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Lessons for Western marketers from Chinese social media giants

Chinese social media platforms are not Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube. The social media platforms we are familiar with are blocked in China. It’s not a secret that China uses their own domestic social media platforms instead. Despite this, are there user behaviors in the East that marketers can learn from in the West?

One integrated app for everything

WeChat is your social media app on steroids. At first glance, it unites the functionality of Whatsapp, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook. It has your usual features like instant messaging, video calls, and ephemeral stories – which it calls Moments. But it goes a step further by allowing Chinese users to do a vast array of actions unique to the market – from ordering and paying for a meal at a restaurant to calling a taxi to booking a doctor’s appointment. In short, WeChat is so much more than a social media app. It’s Messenger, Uber, Amazon, and JustEat packed into one solution.

Through third-party integration, WeChat was able to achieve more than its western counterparts. The most important word here is “integration.” There’s an obvious trend among its users that favors convenience. The versatility of the app allows users to hail a taxi, order and pay at a restaurant, buy a movie ticket or snack, pay at a street food vendor, chat with friends or an employer all in one place without leaving the app. The leading Chinese social media platform even offers an assistant chatbot called WeSecretary to help its users pay bills, book tickets, and manage other administrative tasks.

The apps in the West aren’t that far off. Facebook is set to offer users a full in-app experience, meaning that the tools are there for marketers that want to leverage this trend. From developing content that keeps users inside the platform, to solving customer queries in messenger using bots, to creating leads within Facebook, marketers can create a strategy that’s focused on the user experience.

Flawless integration of mobile payments

To make “one app for all” experience truly possible, you need a flawlessly integrated mobile social payments system.

Alibaba was a pioneer in mobile payments in China and practically owned the market until 2014 when WeChat came up with a brilliant idea. They introduced Red Packets, a completely unique feature that combined the elements of social networking and gaming. It got users into the habit of sending money electronically.

It allows Chinese social media users to send Packets with a predetermined amount of money, either to each other or in groups. They can also send a Packet to a group hat in randomized amounts. For example, put $3 in an envelope and select that the first person to open an envelope will get $2, another only $1, or set up a random cut. Options are endless.

Chinese users not only send money to each other but make the majority of their digital payments via mobile – credit cards never quite took off in China. The sums can be quite big-starting from utility bills or expensive restaurant meals- or minuscule, for example, a payment for street food, or a micropayment to a favorite Live streamer.

Facebook isn’t far behind. In October, it announced a partnership with Paypal to introduce a first of its kind experience in the West. It will let Facebook Messenger users take advantage of payments in-app using their PayPal accounts. It opens a new door for marketers and will challenge the idea that users have to go from mobile to desktop to make a purchase.

Thriving live streaming

Micropayment technology has also facilitated a boom of online paid streaming. After seeing Meerkat’s explosive growth at the start of 2015, Chinese entrepreneurs sought to create live streaming apps of their own. Purely entertainment-oriented social live streaming apps have emerged, such as YY, Yingke, Huyayouxizhibo, and Douyu.

What is social live streaming? It’s a form of mobile front camera streaming done not only by celebrities and influencers but by everyday people from all walks of life. From the perspective of content, it’s a part-time reality TV selfie video, part-time late-night talk show.

If a viewer likes the broadcast, they can send a public question and a digital sticker to grab the attention of a broadcaster. The stickers are not free and their price varies from a few cents to several hundred US dollars; revenue is split between the app store, broadcaster and the platform. Broadcasters often acknowledge senders in real-time by a simple “thank you” note or a quick answer to their question. This system not only fills the pockets of broadcasters, but also gives viewers the joy of recognition and allows them to influence the content of the streams.

The success of live streaming on Chinese social media is self-propelled. Chinese users have been increasingly willing to pay to watch online streaming. It provided an incentive for the growth of more engaging content. Live streaming is China’s hottest trend in mobile self-expression and entertainment. Last year alone the market grew 180%, with top broadcasters making thousands of dollars a month.

Live streaming isn’t a new strategy for western marketers either, but have all brands leveraged the format’s potential? Not quite. While the format has been rewarding to those who tried, and especially news media, not all brands found an effective way to make Live streaming a permanent part of their strategy. It doesn’t have to be hard – with a few right pointers.

Takeaway

Chinese social media is one of the most exciting frontiers for social media marketing – one that points to a bright future. We can be sure that the future is mobile and marketers can already build their strategies with mobile-first thinking. Want to stay ahead of the curve? Start marketing with the future in mind.

Co-written by Ekaterina Zotkova, Social Media Managers, Socialbakers.

Charles Tidswell

Charles Tidswell is the Vice President of JAPAC at Socialbakers and is based in Singapore. For the majority of his professional career, Charles has been involved with early stage start-ups and companies entering the high growth stage across the South East Asia region.
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