s Pinterest clone, Meilishuo has emerged as one of the leading lights of the social commerce revolution in China. A tiled, curator based platform that often draws from Korean influencers, this is a rising platform that drives substantial engagement with Chinese female consumers between 16-30. In fact, the company now purports to see 4.5 million daily active users with 50,000 new pictures added every 24 hours, repinned 1.5 million times.

Merging the best of Etsy and eBay — with a feminine touch — Meilishuo aggregates reseller (or “daigou”) stores. Enterprising users apply for a store and build significant businesses, often inspired by Western brand aesthetics. For brands in the beauty, cosmetic, fast-fashion, or general mid-market, Meilishuo is an incredible platform for creating awareness among rising consumers. Additionally, it can be a powerful social listening tool, as store owners trying to drive sales often reference influential brands that they’ve been inspired by. It’s also highly mobile — about half of their daily active users are app users.

Nice

China’s Instagram, Nice is a mobile-based social network focused on image sharing and trending tags with 3.2 million fans on Weibo. For the label-conscious Chinese consumer, tagging their favorite brands is much more than simply an interest; it’s a way of life that produces a tremendous amount of content. And the platform is built to accommodate this — wearing Helmut Lang pants, a Proenza Schouler handbag, a Kenzo shirt, and a Cartier watch? Tagging multiple brands in a single image is simple.

Fashion-minded consumers then comb through the thousands of images by brand tag, searching for the next great trend. While brands can’t directly take control of their page on Nice, they can submit a their own tagged content — a tactic used by Nike, for example — and can also engage “key opinion leaders” (i.e. Chinese influencers) to do the same. Additionally, as with most of these channels, Nice can provide a critical additional dataset through which to understand a brand’s “equity” with the Chinese consumer.

Conclusion
In many ways, the popularity of these channels — and brands’ general failure to engage on them – is symptomatic of the larger trend: Western brands in China have struggled to navigate the massive, evolving market. In response, many have limited or curtailed new areas of investment, hoping instead to realize more predictable, if marginal benefits in more familiar territory.

This is a critical mistake — as brands look to optimize marketing investment, moving outside of the oversaturated channels can provide material scale with superior impact and efficiency. There are 1.4 billion people in China, supporting a gigantic emergent middle class of conspicuous consumers. As brands consider social media and content marketing, they would be best served to seek where these consumers congregate off the main well-trodden boulevards — and build marketing strategies that reach them.

Brian Buchwald is the CEO and co-founder of Bomoda Group, a media and business intelligence company based in New York and Shanghai. Joshua Neckes is the chief revenue officer at Bomoda Group.