I. The Integration of Function and Content
There are primarily three ways of operating social media platforms: UGC, Functions, and Social Business (UGC + Function + KOL). Social business is the best way to enhance engagement between brands and customers, and as Chinese social media has improved, the boundaries have blurred across the three ways of operation. Therefore, it is crucial for brands to integrate these operations so they can maximize their resources from each platform to drive a successful digital marketing strategy.
Despite ongoing updates and new functions offered by the platforms, there continues to be far greater speed of innovation and impact generated from attractive and engaging content. Content creation is no longer led by mainstream media or key opinion leaders (KOLs) alone, with a significant volume of original content created either by netizens themselves, or recreated by netizens in order to participate in the mainstream hot topic discussions. Expanding features are enhancing the user experience, and social platforms are using cross-platform traffic conversion to support fan growth, and increase individual users' visits and usage time. For example, Weibo and video websites are now more integrated with e-commerce platforms, and gaming platforms are integrating with video websites and BBS forums.
II. The Need for Instant Gratification
Kantar was one of the first brands to employ the term "social business". This describes the shrinking gap between Business and Social in the Chinese Social media environment.
In the early stages of digital marketing, a brand would "push" an advertisement to encourage people to consider, and ultimately buy their products. Modern digital marketing involves far more direct interactions, including contact with customers, user experience, product purchase, and consumer feedback. These interactions do not have clear starting or ending points. Rather, their core objective is to meet consumers' strong desire for instant gratification.
Consumers now focus less on the price, and more on personalised products and the overall shopping experience. Therefore, fast sales have become very important in social business.
Most leading social platforms are improving their sales strategies by offering users more convenient payment solutions, including more instant sales functions. Examples include the implementation of E-commerce-oriented links on Weibo and video websites, virtual gifts and rewards on live-streaming platforms, and paid content on Q&A or audio websites. As social media and the internet evolve, users are becoming ever more willing to pay for entertainment. Thus, the ability to offer fast sales options will become a major KPI for platforms.
Pan-entertainment refers to a phenomenon in which consumers prefer any entertaining and humorous content to formal forms of content. When users consume content (from news releases to hot topic discussions online), they tend to favor the informal way: XX style, self-rejection, spoofing, kichiku, kawaii (cute), etc., are all examples of pan-entertainment.
One of the most popular types of content on social media is entertaining Intellectual Property (or IP), which can be a character, story, or in some cases, a brand will create IP that leverages prominent products (games, movies, toys, etc.). Brands can integrate IP in different types of platform promotions, creating a new and interactive way for consumers to absorb content. The TV series Ode to Joy for example, portrayed several characters using brands, where a lead character named Andy uses Evian and Porsche products - and another lead character Shengmei Fan, who isnt very wealthy, is purchasing Tadashi Shoji clothes and shopping for luxury items on the flash sales website Vip.com, etc. These strategies increase brand exposure and improve netizens’ knowledge of brands and their positioning through the content.
Another example of this trend is the popular discussion of a recent press release from the Xinhua News Agency. The press release only had 38 Chinese characters about replacement of the Saudi prince, yet it triggered a huge amount of online discussions. People are paying more attention to the humorous interpretation of the story, rather than the story itself. In other words, consumers are actively creating entertaining content.
IV. The Continuing KOL Phenomena
Key Opinion Leader (KOL) refers to specific people, such as celebrities and Cyber stars (@Papi Jiang, @Gogoboi), and self-promoting accounts (@Yingguonaxieshi, @Rishiji). As KOLs increase their influence and improve the quality of content they post, they begin to cooperate with brands, which leads to a growing professional support team as opposed to simply doing self-promotion as they used to do before.
To be successful, leading KOLs who have distinct characteristics need to produce a certain type of content and attract loyal fans, and then proactively grow their influence from a single social media platform to a multi-platform, and multi-angled content to create stronger cooperation with brands.
Due to their influence, KOLs have become one of the top priorities of brands as they attempt to increase sales. KOLs use creative content to promote brands, arouse curiosity, and resonate with their audience, in order to deliver a positive brand image and redirect these audiences to ecommerce platforms and drive sales. Instead of brands having the final say on content and format, with the advent of KOLs, brands now have to work together with content creators to be consistent with the KOL personality and style when advertising the brand.
V. Technology Enhancing Interaction
The development of innovations such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also pushing brands to adapt their strategy to get closer to netizens. Integrating these technologies is a way to bridge the gap between platform, brand, and consumer. Brands can use AI for service, VR technology for advertisements, or AR for rewards and games to connect with their customers.
Innovative technology should be used to increase interactions, however content and targeted marketing remain the primary tools used to secure followers. According to the Kantar Media DIMENSION Report, 87% of Chinese adult netizens think that marketers are communicating better with them than before, which is far higher than the average global score. The challenge is combining data analysis and creative content.
Search engines are already taking social media content into account. Search results will be shown differently according to consumer preferences or previous posts. For example, a mother of a five-year-old child may find different results than a busy banker when searching for a hotel, because they don't have the same search history on social platforms.
The Chinese social media environment continues to expand and evolve. Brands looking to thrive, must maintain quality content, attractive KOLs, strong engagement with consumers, and cross-platform promotion or advertising. But even with those strategies in place, there is still work to do. Brands must monitor and estimate their social media performances with an over-arching perspective in order to complete their social media ecosystem.
Looking towards the future...
The Chinese social media landscape is complex and highly competitive. But by understanding the trends and integrating them wisely into your strategy, the rewards are well worth the effort. That’s where Kantar comes in – to provide your team with the latest data and insights to propel your brand to the forefront of your industry and keep it there.