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Don't Let Social Media Scare You Away!

  |  March 4, 2013   |  Comments   |  

Let me explain the differences between Weibo and WeChat from a marketer's perspective.

We have been in 2013 for two months and I'm hearing a lot of buzz from China brand advertisers. The following definitely made it to the top of the list:

  • WeChat over Weibo?
  • Big data!
  • Precise targeting and ad exchanges

I have shared some of my thoughts on ad exchanges so let me focus on the social bit this time and data next time.

Social media: it is huge in China as well as in the rest of the world. It'>s not new that consumers always care about word of mouth and peer testimonials or reviews. In generations and centuries, people have exchanged their opinions before making much purchase decisions. Nowadays, with the help of technologies, all conversations become easier and more transparent so your friends' opinions are no more the only source you are collecting before you begin to trust a brand.

When marketers come to ask me for a social strategy recommendation, the debate is always focused on whether they should have a presence on Weibo or WeChat, and if they should terminate their operations on other social networking sites like Sina Blog or RenRen.com, etc. I can't help but drive the conversation back to another more important question:

What Is Your Content Strategy?

This question is elaborated to a process like the series of questions below:

  1. What is your brand offering to customers?
  2. How is your brand/product differentiated from other competitors and/or beneficial to consumers?
  3. Is that what you want the consumers to know about your uniqueness and differentiation?
  4. Are you trying to convince consumers to buy your products because they feel your brand or products are helping them? Or just that they like your brand but nothing else?
  5. What is your message to consumers?

If you have answers to the above, which I strongly believe you should, you have no problem building a content strategy.

Your next step? Develop a distribution plan based on your content strategy. Social media is a means of communication and pool of conversations, where users are meant to share and open their thoughts or opinions to others. Different social media platforms have a different role to play. It isn't difficult at all.

Unfortunately, I have met too many marketers getting obsessed with the word "social" and ignoring what is more important to consumers and to the brands. It's not about following (or even chasing) consumers where they are or which social networks they are on, but understanding why they are doing what they are doing, and how they are doing it. It sounds annoyingly troublesome but let me give you an example here.

I am sure you are aware of Tencent's WeChat by now, and you must have also heard a rumor that users are shifting their stickiness from Sina Weibo to WeChat. Lots of marketers are immediately thinking of placing their brands on this territory, again chasing the "where" before understanding the "why" and "how."

Before making any decision to invest a brand presence on WeChat, please investigate and study more on the difference between Weibo and WeChat platforms. Start by asking a lot of questions:

  • Why are users getting on WeChat?
  • What is their main purpose or activity on WeChat?
  • How is this platform or tool changing the user behavior?
  • Does user behavior change because of users themselves, or because of the tool?
  • How is this platform or tool different from others?

I wouldn't be able to give you all the answers to the above. It has to tailor to your own audience group or potential customers. However, I can shed some light on general differences between Weibo and WeChat.

Weibo Is an Open Platform (Keyword: Content Push)

From a brand perspective, you are distributing whatever content you feel is relevant for your target customers. It's something that your audience feels is useful and worth spending time reading or digesting. You may not hear from them right away, but if you wish to trigger some feedback or response, some simple sweepstakes are in the plan. Imagine if any customer is writing negative feedback toward your brand; it is also open to the public so your brand response has to be intelligent to ensure it does not backfire.

WeChat Is More of a Closed Network (Keyword: Conversations)

Remember how you used to have a text conversation with your friend via SMS? Now we put them all into one consolidated and free-of-charge platform. Of course the current WeChat provides more than just one-to-one and group chats but also has text/image sharing features available as a content push to your friends. This is a much more intimate relationship as conversations are two-way and personal. You do not get to see any third-party conversation.

Again from a brand perspective, if a user wants to connect with the brand and initiates a conversation, it comes from more than just sharing their thoughts or love toward the brand. It must be something requiring the brand to address immediately or follow up on. Therefore, brand marketers need to ensure this is beyond a marketing communication tool but also a brand customer service platform. You do not want to frustrate your customers by leaving an impression of ignorance. If you do not have sufficient resources to answer the user requests, think twice before you open a brand space there. Another opportunity to use WeChat is to leverage the benefit of exclusivity. Users need to become your brand's friends in order to receive some sort of privileged information or benefits and therefore feel more connected and engaged with their "beloved" brands.

So - what do you think?

Both Weibo and WeChat play a different role when communicating with your brand audience and they are not in conflict with each other at all. You can have your brand exposure in both platforms with clearly defined roles and objectives in the beginning. It goes back to your brand and product offer and whether you have a well-thought-out content and communication plan. Perhaps your Weibo platform is meant for product education while your WeChat forms an existing user club where testimonials and experiences are shared? It is completely up to you.

Social media is simply some of the distribution channels/platforms to make your messages visualized. Do not let the big words or big trends scare you away. Think about your brand and products and more importantly - your customers. What do they want? What will help them? What will be worth their time and effort to connect with us? Where and how will your consumers feel the best to engage?

Until next time.

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Karen  Ho

Karen Ho is the head of MEC Interaction China. Karen is charged with leading MEC Interaction, MEC's digital, social, and direct specialism. Karen graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1999. She began her career with online media owner, Real Media Limited, in Hong Kong in 2000, where she managed website and business partnerships. Her digital planning career took off at Tom.com and in 2006 Karen moved to Shanghai to lead media strategy and innovations at Isobar-linked company, wwwins Consulting, working on clients such as Coca Cola and Xintiandi. In 2008, Karen returned to Beijing where she was digital director, planning and ad ops/analytics for OMD. There she built and managed media teams for clients such as Intel, GE, and Apple and started the first ever ad operations and analytics department for OMG. Karen has deep knowledge of CRM, media planning, and strategy, and a wide experience of ad serving, social, and other digital tools.

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