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Behind the Great Firewall: Tapping into China’s social media

Behind the Great Firewall: Tapping into China’s social media

Understanding how to reach an audience of more than one billion behind the Great Firewall

When it comes to tapping into the Chinese market, there is little point turning to Google for help. While Google dominates the online search market almost everywhere, this is not the case in China. Google is blocked by China’s Great Firewall, as are other major players like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The firewall also blocks just about any website that doesn’t originate from within China.

While it’s possible to create a local site (e.g. a .cn site), it is not a simple process. It is illegal to host your website in mainland China without an ICP license. To get an ICP license you must be physically based in the country. There are alternatives, such as hosting the site in Hong Kong or working with a Chinese-based web company.

For many businesses, this undertaking that is simply not feasible. But with an estimated 782 million Chinese using the internet to shop—and most of this happening on mobiles—it is not a market to ignore.

Set up on social

An easier approach may be to focus on Chinese social media platforms. Not only is social media widely used in China (WeChat has around 1 billion users), it also offers sophisticated and seamless eCommerce options. Chinese users are used to making purchases via social media. Businesses that can navigate the language challenges and set themselves up on social have an opportunity to tap into a mighty market.

Social Media and social commerce in China

The leading social media platform in China currently is WeChat and should be considered a critical tool for starting a conversation between your brand and Chinese consumers. WeChat has offered eCommerce capabilities since 2017, so Chinese users are entirely comfortable using their social media platforms to make purchases. Other major social media platforms are Douyin, Weibo and Little Red Book. Weibo is a blogging platform that boasts over half a billion subscribers and 100 million posts a day.

For NZ businesses, it is worth understanding how WeChat Pay works and the platform’s paid ad offering. To appear on WeChat you will need to become a verified  Official Account. Once you have done this, you can engage with users on WeChat just as you would a business page on Facebook.

While setting up a social media account may feel easier than the rigmarole of setting up a China-based website, it is still important to understand the landscape and give proper consideration to language and translation.

Understanding the system

Jessica Miao, CEO of specialist Chinese digital marketing company UMS recently said,

“Providing a seamless transition from content to the shopping cart is essential for sales conversions in China. The rapid adoption of mobile payment services in China, such as WeChat Pay and AliPay, ensures online transactions are straightforward and efficient for both the consumer and company.

“However, it’s important that companies use the right links in the right places to ensure a positive customer experience – for example, using a link to an Alibaba Tmall store in a WeChat post will result in a poor customer experience as the two platforms are incompatible.”

Lost in translation

Creating a WeChat page or posting to Weibo requires you to communicate with the market in their local language. The advice here is to work with a professional. If you are not in a position to engage a professional native-speaking writer or a service provider who specialises in this work, it is best to wait until you can. Launching into the Chinese market with poorly written or incorrect copy will not do you any favours.

To take a deeper dive into understanding user intent and how this can apply to the Chinese market, read our article, SEO for International Markets.

Steph Johnstone
Written by Steph Johnstone