What I Learned Interning at Social@Ogilvy Beijing, China

When I first joined Social@Ogilvy Beijing I thought: “Social media marketing must be easy! Anyone can understand Facebook!” I already knew about social media marketing and the important monitoring tools from studying at home in Switzerland. However, I soon discovered that Chinese social media is completely different and everything I’d learned had to be adjusted to the Chinese market.

So to share my newfound knowledge, here are the main takeaways from my experience onboard the Beijing Pirate Ship:

  • Localize. To reach Chinese netizens use local platforms. Forget Facebook and Twitter and focus on Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, and WeChat. China’s social media networks are not only popular among the public but offer many great features for users and marketers.

  • Chinese Only! Most social media sites in China are only available in Chinese. If you want to communicate with Chinese consumers, you have to speak their language! English may be the global lingua franca, but Chinese consumers won’t usually pay attention to English ads or social media platforms. Consequently, I was surprised how many international brands still don’t provide websites in Chinese.

*This is what happens when you register on the mobile English version of Sina Weibo

  • Social News: Social media is a fun way to interact with friends, but it’s also a popular platform for sharing news. Important topics like food security, pollution or corruption create serious buzz on social media. For example, recent issues on the safety of baby milk powder in China have created widespread conversations on Sina Weibo.

  • Crisis Control: Social media can sometimes create crises, but it also plays an important role in managing them! For example, when McDonald’s was accused of poor hygiene by CCTV they responded within minutes on Sina Weibo. This resulted in 18,000 shares – many in support of the brand. What could have been a catastrophe for McDonald’s became an incredible opportunity to enhance loyalty with netizens.
  • KOLs Rule: Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are the key to succeed on Chinese social media. They play an important role in spreading information and leading public opinion because Chinese users trust and follow them. In fact, Chinese consumers rely more on the opinions of KOLs and friends than they do on brand advertising. For some good insights on how brands can use KOLs to engage with consumers, I suggest reading “let Online Key Opinion Leaders Develop Your Brand”[1].
  • Showing Off: China has the most active social media population in the world according to McKinney’s Report. From news updates, product recommendations and jokes to simple events in daily life, everything is posted on Chinese social media. Chinese users also spend an incredible amount of time on social media. The same report revealed that Chinese consumers spend 47min. per day on social media, compared to only 36 in the United States. This may be because social media is a central communication platform, but it also may be due to Chinese cultural characteristics like “Shai” (showing off). Which platform could be better for “showing off” than social media?
  • Social media never sleeps! Social media moves fast and requires 24/7 attention. If Chinese users are active on social media, they expect the same from brands. Leave your account unwatched for a few hours and you may find yourself in the middle of a crisis you didn’t expect.

Social media now plays a central role in the daily life of most Chinese people. This trend is predicted to grow in the future thanks to the spread of smartphones and 3G, which make social media accessible to everyone, everywhere at any time. Working for Social@Ogilvy taught me to be flexible, act fast, deal with unique problems and work independently. It also meant taking part in one of China’s most promising and exciting industries.