A question I come across constantly: “which platform do I choose to run my social media campaign in China?”
It’s a good question without a simple answer.. so in the interest of filling the next few moments of your life with needful complications, lets delve a bit deeper into the logic of “the why” and “the how” of selecting a baseline HQ for your China social media expeditions.
Now I realize while I’ll discuss the “top” social networks of Sina Weibo, Renren and Kaixin001 that there are many other platforms to also consider in addition to these usual suspects.
Data from Techrice.
..And of course the above list leaves out BBS/forums (technically not SNS), which account for a majority of netizen digital destinations.
So keep in mind as I later ramble on as if I knew my ass from my elbow that a few things won’t be included.. but hopefully the article as a whole should provide example of the logic behind selecting the appropriate network or networks (depending on your budget or budgets).. OK? Awesome; onward with our oversimplifications!
Before we get lost in usage statistics, time on site, and overall traffic, let’s digress a bit back to Marketing 101 – back when we didn’t have such stats available, what was the primary question we would ask?
Now I don’t really remember much from college as I was either [a] skipping class or [b] don’t remember, so I’m just going to make up an answer.. something I remember doing a lot.. which actually helped develop my
bullshitting marketing skills to the level they are today. Thanks college!
So before we get to this mysterious question we should ask, let’s drag our collective eyeballs through a few more paragraphs as I agonizingly take my time getting to an actionable point.. here’s a brain teaser to torture yourself with as I twiddle my fingers in glee:
Pretend you are Chinese and only speak Chinese. You go to a bar, there are two women you can drunkly hit on.. do you choose:
- The Chinese girl who also only speaks Chinese.
- The Western girl who only speaks Western.
Now since you’re drunk any would do (college answer), however the logical among us may choose the option most suited to our abilities, background.. and generally the one most likely to respond to whatever we may say to them. This crudely obtuse, somewhat politically incorrect, borderline misogynist ”brain teaser” thankfully allows us to segway to a useful point:
A little like environmental conservation but with a Machiavellian twist. The twist is that it is nothing like environmental conservation.
Environmental conversations is really just another way to emphasize a focus on your target market; ie: traffic, time-on-site, etc is all good, but the only difference larger numbers will make if you only speak Chinese and they only speak Western is measuring the larger amount of people who will ignore you or tell you they already have a boyfriend (based on research conducted last weekend).
The point, pray tell? Simply this: It doesn’t matter which site has more people, how long they stay, how many pages they view.. what matters is which site has more people interested in what you have to say. After that, then all the other stuff matters.. but not before. So simple, yet so complex; a small switch seldom flipped.
Going in Reverse.
So for a few moments lets suspend our knowledge of usage statistics; page views, time on site, etc.. and instead focus on relevant target markets spread across these top China social networks. Worry not my marketing comrades-slash-compatriots, we’re still going to pay great attention to the traditional stats – but only in order of their relevant priority to campaign goals; let’s make these celebrity metrics get in line, just. like. everyone. else.
Additionally, let’s also keep our analysis focused on Renren and Kaixin001 for now, as these two sites are most similar. Then we’ll talk about Sina Weibo and how/why it’s gobbling up the prior two sites faster than you can properly pronounce its name (Weibo sounds closer to “way-bwa”.. not “wee-bow”).
Poor Man’s Guide to Market Research.
Now unfortunately China’s SNS sites either don’t give out stats, lie about their stats, or make their current stats so general they apply to almost anything.. which is sort of like me saying the same thing 3 times. times. times.
So if you’re a mass retail shoe brand vs. a niche feminine luxury brand, general stats (or no stats) don’t really help you decide which platform works best; ie: if you’re a luxury brand selling a high priced product then you’re better off only advertising to only those who can afford your product, vs. to the many that cannot.
“I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted … I just don’t know which half.” -John Wanamaker
What we don’t want to see is “since this network has more people, lets be on that network”. Why? It’s the same reason mass shoe brands sell to masses, and niche luxury brands sell to niches. Targeting baby, targeting.
So assuming all available information is at best “not-exact”, how do we target markets across China social media networks? Here’s an assumption that will save us a lot of time and/or budget: Brands spend a lot of money on branding, advertising, and social media. <– that’s either the most stupidly obvious, or dazzling brilliant thing you’ve read so far today. Which will it be? be? be?
Let’s assume this: in many cases top brands will have spent a good amount previously researching, thoroughly questioning and meticulously testing each China social media channel (theoretically).
Therefore, if we look at where the resulting brands are, and on which channels, that should give us an idea of their costly end conclusion and subsequent spend on the China social network they’ve chosen after, what we’d assume, a period of extensive, expensive research and trial/error learnings.
..And if that is the case a simple audit of which brands are on which networks should show us which networks are best for which brands. The reasoning is circular yes – a sort of chicken vs. egg dilemma, but it works if you’re coming in after the first few waves of brands (or first few waves of chickens), so instead of going in a circle, you’re going in a spiral, just continuing what others have already proven.. theoretically anyway.
So let’s take a quick look at the top brands on Kaixin001 and Renren.
So lets set a few parameters before we pass casual judgment on these social networks.
- First, let’s say that brands are given greater weight by number of followers,
- Second, let’s agree that total number of followers for a brand’s industry determines the composition of the social network in question.
How should we use this data? A poor example: Kaixin001 has more female brands with more followers. These female brands are: Estee Lauder, Dove, Dr. Vichy, L’Oreal, Dior, etc. As these brands have the most followers, we can assume that these brand’s followers make up most of Kaixin001.
Therefore we can say that a majority of Kaixin001′s audience is white collar females, already past college (as these skincare and cosmetics brands tend to target young working women rather than college students), probably income of around 5k-10k (as they need to afford these “luxury” goods) and likely in first tier cities (SH, BJ, GZ) as this is where higher salaries are attainable.
On Renren, we see more young male brands with top follower counts, such as Adidas, Lining, Converse, Nike; conjecture suggests these brands skew toward college students who still have time in their day to play sports, vs the working white collar who’s time is eaten away earning money for themselves or their families.
Therefore, we can guess that on Renren there are more males (or males are more active), general income skews lower than Kaixin001 since these kids are in college, or they are using their parents money, and this potentially applies to a greater demographic of city tiers, spreading into the 2nd, 3rd, and maybe 4th.
Reverse Engineering Channel Profiles.
Now given time and motivation, we could map out several critical decisive conclusions:
- Which SNS has more brands targeting females? Males?
- What are the brand industries (cosmetics, auto, shoes, FMCG, etc) most prevalent on each SNS?
- Do brands on Kaixin target higher or lower income individuals? Renren?
The above are a few questions to roll ’round your brain, and if answered would firmly determine which way a given brand should go. So if it’s so easy, why don’t I just graph it out for you?.. what has sapped my motivation? It’s sort of the same thing that’s sapping Renren and Kaixin001′s traffic and overall membership engagement volume (oh ya.. whose your segway daddy?)
SNS Landlords, Walled Gardens and Sina Weibo.
The easiest way for brands to choose between Kaixin001/Renren and/or Weibo:
- Cost for brands to be on Renren: RMB 600k/year (USD 92k/year)
- Cost for brands to be on Kaixin001: Basic: RMB 100k/quarter (USD 15k/quarter); Superior: RMB 300k/quarter (USD 46k/quarter)
- Cost for brands to be on Sina Weibo: RMB zero/year (USD zero/year)
The above 3 bullets tend to help make decisions quickly. For Renren/Kaixin001, the primary positive of accessing targeted channels is counter-balanced by the heavy disadvantages of high costs just to open brand accounts, and the constant requirement of spending heavily on banner ads to funnel traffic to brand pages; over time this becomes a very expensive proposition as brands may or may not be constantly running promotional campaigns to justify ROI on spend, and generally optimization of this budget allocation requires significant and consistent activity, which is unsustainable for most brand managers.
Enter the Weibo; now suddenly brands have another social network that attracts Chinese of all types, gets them to engaging more than they do on the expensive “traditional” China social network alternatives, and best of all it’s free, allowing greater flexibility, experimentation, and low cost trial/error campaigns.
Why does Weibo work better? My theory is that it reflects the essence of social media which is simply this: quickly, easily find relevant information according to your interests, according to your needs and your social circle with the absolute minimum number of mouse clicks between content.
Renren and Kaixin001 violate this fundamental rule by creating toll booths between members and information. On these SNS you will see information from those with most money.. not those most organically paired with your interests. And as we unfortunately know, the more a brand spends, the more commercial the message becomes (think TV commercials vs. amateur Youtube viral videos; cost of channels determines message commercial/entertainment ratio).
If these SNS continue to follow this “landlord of walled gardens” model they will eventually fail; while they’ve got a head start and have a good piece of the market, other trends suggest competing sites like Sina Weibo moving away from banner advertising and toward open API (similar to Facebook and Twitter) and gearing content and overall site structure to increase the flow of relevant content between member nodes.
On the other side? Well to put it as sophisticated as possible so as not to offend: Renren and Kaixin001 make this golden goose poop out too many golden eggs too early – and a lot of small golden eggs aren’t as valuable as one friggin huge egg down the line.
..And your point was..?
OK, so that metaphor kinda sucked; I’ll sum up by simply saying this: the primary difference between Facebook vs. Renren/Kaixin001 is Facebook is here to change the world by serving people (a statement that’s arguably correct), while Renren and Kaixin001 are here to turn a quick buck and capitalize on an opportunity.
My belief is Sina Weibo follows Facebook’s spirit, and that spirit, like the initial seed from which the mighty oak doth sprung will determine the long term future of each platform.. why? because this is social media, therefore individuals will eventually determine the future solely based on which network can best organically bend the future around those member individuals.
It won’t be determined by who best controls their channels via toll booth banner ads. Rather it will be those that allow their channels the freedom to grow as they wish, and then support that growth with relevant offers organically paired to what that individual wants.
Ya so both situations aren’t ideal as there’s still some commercial selling, but hey there’s an obvious better of the two options. No tooth fairy “perfect world” but still a world that puts individual first and consumer second is one worth pushing for (or writing about in any case).
Now you decide, which way do you want to go? You can go the simpler, costlier way of Renren/Kaixin001, or you can go the economic, more engaging, conversational way of Weibo.. though with Weibo you’ll need to incorporate other channels such as Sina blog, Youku or Tudou as well to get that full “Facebook” effect.
You may try splitting your channels instead across other BBS, or perhaps you’re looking to connect with 3rd tier cities and thus need to try a different set of social networks.
Or perhaps you want to test something easy, or perhaps you want to test something hard. Or perhaps you want to intentionally make something seem very difficult so the person you’re trying to sell will contact you to do it for them. Or how about this.. why don’t you take it easy, send us a brief, and we’ll take care of it for you.. ya, I like that last one the best.. you?[EDIT: 2011.06.07]: There’s a great discussion on Littleredbook’s linkedin group digging deeper into the contents of this article. Give it a read if you have time.