[Influencer Marketing in China] Part I: Social Media Ecosystems

According to Statista, retail trade revenue for cosmetics in China stood at an impressive 21.49 billion yuan (3.30 billion USD) in March 2017. It is no wonder then that beauty brands from all across the world want a slice of the Chinese pie.

And what better way to market these products than with influencer marketing? Just like in the rest of the world, influencer marketing has taken China by storm. Satirical video content producer, best known by her nickname “Papi Jiang”, obtained 12 million yuan (1.8 million USD) of funds in 2016. Influencer Tao Liang, known by his nickname “Mr. Bags”, collaborated with Givenchy for Valentine’s Day in 2017 to produce a pink Mini Horizon leather handbag. All 80 pieces in the limited edition collection sold out within 12 minutes of its launch.

‘Mini Horizon’, a limited edition handbag designed in Mr Bags’s collaboration with Givenchy [via Jing Daily].
However, navigating the influencer marketing scene in China, especially without knowledge of the Chinese language, can be complex. As many of the social media platforms most frequented by the rest of the world, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, are blocked by the Chinese government, influencers who wish to reach a Chinese audience have to operate from Chinese social media platforms.

Since there are already a multitude of articles that have provided basic introductions to the Chinese social media platforms, that is not what we are going to do today. Instead, we will provide you with a short comparison of four of the top social media applications and suggest what they can best be used for.

I. WeChat vs. Weibo

Graph showing the increase of WeChat users based on statistics taken every quarter [via Tencent].
First released in 2011 as a standalone messaging app similar to the likes of Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, WeChat has since evolved into an all-in-one social media application that allows users to share Moments, pay for goods and services, make investments as well as to play games among a multitude of other functions.

Graph showing the increase of Weibo’s monthly and daily active users [via China Tech Insights].
Weibo, on the other hand, is a micro-blogging site. It allows users to post images and videos as well as to share, like and comment on other users’ content. It has recently also introduced elements similar in look and function to Instagram’s Stories and Live, where users can update their followers with snippets of their day and show them their unedited, authentic sides.

How They are Used in Influencer Marketing

Given that both WeChat and Weibo allow influencers to share information about their lives (and their paid collaborations), having a presence on both platforms may seem redundant. Yet, most influencers continue to have and upkeep accounts on both platforms. Why?

The answer lies in the differing nature of communication on both platforms. True to its beginnings in messaging and direct communication, WeChat continues to be used on a more personal–or at the very least, direct–level. For top fashion influencer and KOL Becky Li, also known as Fang Yimin, this allows her to engage with her followers in a more intimate manner, replying their questions in greater depth and establishing a stronger relationship with them. Weibo, on the other hand, is more public. Rather than personal interaction, the Weibo ecosystem encourages users to make announcements and to provide general updates. While options for engagement between influencers and followers are available, such as sharing, liking and commenting on posts, engagement on Weibo is often a one way street.

Hence, influencers typically use WeChat and Weibo as complements of each other. In a typical example, while Weibo is used to make announcements about new collaborations and new content created, WeChat is used to hold sales of limited edition products (where relevant) and to address any questions or doubts that followers may have.

II. Youku Tudou vs. Meipai

Image illustrating the merger between Youku and Tudou [via E-Commerce China].
Currently owned by the Alibaba Group, Youku Tudou, the result of a merger between independent video-streaming companies Youku and Tudou in 2012, is one of China’s largest video-streaming platforms. According to SimilarWeb, Youku ranks 4th worldwide after YouTube, Netflix and Wikia under most visited websites for the TV and Video category. While Youku was largely used as a platform for professional content in the early days, it is now also the largest repository for user-generated content in China.

Also another video-streaming service, Meipai quickly shot to popularity after its launch in 2015. In its early stages, Meipai only allowed its users to take videos up to ten seconds long and required that users shared the videos on other social media platforms in order to unlock a number of special effects that they could then insert into their videos. In January 2016, Meipai introduced live-streaming to its users, which has since become the platform’s most widely used feature.

How They are Used in Influencer Marketing

In the same way that video content-based influencers outside of China make use of YouTube to gain a following, their Chinese counterparts often make use of Youku (in addition to WeChat and Weibo) to do so. Youku also offers analytics on the platform, which allows users to find out more about their viewers’ demographics, location and other important pieces of information. At the same time, however, in order to compete with iQiyi and other video-on-demand platforms, Youku has also reached deals with various media companies to expand their VoD options. While this strengthens its position as a video sharing site for professional content, it also dilutes Youku’s profile as a platform that specializes in user-generated content. This could pose a barrier for influencers who are just starting their careers and may not have the know-how to create videos of high quality.

On the other hand, as a video-sharing platform that focuses on its live-streaming function, Meipai’s ecosystem is extremely friendly towards those who are relatively lacking in experience. The application makes it easy for viewers to send virtual gifts to the influencers they are watching, which is especially encouraging for influencers who are amateurs in their industry as they are able to receive monetary benefits despite their lack of industry prowess.

This is part one in a series entitled Influencer Marketing in China. The aim of this series is to give you all the information you need to know about how to navigate the influencer marketing scene in the Chinese market.

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