Chinese Social Media Trends
The Chinese market is a goldmine for foreign businesses. It’s common knowledge that China makes up approximately a fifth of the world’s population. And out of that large population (1.41 billion to be exact), 1 million are spending time on their phones, making online payments and browsing through social media. Technology and social media have now become an integrated part of life for the common Chinese folk.
One of the main obstacles that foreign businesses face when entering the Chinese market is a lack of understanding of modern Chinese culture, which is being shaped by Chinese technological innovations and discourse occurring on Chinese social media. Many foreign businesses’ marketing strategies either fail or fall flat as a result of this lack of understanding, and it’s hard to blame them.
You may or may not know the existence of the ‘Great Firewall of China’, which prevents mainland Chinese residents within the country from accessing popular Western platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google to name a few). Because of this, Chinese tech companies have developed their own versions of these platforms that have not only replaced but surpassed its Western counterparts in many ways. Because the Chinese population are using Chinese platforms, this means that there is an entire Chinese internet ecosystem and culture separate from the rest of the world.
If you’re looking to build a presence in the bustling Chinese e-commerce market, you’ll need to keep track of the latest trends that surface on Chinese social media. This article will explain why it’s important for your business; what trends can teach you; and suggest some simple things that you can do to stay informed.
Why Should I Care?
There are many reasons as to why brands should be invested in understanding trends on Chinese social media. First, the majority of people are now spending their time online, especially on their mobile devices. In China, 98% of people are surfing the internet via their mobile devices. 20% of the Chinese population are Gen Z and 400 million are millennials. Moreover, Gen Zers in China spend an average of 174.9 hours per month on their mobile devices. Surveys have also revealed that China’s Gen Zers are buying products via their mobile devices and are eager to spend their money. So what does this mean?
The data indicates that today’s consumers are young, have expenditure, and are glued to social media. This means that your current and future customers most likely belong to this demographic, so what incentive do they have to purchase your products? That’s why it’s important as a foreign brand to actually understand who your customers are and what their interests and consumer habits are. A lot of this information can be found by simply following the latest social media trends and discovering what consumers are talking about online.
From there, you can choose to market your brand in a way that’s palatable and appealing to the Chinese consumer. This is especially important if you want to appear as relatable and conscious of Chinese consumers’ interests, which are changing daily. With that being said, what actions can you start applying to learn more about current trends on social media?
How to Follow Trends in China
Download Chinese Social Media Apps
This may appear as an obvious recommendation, but one of the easiest things you can do is download and be active on the most popular Chinese social media apps that consumers are using right now. Currently, the most popular apps right now are WeChat, Douyin (or TikTok), Little Red Book, Weibo, and Bilibili. Each platform serves its own purpose and are different to each other. However, they share similarities in the fact that trends derive from these platforms, and consumers are relying on these platforms for product recommendations.
Signing up and using these apps is fairly straightforward, usually requiring a phone number to register. However, there are some exceptions to be aware of:
- To register on WeChat, you must scan a friend’s QR code to authenticate your account.
- The Chinese version of TikTok (Douyin) is only available for download for those who hold a Chinese resident identity card. In other words, as a foreigner you will only be able to download TikTok (which the rest of the world uses). While both apps are the same, the content found in each app is different as each app has its own separate server.
- Apps like Bilibili and Little Red Book are in Chinese, so it might pose problems for you to navigate the app if you can’t read the language. Fortunately, Weibo offers an international version of its app for foreigners to download. WeChat is also available in English and even offers a built-in translation service for you to translate articles and texts from Chinese to English.
(Check out our Learn page for articles detailing each of these apps).
Whichever app you’re browsing through, take a look at what topics and posts are trending – you’ll start to gain a better understanding of what millennials and Gen Z like and dislike based on popular hashtags and like ratios.
Talk to People That are In-the-know!
The best way to truly understand a culture is to talk to someone who either works or is currently integrated in the culture. For example, if you have local friends or colleagues from mainland China who use Chinese social media, talk to them and ask them about what’s trending online and why. Native speakers are able to interpret and understand the meaning behind posts that a non-native person may overlook. Talk to foreigners who can speak Chinese and have had years of experience living and breathing Chinese culture – they will be able to relay information for you to understand as a foreigner who is unfamiliar with Chinese trends.
Or better yet, contact agencies based in China like Gab China who specialize in developing marketing strategies for the modern Chinese consumer. Our team is constantly in the trenches, working with Chinese social media platforms daily. Book a free consultation for more info.
What Trends Can Teach You
Contrary to the idea that social media trends are meaningless fads perpetuated by youths looking for attention, brands can gain a lot of useful knowledge from analyzing social media trends. We’ve already established that social media trends can help you identify the average consumer’s interests, personality, and behaviors – but what else?
According to McKinsey’s China consumer report in 2021, online word-of-mouth is a large initiator of purchases amongst Gen Zers. Word-of-mouth can include many things, such as a friend instant messaging you a product to buy, or seeing an eye-catching brand posted on your WeChat Moments feed. However, word-of-mouth purchases in China typically stem from influencers (called Wang Hong in Chinese), KOLs, and bloggers either livestreaming or posting videos on video sharing sites like Bilibili and Douyin. These people are paid by brands to recommend products to their viewers, and can help skyrocket brand awareness depending on how popular the influencer is.
Chinese social media trends can teach you which influencers are currently the most popular and have the most leverage when it comes to influence. Trends also inform you which influencers have positive or negative brand images, which is important to consider before associating your brand with a third party.
Finally, being aware of Chinese culture and what’s currently trending on social media can give you the confidence to create marketing campaigns that are relatable, show understanding of Chinese culture, and most importantly will not offend Chinese consumers.
Many established brands, from Dolce & Gabbana to Gucci, have launched campaigns in China that failed miserably due to inappropriate messaging and generally appearing out-of-touch with Chinese consumers. No matter how big your brand may be, a lack of understanding of Chinese culture will inevitably lead campaigns to their demise. This is why keeping track of Chinese social media trends will help you avoid embarrassing yourself and potentially save you from disastrous missteps.
Everyday, new trends and topics are being discussed on Chinese social media. What was popular last week may no longer be relevant today. As a brand looking to make yourself known to Chinese consumers, you’ll need to stay ahead of the game and pay attention to what’s happening in China.