CIC CEO Sam Flemming advises marketers how to navigate the dynamic social scape.
CIC unveiled the fifth version of China's social media landscape, which updates marketers on emerging social trends and networks of a country that boasts the world's largest Internet population (564 million).
This year, the chart illustrates that mobile social platforms have become a core network as Tencent's WeChat is fast overtaking Sina Weibo to become the social media darling in the country.
Sam Flemming, CEO and founder from CIC, China's social intelligence firm and WPP's Kantar Media, speaks to ClickZ on how marketers could make sense of the country's dynamic social scape.
Social search and social TV in China
The dependence on Internet word-of-mouth for recommendation is strong in China and there is real interest from consumers for this type of service, Flemming says.
Some examples listed in the chart include global players Siri and Bing as well as local social search start-up Yunyun, founded by former Google execs that merges websites, Q&A, and Weibo results.
For social TV, CSM Media Research (CIC's sister company) reported significant correlation with social buzz and TV ratings.
For example, the volume of buzz around dramas and variety shows generated the most tweets and comments on Sina Weibo based on a study by the research firm last May.
Netease/163.com is another example of a popular web portal that has created a mobile app that allows free broadcast of TV shows as well as a platform for Weibo discussion around TV programs in China.
These networks could help extend the reach of TV shows in the social sphere as people discuss them online, he explains.
"They could bring great benefit for TV advertisers looking at performance."
However, it's still early days for marketers in China.
"These are very interesting concepts with high potential but yet to see market recognition," he notes.
Social media in China: unique, fragmented, and dynamic
Since most Western social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) are banned in the country, social media in China is "uniquely Chinese."
Social is fragmented in China because there are often multiple networks for the same category and these networks are changing very fast, making it a dynamic landscape.
Compared to the U.S. where Facebook is expected to be around for the long term, there is less certainty around platforms in China and marketers are expected to be very agile, Flemming says.
The CEO has been tracking the country's social media landscape since 2008. At the time, social media was confined to blogs and discussion forums but one of the biggest changes in recent years is the launch of microblogging site Weibo, which allows messages to go viral publicly at scale.
WeChat, with more than 300 million users, is definitely the hot new platform that cannot be ignored, he says.
The mobile social app marks the second wave of a more personal social media as a user could choose to share updates to a selected group of contacts - most of them white collar workers, an attractive segment for marketers.
WeChat is also starting to change the way consumers use the phone to communicate from instant messaging, voice chats to surfing the Internet via the app, Flemming notes.
It will also impact the way advertisers communicate with consumers.
For the younger generation that does not use emails socially, it could become the e-direct mailers for companies to build loyalty programs and send targeted messages based on user interest and location.
Tencent also has plans to enable payment and activate membership programs in-store to purchase products in the near future with the ability to integrate apps on its platform.
Not entirely a uniquely Chinese social platform, WeChat's features are a mix of Path, Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram from the West aggregated in a "unique and appealing way" for Chinese consumers.
"Because the Chinese market is very different, it's going to be used to solve or address problems/opportunities in the Chinese market," he adds.
It's clear from the conversation with Flemming that marketers could achieve much greater potential for real impact on WeChat if they see it as more than just another social platform for advertising or chatting with consumers.
According to a CNNIC report released in January, Weibo has close to 309 million users comprising more than 54 percent of Chinese netizens. More than 200 million of them access microblogs via mobile.
China versus the U.S.
Chinese consumers are sophisticated in using social media and the country's social landscape is just as developed as those in the U.S.
But marketers in China tend to be a bit more conservative and risk averse than Western counterparts to leverage these platforms, Flemming points out.
To be fair, he adds that agencies and platforms in China could do a better job to help clients make sense of these social platforms and assist them to measure the benefits quickly.
Tips for marketers navigating China's social landscape
Weibo microblogs, mobile social, and video content shared on social platforms are generally relevant for all marketers.
Those in fashion should pay attention to Pinterest-type sites as they are skewed to a female demographic while consumer electronics brands could look at product review sites such as Taobao and Yihaodian.
Finally, he recommends companies conduct a social media audit and make decisions based on data.
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Adaline Lau, ClickZ Asia editor, oversees day-to-day editorial operations covering digital marketing from search to social media, mobile to analytics in the region. Before ClickZ, she was senior reporter at Marketing Magazine and has worked as a journalist for The Singapore Marketer and Asia Pacific Broadcasting. Connect with her @adalinelau or Google+.
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