Online marketing & social media trends in China

By 09.02.18 February 26th, 2018 No Comments

Online marketing &

social media trends in China


nline advertising in China presents a very unique landscape that requires a dedicated approach as well as good knowledge of the platforms, tools and methods used to market to Chinese customers. In this post, we look at some of the main trends in online marketing and social media, and how businesses can utilise them to connect with customers in China.


are embracing social media


hina is estimated to have over 600 million social media users, and social media sites have become popular tools for connecting with Chinese consumers. Due to strict censorship, access to popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter is restricted, which has led to Chinese companies creating their own platforms with user numbers rivalling or exceeding more familiar companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Sina are the main players dominating the digital landscape. Between them, these companies own the 8 biggest social and ecommerce platforms, many of which have in excess of 100 million active users.

The most popular social networks*:

  • WeChat (messaging app): 963 million
  • Tencent QQ (instant messaging app): 860 million
  • Baidu Tieba (chat forum): 660 million
  • Tencent Qzone (social media site): 600 million
  • Youku Tudou (video sharing app): 580 million
  • Sina Weibo (microblogging site): 340 million
  • Renren (‘Chinese Facebook’): 240 million
  • Douban (social networking platform): 153 million

(* users as of 2017)

Why your company needs a social listening strategy in China

If your company is selling in China, then a social marketing strategy tailored to China is essential.

One of the most effective ways for brands to measure and maximise their online marketing campaigns is to use social listening. Social listening refers to the process of monitoring conversations about your brand across various digital channels. This allows you to understand your customers’ experiences with your products and services, identify your customers pain points and gain valuable feedback. Social listening also allows you to directly communicate with your customers and provide a response to questions, comments or complaints.

Social listening can give you answers to questions such as:

  • Who are the social influencers in China? How do they perceive our brand?
  • What do Chinese customers think of our new product?
  • Which audiences are happiest with us? Which are the least happy?
  • How successful are our offline advertising campaigns?
  • Who are our biggest competitors in China? What are they doing better than us?
  • What opportunities are we missing?

Without social listening you could missing out on millions of conversations about your brand or product, your industry and competitors.

In addition, the customer data provided by many Chinese social networks can be invaluable for marketers.


dominates mobile chat


ainland China is the world’s largest smartphone market with 1.3 billion mobile subscribers as of January 2017 according to South China Morning Post.

Tencent’s online messaging app WeChat dominates mobile chat with over 900 million active users. The app is similar to WhatsApp in many ways, providing a platform for private and group chats, but it also offers many opportunities for brands to communicate with users directly. Users can access branded content by subscribing to or adding a brand’s official account as a friend. Brands can also launch their own micro stores directly within the application itself.

Therefore, if your company is looking to market and sell to consumers online in China, you should definitely consider including WeChat in your marketing mix.

WeChat in numbers:

  • In 2017 WeChat monthly active users reached 963 million.
  • There are over 10 million official accounts.
  • Each WeChat user is connected with 194 friends on average.
  • 61% of users will access WeChat Moments every time they launch the app in order to see their friends’ latest status updates.
  • Over 50% use WeChat for 1.5 hours every day, with a third using the app for more than 4 hours a day.

How to use WeChat in your marketing strategy:

  • Create and share high quality content. This is valued by Chinese customers and a great way to gain more followers and grow your network.
  • Take advantage of the app’s interactive features. Brands like McDonald’s and Burberry have rewritten the rules of viral marketing on the platform with interactive marketing campaigns featuring mini-games, personalised messages and competitions that have succeeded in winning over Chinese users.
  • Offer a loyalty program. Reward your followers, send targeted promotions and convert your fans into customers.

Sina Weibo

leads the way with rich content


nother very popular social platform worth mentioning is Weibo. China’s leading social media platform is sometimes referred to as Chinese Twitter, but it could more accurately be described as a Facebook and Twitter hybrid.

Although Weibo sticks to its micro-blogging origins with a 140 character limit per post, this is pretty much where the similarities with Twitter end. A key reason for Weibo’s success over rivals has been its strategy of incorporating rich media content, encouraging users to share more images and video. The company’s strategy of partnering with sites like YouTube as well as celebrities and smaller media sites to create video content has paid off, and it was recently reported1 that Weibo had become the most important marketing platform for video content in the country.

Sina Weibo in numbers:

  • Sina Weibo reached 340 million active users in 2017 (surpassing Twitter’s 328 million users in the same period).
  • 154 million users access the platform daily.
  • 91% users access the platform on mobile.
  • Weibo mobile app has 73 million active users.
  • According to Techinasia, 44% of users feel positive about ads on the platform
  • 82% of users have purchased products online after using Weibo, according to China Internet Watch.

How to use Sina Weibo in your marketing strategy:

  • Build your brand. Like Facebook and Twitter, Weibo is a great way to increase awareness and engage with your audience. You (or your social media manager) will need an understanding of your Chinese audience, their communication style and preferences. Don’t just assume that what works with audiences at home will automatically resonate with audiences in China.
  • Create content linked with festival and big events. Weibo allows hashtags, so employ these effectively to get visibility and gain new followers.
  • Respond to comments. After all, social media is all about engaging with your fans. And don’t be afraid to use emoticons. They are very popular with Chinese users and are used as a means to add an extra layer to the communication.
  • Get a celebrity to endorse your products. Chinese celebrities have huge fan bases with millions of followers, so any content featuring a big celebrity is likely to create lots of buzz. Especially for brands with bigger marketing budgets, this is a strategy worth keeping in mind.

Online advertising

is driven by mobile


n 2016 online advertising spend in China surpassed TV for the first time in history and accounted for half of total ad spend in the country as reported by Kantar China 2. This figure has been forecasted to reach 57% by 2017.

Source: Emarketer

Increasing internet penetration and smartphone use have been cited as the main factors driving growth in online advertising spend. In a country with almost 700 million smartphones, mobile becoming the most popular channel for digital advertisers.

According to emarketer 3, by 2021, almost 60% of total ad spend and 82% of digital ad spend will be on mobile. This growth has been encouraged by eCommerce giants such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. These 3 companies accounted for approximately 72% of all mobile ad spend in China in 2017.

Video advertising, while still taking a much smaller slice of the pie, is clearly rising in popularity. While advertisers have been investing more in their video content with creative, eye-catching campaigns, publishers have responded with larger inventory available for video ads. Video ad spending is forecasted to double by 2021, reaching over $17 billion and accounting for 18% of all digital ad spend.

Finally, the online advertising market in China can be broadly grouped into two different kinds of advertising, ecommerce ads and search engine marketing (SEM), so it may be helpful to have a look at these two separately.

eCommerce ads

The eCommerce giant Alibaba Group gets the lion’s share of China’s digital ad market. It has its own ad network and ad exchange, making its ad business big enough to rival even Amazon and Google.

Alibaba’s ad business is mainly focused on boosting sales for merchants on its ecommerce platforms. It owns both, (China’s answer to Amazon or eBay) and, the leading B2C platform. Both sites have mobile apps as well as providing excellent site search functionality. Instead on using search engines such as Baidu, customers can make a beeline straight to these sites and input their search terms.

As a result, ad revenues have been growing, with the company capturing roughly 35% of all digital ad revenue in China in 2017. Alibaba is also the clear winner in mobile ad spending. In 2016, the company received 40% of all mobile advertising spent in China and this trend is expected to continue for the next few years. 4


Access to Google is restricted in mainland China, so relying on AdWords campaigns to get your products or services in front of Chinese consumers won’t get you very far.

Instead of Googling, Chinese consumer are likely to search using Baidu, the most popular search engine with an estimated 71% market share 5. This makes Baidu the world’s fourth most popular website with 731 million users according to Alexa (as of May 2017).

Source: Statcounter

Baidu advertising

There is no question that a marketing campaign on China’s largest search engine can get your brand’s products and services in front of a lot of people.

The search engine offers a number of options for advertisers on its platform:

  • Text ads. Keyword targeted search ads, similar to PPC ads on Google. Can also include images and sitelinks.
  • Display ads. Allows advertisers to place banners on relevant sites that are part of the Baidu Ads display network.
  • Baidu Brand Zone. A unique feature that allows brands to place large format ads containing, images, text, links and even video on top of the organic search results when someone searches for their brand term. Ad prices are fixed, not pay per click, and can be quite expensive.
  • Brand Starting Line. A scaled down version of Brand Zone.

Generally, advertising on Baidu is a lot trickier for Western companies than getting started with Google Adwords. Apart from the obvious language issue, there’s a also certain amount of red tape involved including a complicated certification and vetting process for advertisers. Western companies will usually need to hire a Chinese PPC manager or a local agency who understands the landscape and can help translate documents, help set up Chinese landing pages, advise on regulations and navigate any other issues.

Getting started with social media and online marketing in China

Accessing the world’s largest social media market definitely requires a few adjustments for Western companies. First of all, being fluent in Chinese is essential. Although China has approximately 200 million English speakers, Mandarin is still the main language used online.

For Western companies looking to build an online presence in China, it is important to find a reliable local partner who can handle communication with your Chinese customers as well as assisting with issues such as regulation.

Accolade employs an in-house team of specialists focused on providing services for the Chinese market.

We can help with :

  • Translations
  • Customer service
  • Trademark registration
  • .cn domain names
  • Hosting in China
  • Content creation
  • WeChat marketing and strategy
  • Weibo social media strategy
  • Baidu PPC
  • Marketing and advertising products on Aliexpress and Taobao