What are the Facebook of China, Twitter of China and Whatsapp of China? When it comes to the most popular and used social media and networking platforms in China, there are three major players that you must know. They are WeChat, QQ and Weibo. They are so powerful and popular that knowing these three social media platforms alone would give you a good understanding of online social networking in China.
For those who don’t already know, global social networking sites and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are blocked in China.*
*If you’re interested, you can use this tool to check if a website is blocked in mainland China.
If you would like to know how to sell into China, you can read this article here.
It would be a lot easier if we could simply describe this all-in-one powerful app as the Facebook of China or the Whatsapp of China. However, it’s impossible to make any sort of comparison because no other apps or sites have the ecosystem and combination of features as WeChat (also known as Weixin in China).
WeChat is extremely popular and it has reached 1 billion monthly active users after the 2018 Chinese New Year. Below is a chart showing the app’s user growth over the past few years.
- Instant messaging (text, voice and video)
- WeChat Moments: allows users to view contacts’ latest updates via Facebook style timeline
- Scan QR codes, read top stories, search for news and articles, send money to your friends and family, chat with strangers nearby or who are shaking their phones at the same time as you, shop online, play online games, pay for goods and services in both online and offline shops.
- WeChat Official Account: allows businesses and individuals to engage with their followers. You can also link an e-commerce store to your WeChat Official Account.
- Services: for example, order takeaway, book a flight or rent a car by launching mini programs within the WeChat app.
Below is a comparison between WeChat and WhatsApp to give a better idea of WeChat’s ecosystem.
WeChat is increasingly used for work purposes. Over 57.2% of WeChat users (who were interviewed by Penguin Intelligence) said most of their new WeChat contacts are work-related. Over 80% of them have used WeChat for work-related matters, including meetings, transferring money, receiving/sending documents and liaising with colleagues.
How To Use WeChat For Business
We’ll now look at how businesses can use WeChat to connect with their customers.
WeChat Official Accounts
Set up a WeChat official account to connect with your target customers with engaging content and information to build customer loyalty.
You can set up an e-commerce store and integrate it with your WeChat official account to display your products or services and process payments.
Some small businesses don’t have an official WeChat account. It’s common for small businesses, especially the service sector, to use instant messaging to communicate with their Chinese clients.
WeChat chat groups
Some businesses set up WeChat chat groups as a marketing and sales tool. For example, if you’re a recruitment agency specializing in the tech industry, you might set up a WeChat group inviting people who work in the industry and those who might know other tech talents looking for a job. This way, your contacts can help invite other relevant contacts to the group and help you find the right talents for your clients.
Businesses can place adverts in WeChat moments or at the bottom of WeChat articles.
Weibo is a microblogging platform founded in 2009 by Sina. Weibo is well known outside of China because of its similarity with Twitter. As of June 2017, Weibo actually has more monthly active users than Twitter.
However, the road for Weibo was not all smooth and successful because of fierce competition from other platforms. In Dec 2013, Weibo only had 129 million monthly active users.
In an attempt to regain its relevance, it integrated short video and live streaming functions to boost user numbers. It also formed a strategic partnership with Alibaba to explore social commerce and marketing solutions, and to facilitate interaction between merchants on Alibaba’s platforms and Weibo users.
- Feed: create and share feeds
- Trends & Discovery Zone: discover latest trending topics
- Weibo Wallet, Messenger, online games, short videos, live streaming and informational feeds
How To Use Weibo For Business
- Set up a Weibo enterprise account to connect with your followers with engaging and interactive contents. Download Page apps on Weibo’s platform to carry out marketing and promotion activities, payment processing and ad campaigns. Companies can offer “red envelopes” and drawings to build customer loyalty.
- Use banners on top of your Weibo page to redirect users to your official website or e-commerce partners.
- Display and sell products to users on Weibo
- Advertising: Social Display Ads (to redirect users to an advertiser’s Weibo page), Promoted Feeds, Promoted Accounts, and Promoted Trends.
Things To Consider For Both WeChat And Weibo
It can be expensive and time consuming to maintain a WeChat official account or Weibo account as you’ll need to create engaging content in Chinese to keep and attract new followers. This may involve hiring Chinese employees or working with an agency.
There are 10 million WeChat official accounts out there (3.5 million monthly active ones as of Sept 2017) and countless Weibo accounts. Simply setting up a social media account on WeChat or Weibo is not going to change much unless you are already popular in China. To stand out, you have to be prepared to do some marketing to advertise your social media accounts. One common way is to work with influencers (also called KOL in China) to promote your accounts. You can also use the adverting solutions of WeChat and Weibo to promote your account.
It’s not a must to set up a Chinese social media account. You can choose to sell your products via cross-border e-commerce platforms like JD.com, xiaohongshu.com, ymatou.com, VIP.com, Kaola.com, Tmall, haitao.com and so on. You can complement the platform’s marketing effort with your own social media accounts or simply leave it to your e-commerce partners. Alternatively, you can work with a distributor and delegate the marketing work. To read more about how to sell into China, you can check out our detailed guide here.
Instead of setting up your own social media account, you can work with influential WeChat or Weibo accounts that have an online store. For example, Yitiao WeChat account has an established e-commerce store. They have a very large following that is keen to be introduced to higher quality products. Selling through influential social media accounts helps boost your reputation and build trust among customers.
Some businesses choose to make use of all available channels. Australian brand Blackmores, for example, has an official WeChat account and a Weibo account. It also works with cross-border e-commerce sites like Tmall, JD.com, Koala.com, VIP.com and Xiaohongshu.com.
QQ is like WeChat’s elder brother. It has been widely used in China since 1999, 12 years before WeChat was founded. QQ is very popular among young users aged 21 years or below.
- Instant messaging (text, voice and video)
- Qzone: a Facebook style personal page to share updates, photos and videos
- Forums, chat groups, storage, entertainment-oriented content such as news feeds, literature, cartoons, live streaming, QQ music and short videos.
- Other features include beautifying tools, face swap effects, painting-styled photos, video chat filters and animated video stickers have been introduced to make chatting and sharing more fun.
- QQ Official Accounts: official accounts that allow you to publish new contents and connect with you followers.
Why QQ Is More Popular Among Young Users
You need to own a mobile phone & phone number to use WeChat. Not every young person, especially students, owns a mobile phone so it makes sense for them to use QQ instead.
To avoid using the same social media tool, i.e. WeChat, as their parents. Some young users have both WeChat and QQ but they usually choose to share their updates, photos and videos on QQ only.
QQ & Qzone have more playful and entertainment functions than WeChat. QQ supports animated selfie filters, personalised avatars, photo retouching and many other entertainment-oriented feature. A typical user may decorate their Qzone, check the numbers of visitors, play online games, read online books, follow interesting groups/topics, watch short and live videos, make use of the storage functions and show off their ‘diamond status’.
How To Use QQ For Business
Compared to WeChat, QQ is not as well known outside of China. However, it’s important not to ignore the potential of QQ’s huge user base.
Since QQ is more popular among students and young users who might not have very strong purchasing power, it’s a more suitable marketing channel for businesses that target students, such as tutoring companies, or those that sell fast moving consumer goods. For other sectors, QQ can be used as part of a long-term marketing strategy to create customer loyalty.
QQ can be used to keep track of the public opinion towards your brand. Posts by users, chat rooms and forums are all useful places to look for feedback. The below image, for example, shows the trending topics in China on a particular day. Ranked no. 1 is a news story about maggots being found in a MacDonald’s burger. Ranked no. 7 is about Apple’s battery problem. It would be a good idea for MacDonald’s and Apple to be aware of these trending posts shared by young people in China.
WeChat is currently dominating the market with its strong ecosystem, which makes it a must-have to connect with the Chinese population. However, the social media landscape in China is changing rapidly. No social media platform can afford to be complacent in China as consumers are eager to try new things. Weibo’s recent strong performance is a good example. QQ remains popular among young users in China and it’d be interesting to see how it develops in the next few years.