The luxury of playing Chinese social media

As luxury brands look to social in China, the challenge is to move from social media to social business, says Sam Flemming in this four-point primer.

Don’t believe all the forecasts

With the phenomenal rise of killer app WeChat (a mix of the Path, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram), with its 500 million users, some marketers have declared that Sina Weibo, China’s ‘Twitter’ and previous social media darling, is dead. We beg to differ. Recent studies suggest that while time spent on Weibo is decreasing and WeChat is increasing, netizens still spend twice the amount of time on Weibo than on WeChat.

Further, we see the amount of luxury-related content on Weibo continuing to trend up. It’s not a ‘winner takes all’ environment in China and we expect that over time, the landscape will evolve with multiple sizeable players just as you have in the West with Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and others.

Though Weibo is less social and less of a grass-roots media than it used to be, it is still the ‘water cooler’ of China

It both reflects and determines the national conversation for netizens.

WeChat should be viewed as a platform to explore new ways to support and transact with customers. Beauty brands are already launching ‘online to offline’ sampling campaigns. Airlines are enabling check-in and seat selection. Luxury brands are offering customer service. And many different brands and sites are launching m-commerce initiatives and accepting payment on WeChat. It is still early days for brands, but viewing it as a business extension platform, not just another social medium, will be essential for success.

The Chinese are informed, sophisticated, global – and local

The Chinese, are, unsurprisingly, using Chinese social media to be more knowledgeable about variances in pricing, product availability and quality of customer service (or lack thereof) in different markets all over the world. They are also employing social to create a thriving parallel market by working with friends and overseas purchase agents (aka daigou) to purchase products at a cheaper price internationally and have them shipped or brought to China.

Further to this global-local angle, Chinese consumers, while sophisticated and international in outlook and the way they collect information, are more influenced by communications which are relevant to the Chinese sensibility. Does that mini-movie with lavish production made in France make sense to your Chinese customers? Does it need explaining through social channels? Is that celebrity at the centre of the campaign known at all in China? Brands must begin to think how to create content that is relevant to these sophisticated customers, while still appropriately representing the brand.

Consumers want to learn about lifestyles, not only brands

Within this developing market, consumers have typically been classified as wanting to be ’In The Show’, meaning they like to show off logos and brands, especially online. With last year’s anti-corruption laws and the fast-changing Chinese luxury consumer, such ostentatious behaviour has fallen out of favour. And we see many more examples of ‘True Man Show’ online, where netizens show off not only say a luxury bag, but also how to dress with the bag, and even better, where to go and how to live the life of luxury with the bag.

They yearn for luxury lifestyle knowledge, not just the products

And social media serves as a great channel for brands to communicate and educate along such lines.

Leverage celebrity social power

The idea of leveraging famous people is certainly not new, but using social intelligence to inform their selection is more and more important. With tens of millions of Weibo followers celebs have become mini media powerhouses and content brokers within Weibo’s dominance as a digital, viral media. By systematically analysing and mining hundreds of millions of comments and followers around these stars, you can determine not only the number of Weibo followers, but the quality and relevance of the followers in terms of gender, location, age and luxury. After selecting celebrities, it is critical to get it in the endorsement contract to actually leverage their social power.

Sam Flemming is CEO of CIC which works with leading international local brands to turn the hundreds of thousands of daily comments on Chinese social media about luxury lifestyle and luxury brands into business intelligence and insight.