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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

Why Western Brands Need to be on Chinese Social Media

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

It’s no secret that more and more Western brands are tapping into the Chinese social media ‘market’- despite the fact that they have zero retail presence in China, whether it be in brick-and-mortar stores or on e-commerce sites. For example, Macy’s uses both its Weibo and Wechat accounts to promote its brand and relevant content, to launch engaging campaigns, and to even provide downloadable coupons to use in-store (a recent coupon for a 20% discount prompted over 31k downloads!). Considering its nearest retail location is approximately 6,500 miles away, that’s pretty terrific. Those coupons will indubitably translate into significant shopping bottom-line dollars for Macy’s that are easily trackable and attributable to Chinese social media success.

If you’re a Western brand with a limited investment budget or just looking to dip your toes into the rather daunting China market, Chinese social media is the first point of entry to tap into the hearts (and wallets) of Chinese consumers. Here’s why.

Global Social Media Strategy

Despite ongoing debate about Weibo versus. Wechat, these two platforms can go hand in hand to complement each other by serving different functions.

Weibo will most likely be the first online touchpoint for your brand in creating awareness. Rather than searching for your official information through a traditional search engine, Chinese consumers will typically first seek out an unfamiliar brand on Weibo to see what the online community is saying about it. This is where users will be exposed to your Weibo account to learn about your brand through your content posts and activities. Once they like what you have to say and stand for, they may selectively decide whether or not to follow you on Wechat, essentially inviting your brand to be part of their private inner circle. Wechat is a much more closed platform, and enables brands to engage in much more targeted and direct conversations with their audience to establish brand loyalty and increase customer stickiness.

Retail Tourism  

China observed a 20% jump in outbound tourism last year; official data place the number at around 107 million travelers just last year. In their travels, tourists cited sightseeing (55%), dining (54%), and shopping (51%) as their top three favorite activities.

That’s why it’s no surprise that 76% of China’s luxury consumption happens overseas. While the 40% lower price tag is extremely attractive, other reasons for the flux of retail spending abroad include that buying products from their country of origin is a sign of prestige and superiority as well as the ingrained belief that goods manufactured in foreign countries are of better quality.

However, Chinese consumers, more so than their Western counterparts, are keen on doing their research. Many purchase decisions will be made before leaving China. Spur of the moment purchases will most likely be searched on Weibo via their mobile phones to check for peer reviews and feedback. If your brand yields zero search results, you’ve immediately lost some major brownie points with the Chinese shopper.

Not Needing to Go the Distance

Chinese shoppers are extremely resourceful. If they want something that catches their eye , they will find a way to get their hands on it even if it’s not readily available for purchase in China. A service known as “daigou” is one of the most popular ways to procure foreign goods. “Daigou” can either be sourced through companies offering official buying services outside of China or through individuals abroad who purchase merchandise and send them back to China – for just an additional fee. In both cases, they promise cheap and speedy deliveries, duties and customs clearance, and various forms of accepted payment. If all else fails, the next time a friend or relative is traveling abroad, they will be sure to give them a long shopping list of items to bring home.

Future Entry Strategy

If brands are taking a long term view and are still devising a strategy to enter the Chinese market, Chinese social media is not only a great segue but more so, a much more feasible (lower entry barrier) activation method for building a better understanding of Chinese consumer trends in your industry and gaining valuable insights from Weibo buzz, social data mining and analytics tools.

*Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) survey released by, July 2015

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