Benjamin Duvall
May 19, 2017

Does Chinese social media matter outside China?

The Chinese diaspora is a significant consumer segment even if your brand is not operating within China.

Benjamin Duvall
Benjamin Duvall

China is a top priority for most global companies. Chinese investments in Europe and North America in 2016 surpassed the GDP of Hungary, and at current growth rates will be the biggest producing nation in the world in less than 10 years.

Not only are Chinese companies you’ve never heard of buying up many household names (including IBM, AMC, Morgan Stanley, Hilton, and Skyscanner), but Chinese consumer brands have also surpassed many western companies in branding and retail experience.

Should US or European companies without ambitions on China’s domestic market care about Chinese social media? While we know social networking sites are the most influential media today, most marketers focus on a limited set: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and for B2B’s, LinkedIn.

Here’s why Chinese platforms like WeChat, Weibo, and others should be on your list.

Global Chinese community more engaged in times of crisis

United Airlines' recent social media crisis triggered by the violent removal of a Vietnamese-American passenger resulted in immense damage to the airline’s brand, and without a doubt cost incalculable sums in future sales.

When passengers are cancelling booked flights and cutting up loyalty cards, effectively burning their own money out of anger, you know the situation is bad:

"I was a VIP Premier 1K member, the highest level, but no longer…”

Apparently, for United’s East Asian consumers, the damage was bigger. And while most of the outrage in Asian communities could be monitored on western platforms, this was not true for the Chinese abroad, the biggest spending group of travellers in the world.

“I’ve just noticed my round-trip tickets are on United Airlines, and I suddenly feel scared.”

Based on analysis using Linkfluence’s social listening tool, Radarly, there were over 14,000 overseas posts on the United Airlines disembarkment issue on Sina Weibo alone. More importantly, these posts received 25 times more engagement (forwards and comments) than similar posts in mainland China.

 (As of 18 May 2017, total n = 14,613)

The Chinese diaspora is a significant consumer segment for most brands, and understanding this segment is just as important as every other, even if your brand is not operating in China.

Should the fact that social media is distinct from that of the US and Europe change this reality? Surely, we should be tracking the channels people naturally use, not the ones most convenient for us, right?

Are we asking too much of US marketers to take Chinese social media seriously?

If this were the first time, maybe. But the United Airlines crisis is not the first time brands have instigated the anger of Chinese consumers online. In 2013, Chinese Weibo users in the US called for a boycott of United after a case of anti-Chinese discrimination and bullying.

The following was posted on Weibo by a Chinese lawyer and shared about 2000 times, generating almost 6 million impressions:

“Everyone is talking about United Airlines’ abhorrent actions. Actually, this isn’t
the first time. United Airlines heavily discriminates against Chinese people.”

Change starts with listening

Clearly there are customer service, operations, and public relations issues in question, so changing the status quo may seem as easy as giving a cat a bath. But as with any crisis, rule number one is to understand and assess the situation, before acting.

Transforming a long-standing global airline into a customer-first digital organization begins with listening, and including the Chinese web in social media intelligence, even outside mainland China, is an essential part of taking this first step.

Benjamin Duvall is chief evangelist officer for Asia at Linkfluence

Campaign China

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