A social media harvest

A screenshot of Hua Yuan, a Chinese social networking application

All across China netizens are sneaking vegetables from their neighbours!

Hua Yuan 花园, or Garden, is the social networking application of the moment that has members of Xiaonei and Kaixin hooked. The premise of Hua Yuan is simple: grow and protect vegetables and flowers in your own virtual farm and earn virtual fame and fortune along the way.

In Level 1 players are given carrot seeds and 12 hours to harvest them. At Level 10 and 72 hours later roses may bloom. Make it up to Level 15 and contenders can buy and harvest whatever whatever they fancy. The fun really kicks into overdrive as players are notified when friends’ plants are ready for the ripe picking. Then it’s a case of first come, first served, as the thieves descend and plunder unguarded patches. The more plants players steal, the more virtual coin they make and one day they may even afford a permanent bouncer to ward off possible vegetable bandits. Meanwhile, punters seeking fame over fortune might improve their popularity ranking by recruiting others to help grow and protect their virtual farm.

In short, Hua Yuan is a simple, addictive and effective way to punctuate the working day with a little online social interaction and entertainment. And its popularity speaks for itself. According to Chinese social network tracker AppLeap this cute little game is the most popular application in China with over 10 million devotees, and growing bigger everyday.

Of course, social networks are nothing new in China and the relative maturity of QQ, for instance, has paved the way for marketers to participate in social networks.  Creating activities that resonate with busy office workers, as one audience example, can elevate brand awareness where it matters … and it won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Zheng Che Wei 争车位

For instance, this popular car application, Zheng Che Wei at Kaixin, encourages netizens to collect, modify and show off virtual versions of real cars, with real specifications. Players can race their hatchback against a mate in his high performance dream machine. Auto brands can re-skin their respective car makes and render them more desirable to car loving netizens.

Discussion forums (or BBS, a.k.a. Bulletin Board Systems) within social networks offer a level of engagement that only social media can facilitate. They are a terrific means to host conversations and to be part of it. Creating a profile simultaneously personalises a brand and engages real people in real dialogue. Plus it’s great to call people friends instead of consumers.

Social network members like casting ballots and will often survey the wider network about whatever has their attention. This is a great feature to test the waters or simply obtain a dipstick insight into what netizens are thinking about.

Of course these are just tip-of-the-iceberg ideas any marketer can execute; and marketers need to participate social networks. Because as long as netizens’ attention is captured inside a social network it is unlikely they will notice your ad campaign elsewhere. Moreover, the chances of attracting them to a website somewhere else are slim to nothing. Which is why it is important to hangout in netizens’ preferred playgrounds, hobby farms or whatever the case may be.

Now excuse me while I go and pilfer my neighbour’s beans.