The truth about Social Networks in China!

May China’s social media agencies have lied to you?

Social media agencies had tried to sell free visibility since social web accession and since consumers are more or less taking power.

In the same way, social media agencies have, for a very long time, tried to make marketers and decision makers believe that thanks to the increasing power of blogs and social networks (Weibo, WeChat etc.) in China, it was possible to have more fans or obtain free visibility, and even more purchases on e-commerce websites.

It started with Renren, proclaimed as the Chinese Facebook, and then Kaixin, Weibo and now WeChat…

Brands have invested, invested, changed from one platform to another, starting at zero again…


This required a huge amount of work and investments to promote, create posts constantly, answer the web users’ questions, grant more and more discounts…

The problem of fake fans

All people who work on social media know this phenomenon: fake fans.


Agencies, advertisers… everybody. But nobody does anything.

 What to say? 

  1. Today, it is easy to buy millions of fans on Weibo
  2. Marketers are very pleased to fill their lack of boldness and creativity by a cloud of figures.
  3. Agencies are constantly competing for quantity… it is easier (and more profitable) to attract fake fans.
  4. Today, even without buying fake fans, they come to brands’ and celebrities’ accounts by themselves.
  5. However, Chinese user is less and less fooled.

Indeed, Chinese users know that brands buy fake fans, thus they don’t look at the number of followers anymore; they look at interactivity of accounts, the number of real followers.

Ex: You have millions of fans but only 3 comments on Weibo = 90% of fake fans.

Ex: You have 100 000 fans and 30 comments and retweets per post on Weibo = 90% of real fans, Chinese users will follow you because they will think that your account is interesting.


“Natural” visibility on Weibo does not exist anymore!

Free visibility on WeChat has never really existed!

However, this year, marketers notice that natural visibility on Weibo does not exist anymore (or almost).

Marketers are realizing that all these actions were completely useless and that they have to start at zero again on WeChat.

Many people don’t know what to do now.

Viral videos – in other words, low-budget humorous videos with the intention of generate buzz – launched on Youku were sometimes useful but now brands will have to pay because of the recent acquisition of Youku by Alibaba.

What happens on social media in China?


The rules of the game change and will continue to change; Chinese web is constantly evolving.

Chinese web users can now share brands’ content only if it arouses their interest, if they want to, and they do it more and more from their mobile phones.

Social networks all crave for profitability

The main social web actors, Weibo in China for example, try to make money by selling the access, and don’t allow marketers to use them without charge anymore.

In Chinese societies’ mind: “Money first”; users will go second; brands are a source of profit.



Some facts!

Do you know that Weibo requests 1000€ registration fees for brands without structure in China?

WeChat is not better: if a brand has a certain number of fans, WeChat asks the brand to pay for a monthly subscription. If the brand wants to send messages to its fans, that’s 10 cents per message, the same as a SMS.

Are that profitable operations?

No (in most cases), social networks try to make money from brands without thinking about web users’ and advertisers’ interest.

Today, WeChat tries to enter the e-commerce world and is setting up a platform which allows to buy via WeChat and allows brands to have a store (like Tmall). (source)

This may be a revolution…

Content does not necessarily provide Return On Investment on Chinese social networks!

You were shown that content was important for users? Yes, but the scope on social networks is minimal.

The average scope of organic content published on brands’ pages on WeChat has decreased dramatically since

Organic content published on brand pages has been becoming less and less useful since they gathered in June 2013 commercial content in a tab which no one looks at.June 2013

Some brands (Coca-Cola for example) raised (thanks to big advertising campaigns) more than 500 000 followers, and now 1% of people can see publications (like Facebook).


So, WeChat is not a magic platform to promote one’s brand!

The world of social web is tightening because of big societies takeovers.

Alibaba =>Taobao/Tmall=> Weibo=> Youku/toudu
Tencent=>QQ=>Wechat=>Tencent pay
Baidu=> Baidu forums=> Baidu Shopping=> Qunar…

Today, because of government restrictions, micro-blogging websites and social networks can’t be polemical and informative; otherwise they are subject to censorship and repression.

“Fans” of brands

“A consumer who is fan of a brand”: it exists but it is very rare. You can be fan of Apple’s products and values but hardly of a SME.

Having fans requires a general policy and a very relevant strategy that aims to reach communities.

Having millions of fans flatters leaders’ and marketers’ ego.


The concept of having millions of fans allows giving marketers desire but a real community is composed of people around strong and real values! You become fan or ambassador of a brand because you really like this brand, its concept, its vision.

The marketing level in China is quite low because it is a new discipline, and Chinese marketers have generally limited experience.

Most of marketers in China don’t even know original values of the brand for which they work!!!

Then, the values of western brands are not systematically adaptable to China.

That is why it is difficult for brands to succeed in integrating and federating a community.

Gathering a community and making simple buyers become ambassadors takes time and requires a huge amount of work.

Having fake fans is much quicker and much cheaper.

The impact of brands’ accounts

Reproducing your website on Weibo does not mean that consumers will necessarily trust you. A very small number of web users consider information they find on the web as credible. For them, it’s the opinion of KOL and friends which is important.

Find new customers on social web

A great myth: I want to do business on social networks but how? By attracting traffic via social networks. It is extremely difficult..only a few brands can do it.


Your “fans” are already your clients and are waiting for something in return. They have been generally attracted to a promotional offer or something like that: Chinese always look for promotional offers.

Creating a mobile application has generally little impact on web users.

Which is the right social strategy to adopt in China?

I have been asking myself for more than a year: which strategy a brand should adopt on social networks?


Social networks and web 2.0 have deeply changed digital marketing, as now consumers become actors and can react positively or negatively.

Social media are used by most of people. Which is the interest for a brand to communicate towards its customers and potential customers?

The aim of Marketing is to promote products in order to boost sales.

How to arouse fans’ interest, how to make them become brand ambassadors?

Here are the questions you must ask yourself.

Having real values, communicating, acting according to these values.

A real value for a brand: its real community, the number of fans who speak positively about the brands’ products to their entourage. It is interesting for a brand tomaintain a coherence.

For example, a brand which offers organic products should communicate about environmental protection; a brand which offers sport clothing should communicate about sport values and so on.


Placing the customer at the heart of one’s strategy

How? By storytelling, rewarding consumers who support your brand and write positive comments, taking account of negative comments to improve, meeting one’s customers, trying to listen to them.

You need to study, raise good information, then elaborate a strategy, execute, measure results.

It is important to focus on quality instead of quantity this means building a deep and stable relationship with a small number of “fans” on social networks rather than seeking a larger number.

Real and useful content for users

Firstly, it is necessary to stop thinking that content, application, products, services of a brand is interesting for Chinese web users. You target a community, you must share content which is interesting for your community.


Today, content must be original and qualified. A consumer will visit tens of Weibo pages per week, navigate on twenty of websites, and you must be in the top 5 if you want them to keep you in mind.

You have to focus on quality rather than quantity, that means creating qualified content and diffuse it everywhere.

Maintain control over one’s platform

It is very important to maintain control over one’s platform.  Weibo/WeChat are essential tools, they are useful to diffuse your information.

Your website, your blog and your platform must be at the heart of your content in order to engage the consumer. Thus, you will be able to control visits, engage visitors and recover contacts to build a database and use it to remind your customers that you exist.

O2O relationship!

Concerning digital in China, it is important to understand that real world is linked to virtual world and vice versa. So, you can engage web users by meeting them and engage customers by connecting them to your community.


Here is the main interest of events: thanks to calling cards or social networks, you can keep someone who has really met you in touch.

If a Chinese consumer wants to buy a product from a brand and notices that thousands of people realized the same action and are satisfied with the results, he will trust this brand.

Social networks are useful to make customers loyal and sensitize

But they are not useful to sell directly. It is important to keep these objectives in mind.


If you would like to consult us to adopt a strategy on social networks, visit our agency website and contact us if you have a project.


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