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Inspiration from China’s Social Boom: What to Bring Back West

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Interview with Linkfluence’s Chief Evangelist Officer on how China has become a notorious market for social and the lessons we can learn from it


Our Chief Evangelist Officer for Asia, Benjamin Duvall, gave a keynote at the Festival of Marketing last week talking about the business opportunities triggered by the social boom in China.

Keynote speaker, Benjamin Duvall, talks about the Chinese social boom at The Festival of Marketing, London (2017)

According to Ben, China has evolved overnight from copycat to become what today is recognizably the world’s biggest growth engine and source of digital innovation. Chinese social media platforms have evolved to lead the way in terms of feature innovation, user-time and attention, while Chinese brands have had to discover new ways of engaging and inspiring consumers.

We caught up with Ben to discuss his findings and dig a little deeper into the implications of China’s social boom for Western markets.

What do you think is driving China’s massive social growth?

The unprecedented growth of social media and use of digital and mobile-enabled services is, in fact, due to a ‘perfect storm’ of cultural, economic, and political factors.

A primary contributor to this is the openness of modern Chinese culture to sharing personal content and experiences. In fact, millions of Chinese ‘millennials’ use streaming platforms to broadcast their daily lives. This has led to the recent boom in live streaming, which is now a three-billion-dollar industry and equal to approximately five percent of the entire digital ad industry in China.

The speed and fearlessness of Chinese companies to introduce new technology and jump straight into new businesses is yet another Chinese blueprint that sets the stage for rapid growth and development. For instance, social platforms in the West silo themselves and focus on “core competency”; meanwhile, Chinese companies take the soonest opportunity to jump into anything that could bring them a potential profit or more customers in.

Around 2013, this culture resulted in a massive shift towards every internet company being accessible via mobile app or a WeChat account.

Last but not least, huge investments by the Chinese government and venture capital market were made which also have a big say in this growth. China is expected to double the US in terms of the investments made in developmental research (the key stage where technology is commercialized) by next year.

What are the most recent social trends that you’re witnessing in China?

In the last two years, the most important trend is the cementing of mobile and digital payment services, primarily through Alipay and WeChat pay.

Built on the back of this is an ecosystem enabling the monetization of many new trends such as live streaming, bike rental, and thousands of mobile businesses.

In terms of media and content, the most recent trends are immediacy and real-time content, the sophistication of influencer marketing, and the seamless combination of these via the major platforms.

For brands, this translates into the need for a more sophisticated and real-time approach to data management.

READ MORE: Influencers, Robots and the Death of Snapchat: Social Insights from the Festival of Marketing

What can brands learn to bring back to Western markets?

Based on a recent study done on digital leaders in China from leading MNCs, Chinese companies and agencies, we found four big themes, which we categorized as "leaps of faith", "incubate and export", "the channel is the message", and "e-commerce everywhere".

"Leaps of faith" refers to the ability of successful companies in China (both local and Chinese operations of MNCs, in some cases) to mobilize decisions and resources to take risks introducing new features, new campaigns, or entirely new businesses, even though these would have been perceived as off-scope or untested by Western counterparts in the US or Europe.

"Incubate and export" refers to the practice of using technological developments or economic efficiencies in China and applying them to other markets. Companies like OnePlus, Mobike, KFC, Alibaba, and IHG are good examples of companies that have rolled out products developed in China in the West, that would not have been developed without China’s speed, flexibility, or scale.

"The channel is the message" refers to companies in China choosing to allocate marketing budgets to specific channels, platforms, or influencers at the cost of traditional paid media spends. 

For example, companies in China spend a great deal on creating a social - e-commerce ecosystem with platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and Tmall that allow for the perception of a seamless experience from the customer's perspective from the point of undirected content consumption to discovery and purchase.

"E-commerce everywhere" is probably the most fundamental and far-reaching shift. Due to China's historical acceptance of the role of money in social relationships and openness to purchasing directly in a variety of contexts (ranging from an influence live stream to a WeChat store), the market has a perfect foundation for the growth of new technology solutions that have been integrated into virtually all touchpoints.

The face-recognition "smile to pay" system being tested by Alibaba is just one example of what's to come.

As a wrap-up, what can Linkfluence offer to help companies manoeuvre the learnings from China’s social boom?

At Linkfluence our job is to find consumer insights from the collection of millions of conversations happening on social media every day.

Our know-how in social data intelligence of the US, European and Asian markets sets us apart from other social listening platforms. Improving social insights is crucial for businesses that strive for advancement opportunities within their industries and understanding your audiences can be the key to that.

Reach out to us if you'd like to hear more about social data monitoring.

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