Discovering Social Media in China

There is a popular saying in politics that all politics are local; and in China the same can be said about the Internet. Local players, in tune to the specific needs of the country’s “Netizens”, rule the digital space, and the numbers are staggering. Currently, the Internet in China is home to over 340 million users who are online for an average of 16 hours per week, the same amount of time they spend watching television. There are 111 million people managing a social network profile, and these numbers are growing daily. The power of the Internet in China has never been stronger and has not even begun to be realised.

It is no secret that the Internet in China has been an agent for reform, and it is serving as a valuable tool for people to explore a world often beyond their reach. The Internet is not only serving China’s growing set of Netizens though. It is quickly replacing traditional media as brands and companies seek to connect with their consumers in new and different ways. With the exception of Google, international platforms that offer a cut and paste version of their American or European sites simply fail and often get banned. Popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter have fallen victim to the Great Firewall of China. While young innovative Chinese Netizens can find a way to get to these sites, why would they want to? Chinese social media is simply way cooler.

The Internet in China is dominated by long-running, multi-service portals like Sina, QQ and Sohu that have been offering social networking, discussion forums, blogs, instant messaging and other “socialised media” long before Twitter and Facebook. As the nationally preferred form of social media, bulletin board systems (BBS) are available in every imaginable topic, and in these forums, Netizens can be extremely vocal, resourceful, risk-takers, subversive and sometimes a little worrisome.

However, for the most part Netizens are simply seeking entertainment and escape. The bulk of internet users in China, young white collar urban Chinese, are informed, intelligent and generally optimistic about the future. This state of mind is exemplified by one of the hottest games at Kaixin called Parking Wars. Players earn virtual mullah for parking in their friends’ spaces and issuing parking infringements if they catch their friends parking on their home turf, with more money earning you shinier wheels. It is simply addictive and unrivalled by anything on Facebook.

Netizens love the collective and escapist nature of the Internet where avatars have become a nationwide obsession and are carefully designed as a form of self expression and extension of personality.  QQ offers avatar clothing and hairstyles for 1-5 RMB apiece. Many friends are made only in avatar form online, with Netizens never actually meeting face to face.

With no hesitation about inundating friends with requests to play this game, read that blog, join in this conversation or watch that video, the Internet and social media are no less than a national addiction. This addiction, and fast growing channel, has become the opportunity and challenge for companies and brands. The question everyone is asking is how to get started?

The first movers among companies and brands in leveraging the Internet to reach their customers know that a true digital brand experience requires creativity, authenticity and originality.

Chile

The government of Chile in promoting Chilean wine in China understood this. With limited funding and an ambitious agenda, ProChile, the Chilean government body responsible for the promotion of Chile and Chilean Wine, found gold with their online campaign.

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China’s rapidly growing wine industry is full of both opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity rests among China’s rapidly growing wine connoisseurs, who seek new and different types of wine. The challenge was that Chinese consumers often default to French wine and high prices, focusing on the status achieved by the association of consuming French wine.

What Chinese consumers didn’t know was that Chile has affordable and high quality wines. The Chilean government wanted to reach out to Chinese wine consumers and help them understand that there was more to choosing wine than just comparing price tags.

The primary objective of the campaign was to increase Chilean wine sales in China. Beyond that, ProChile wanted to promote Chile to create a stronger brand presence for Chilean wine. The result, after only three months conducting a multi-phased digital campaign, was that Chilean wine moved up in the rankings of wine exporters into China.

Background

Wine is one of the fastest growing alcoholic drinks in China among a defined target audience of young (25-35 years old) urban professionals. However, after conducting research, young urban professions were often embarrassed to order or purchase wine because of a lack of understanding about the product. At the same time this group of people fell in the demographic of heavy Internet users. They were the foundation of China’s flourishing social media scene. These consumers were found to often look to bloggers for advice and viewed the internet as an instrument for self study and a place to share knowledge and recommendations.

Hence, it was obvious that online education and social media engagement should serve as the cornerstone of a campaign to build awareness, trial and preference for Chilean wine.

Strategy

Seeking to empower consumers with knowledge and confidence, the campaigned focused on arming netizens with the tools to buy or order wine. To create a bigger brand presence, images were used and information disseminated about Chile as a constant backdrop to everything undertaken.

A three-phase campaign roll-out was launched:

Phase 1: “I love wine.” During this phase every Netizen was invited to learn about wine appreciation, appealing to all current and would be wine drinkers.

Phase 2: “I love Chilean wine.” Focusing on the specific advantages of wine from Chile, the second-phase of the campaign encouraged people to convert to Chilean wine. Here, the campaign highlighted the affordability, taste quality and sustainability practices that set Chilean wine apart from the wines of other countries. In the process, we introduced netizens to the different regions of Chile, furthering education.

Phase 3: “I love Chile.” With a solid understanding of Chile, through Chilean wine, the door was open to introduce Chinese consumers to other products produced by Chile – fruit, salmon, urban transportation and tourism.

The main channel to begin discussion of Chilean wine was to leverage the blogosphere and make this viral. To begin with, the campaign involved collaboration with four influential bloggers asking them to stage a competition. Each week over four weeks the bloggers were sent a bottle of Chilean wine, together with information and facts about Chile.

The thrust of the blogger involvement centered on getting them interested in writing about the wine in their blogs in their own personal style. The blogger’s posts were aggregated at a site developed for the campaign, zhiliwine.com. This allowed us to create a lasting and permanent record of the event. Throughout the campaign over 70,000 netizens voted for their favorite articles, with many bottles of Chilean wine offered as give-aways for the competition. Blog posts were featured on the front pages of some of the biggest portals.

A broad social media footprint is important for every brand, and marketers need to take their message to the places where netizens are already investing their time and trust online. To extend the campaign message, popular social media was leveraged with content continually added to encourage debate and to help establish a community where netizens were able to discuss wine. Specifically:

Kaixin – Chinese social network site where wine fans could come together and share wine drinking tips.
Youku – Chinese video sharing site (like Youtube) where content was produced specifically about Chilean wine and this was uploaded for all to view.
Flickr – Furnished numerous photos of Chilean wine, landscapes and other activities by ProChile in China.
• BBS forums – Seeded information in more than 50 relevant BBS forums to encourage interest.

The campaign empowered Chinese consumers to drink wine with ease, and impress their friends and business associates with “Webisodes” (short videos), created specifically for online video sharing networks as a tool for self-study. Through the webisodes the campaign delivered simple tips such as how to open a wine bottle, how to taste wine with confidence, and how to pair wine with Chinese food.

In addition to the online outreach, a comprehensive Interactive e-book in cooperation with Chilean wine companies in China was created, and the Chilean wine companies provided content and incorporated the e-book into their own marketing strategies.

Beyond social media, the campaign involved working with editors and producers of major portals to promote the campaign vehicles: the e-book, the videos and the blogger competition. It was important to reach out to editors of the more traditional online media so that the campaign reached people who do not use social media heavily, but who regularly read major Chinese websites such as Sina and Sohu.

After only three months, the greatest achievement was seeing Chilean wine climb from the fifth to the fourth largest exporter of wine to China, according to the Commissioner General of ProChile in China.

Like the country itself, social media in China is fast paced, constantly changing and growing faster than anywhere else in the world. For brands looking to get on China’s digital highway, seatbelts, a GPS and a little sense of adventure are a necessity. There is no more rewarding or amazing place to do social media.

Michael Darragh is Digital Strategic Planner at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide / Shanghai and producer of World Expo Blog.