Behind the Firewall: Social Media in China

Social Media China

After recently attending a presentation by James Neal from Isentia thanks to Brand South Australia, we were impressed by the numbers, the case studies, the different social media channels, and the opportunities that they present to modern-day social media marketers.  Given that the Chinese digital economy is worth some $1 trillion USD, we felt compelled to share with you some of the interesting things we learned on the day, along with some that we’ve researched as a follow-up.


Social Media in China

Social media in China has long been an interesting area for marketers.  The PRC government have always made efforts to control the Internet for it’s Netizens, however this censorship of foreign social media websites such has Facebook and YouTube has resulted in a homegrown social media ecosystem in which local properties such as Weibo, WeChat and Baidu can thrive.  So let’s go through these platforms in a bit more detail…




Owned by Internet company Tencent and released in 2011, WeChat is an instant messaging app that has over 800 million active monthly users, and 570 million of these login once per day.  More than a third of the time spent by Chinese on mobile is on WeChat, and 90% of the platform’s users are under 36 years old!  It’s now to the point that many young Chinese people no longer exchange phone numbers, but instead connect on WeChat.

What sets this social media powerhouse apart is the apps that are available within the app.  For example, WeChat Pay allows users to use the app to pay bills, order goods and services, send money to other users, and pay for goods in stores.  Some street vendors have even gone cashless!  Instead allowing users to scan a QR code and pay via WeChat:

There’s also WeChat City Services which allows Netizens to do useful things like booking doctor appointments, hailing a taxi, reporting an incident to the police, viewing live traffic camera feeds, and more.

From a business perspective, businesses can have an official account.  Everyday WeChat users can add these official accounts, and the official accounts can then send text, images, video, audio or links to these users – who receive a notification for every update.  Users also have the ability to send things back to the official accounts, which opens up a new realm of possibilities for campaigns that can involve the input of customers.



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Weibo, or Sina Weibo, is a microblogging website that limits posts to 140 characters, similar to the Twitter of the western world.  Weibo was launched in 2009 and currently has 368 million active monthly users.  85% of users access Weibo on a mobile device. and the majority of users are well-educated, with over 70% having a higher education.

Interestingly there are 1.2 million users within Australia, and it is believed that you can reach 90% of Chinese people living in Australia through Weibo.

According to Wang Yajuan (Weibo’s vice president of marketing), the Weibo’s top industry sectors include consumer products, automobiles, and financial services.  Weibo utilises the Fen Si Tong (translates to “The Fan’s Connection”) as it’s advertising platform that businesses can use to reach the network.

However, getting a business account on Weibo is a little tricky – you must submit a copy of your business license and a completed application to Weibo itself, who will then go over the application and verify your business.  From there you’ll still need to contact them to setup the back-end for you.  But it’s worth it – three-quarters of users don’t mind seeing adverts, and more than half may click on popular ads.


Tips for using Social Media in China

If you’re trying to use WeChat or Weibo to market your brand, product or service into the Chinese market, we have the following tips and recommendations for you:

Understanding your Market

The Chinese are different to the rest of the world.  Think about their aspirations in life, and what motivates them.  Think about what you want them to do as a part of your social media strategy.  Is it to purchase online, or to engage?  Make sure you measure what matters to your business.


The power of the Influencer

Using Chinese influencers to reach your target market can have incredibly powerful affects.  A great example of this was “Bobbie the Bear“.  Bridestow Lavender Farm’s iconic bear was originally created as a solution to the excess of dried lavender the farm had.  But when Bobbie featured in a social media post from Chinese model Zhang Xinyu, and demand for the bear grew tremendously, to a point where demand outstripped supply by 10 to 1. Read more on the ABC News website:  Chinese model Zhang Xinyu makes Tasmanian lavender bears an international smash hit.


To translate or not

If you are going to market a particular product to the Chinese market, think about how it translates into the local lingo.  Simply using Google Translate is not enough, as often the translation doesn’t quite make sense.  If you are serious about marketing into the PRC, engage a translator to assist in the planning stages of your marketing.  If only Apple had done this with their iPhone 7 launch – their slogan of “This is 7” loosely translated in Hong Kong to “This is P*nis”.  Oops!



This shouldn’t be something that we have to remind you of, but you must think mobile-first with any online strategy.  Your website simply must be mobile-friendly, particularly so when marketing to people within the PRC, where 90% of Netizens use mobile as their primary source of the Internet, and 20% use mobile exclusively.


Highlight Australian-made

Ensure that you make a point of highlighting that your products are Australian-made.  Australian products are well-received by the Chinese middle class as they are associated with quality and authenticity.  The Chinese also perceive our environment to be clean and green.  Nothing demonstrates how far this is actually the case than through the opportunistic Aussie entrepreneurs who are selling cans of Australian air to China!


Balance Opportunity with Capability

And finally – we loved this tip from James at Isentia – please balance all of this opportunity with capability.  As with any social media platform, only be on what you can adequately resource, measure, and maintain – otherwise there is no point!


We hope you found these statistics and insights as interesting as we did!  Let us know in the comments if you’re using or have used either WeChat or Weibo before and how it’s working for you.

If you’d like help with a social media strategy for your business, please just give us a call.   We like to start with coffee!


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Simone Douglas

Simone is co-founder and Senior Principal Solutions Architect of Digital Marketing AOK. Simone offers over 17 years in corporate management roles encompassing generalist HR recruitment and development of small to large teams across multiple sites, industry sectors and states. Experienced in a variety of social media platforms and their complimentary applications, social media strategy, risk management, disaster recovery and associated HR policies and processes.