It was a treat to run into Jeremy Webb at our Hong Kong Summit the week before last. He leads strategy for clients out of from our Beijing 360 Digital Influence team and has been designing and executing social media-based programs there for years.
I have been traveling to Asia for the past 5 years and am struck by how fast the social media and digital marketing landscape is changing. The kaleidoscope of social platforms many, arguably, the counterparts Western social networks, have gained subscribers at a terrific rate.
I asked him his POV on a few points to get a clearer picture of what is going on there from a marketing and communications perspective.
Q: What would you say are some of the defining characteristics of the social media world in China today for marketers?
A: Social media in China is Chinese, by which I mean that social media use takes place almost entirely on domestic platforms. Foreign social media platforms are, for the large part, blocked in China and in their place have developed some fantastic equivalents that are providing great opportunities for marketers over here.
"There's lies, there's damned lies, and there's Chinese internet statistics." People are making money on social media in different ways here in China. This, along with various cultural factors, leads to all sorts of crazy dynamics that do not exist in the West and a ton of unreliable numbers. One factor is platforms charging brands for the privilege of having a brand space, which can lead to platforms making spaces look artificially active with fake fans as a way to justify the spend. Individual social media influencers also often expect money in return for communicating a brand message, which has led to a rise in career bloggers that have learned ways to make their content look more successful that it really is.
An important part of our job, therefore, is to see beyond these numbers and find the influencers and influential spaces that can truly generate value for our clients. More and more brands are experimenting with social media for marcom purposes.
Q: For a typical B2C marketer what would be the top three recommendations that you might generally make for them?
A: Listen to what your customers and competitors are saying online. This does not necessarily have to be an expensive automated system, nor does it have to result in a fancy 50-page report. Asking an internal member of staff or an agency employee that understands your business to perform daily checks of the relevant platforms and flag up potential problems or opportunities is a good first step. Of course, investing more in listening posts that can provide quantitative analysis and analysis that can provide recommendations can also pay huge dividends.
You must provide something interesting or useful to your target. For me, creating "something interesting" and sharing it online for free is the only way to make social media work. There is no short cut. This something interesting could be a video, a Weibo feed, a hosted community, an ebook, and so on. The something interesting is the "hook" that will make your target stick around for long enough for you to tell them your message. Luckily most brands have plenty of content, opportunities to create content, and people willing to create content - make the most of them. The chances are that you already have tons of content that your target would love to interact with online - could this be repackaged and activated on one or more social media platforms? You are probably hosting regular events - could the reach of these be extended online?
Finally, your employees are some of your most powerful potential advocates - could you be empowering them or providing them with a platform to better promote your brand? Be very careful when choosing a social media agency partner in China. Ask yourself, how are they able to guarantee a million video views? How are they able to promise 100,000 new fans in 4 months? At best, dodgy tactics that deliver inflated results are a waste of money; at worst, they are a business risk.
Q: Which brand(s) is doing something interesting in social media in China and why?
A: Vancl, an online clothing retailer in China, is a great example. Every aspect of their marketing - their outdoor, their TVCs, their online display ads - all consider and integrate with social media in some way. The copy on bus stop ads, for example, plays on the latest social media memes.
In what was, in my opinion, the biggest social media campaign of 2010 globally (yes, bigger than Old Spice!), Vancl unlocked and inspired the creativity of millions in China with "Vanclize". Riding on the back of an incredibly successful ad campaign - a campaign that featured social media celebrities - the brand willfully ceded control of the message, allowing and encouraging creative young people to create and share their own photoshopped version of the ad, replacing the copy and the celebrity with things that would get their friends excited. The campaign inspired other brands too, leading to a host of copy-cat campaigns over the past year.
Q: Any new technology/platform that excites you?
For the past year I have been saying that Weibo is the second most important social media platform in the world, second only to Facebook. Weibo is best understood as a Chinese cross between Twitter and Tumblr - a supercharged microblog that allows users to share multimedia content and write a lot more. Two players dominate the market, with Weibo platforms operated by Chinese internet giants Sina and Tencent.
Weibo is the "Facebook of China," in my view. Not because of it's functionality (it is more a content-sharing platform than an SNS), but because of its position in society. It is the first platform to be changing online and offline interactions in a similar way to Facebook is doing so in the West. People arrange their nights out on Weibo; they "live tweet" those nights out. Weibo is increasingly setting the agenda of traditional media - many radio DJs often only take questions on Weibo; my journalist friends find their story leads on Weibo. Eavesdrop into any conversation among young people here in Beijing and you will probably overhear the word "Weibo"; this is increasingly the case in smaller cities and among older generations.