From China with (digital) love: how to use far eastern social networks

11 December 2015

The principal digital trend in China, by Pietro Colella in March 2014.

The digital world is constantly changing, but, despite the numerous tools that we have at hand each day to be updated, we cannot constantly keep an eye on everything. This article is collecting some data and case histories involving China and there are two current trends that I think are very interesting: social networks and e-commerce.

Vincos publishes every year its global map on the status of social networks and in this animated gif you can see two interesting elements. In China, Japan and Korea, Facebook never arrived, the company used are Seina Weibo and QQ. In Russia, however, Facebook exists but users prefer to use VKontakte, where they can easily share copyrighted files.


Capture d’écran 2015-12-16 à 12.42.12



As for e-commerce, AT Kearney has developed a clustering of world markets online, linking potential growth and consumer behavior online (meaning appetite and familiarity with online shopping).


Next generation markets: are markets with a high growth potential, users have a less favorable behavior on online purchase and a low rate of adoption of technology;

Established and growing: these are markets where the number of online transactions is very consolidated (but still growing), the internet has a high penetration and online purchases are routine. Countries with lower rates of online purchase as Australia, Canada and the United States have growth prospects more than those with higher rates;

DNA Digital: in these markets there are still many opportunities for the big players, consumers buy regularly online and have a high rate of adoption of technology, there are advanced facilities and the actions cross channel are very effective. The sophisticated websites, online experiences and thorough an effective delivery system are important growth factors. Market leaders will continue to invest in technology interface and back-end functionality to differentiate their offerings.

Within this larger global context, China is undoubtedly the country that is attracting the attention of many brands. In my opinion, there are three keywords that can identify this country: Big, Fast, Feelings.



…because they are five hundred thirteen million Chinese users online; to this figure we must add the online population of the United States (316 million), United Kingdom (63), France (65) and Germany (80). For a numerical comparison closer to us, in Italy PC connected users in the month of January 2013 were 27 million, or only 5% of the Chinese – source Audiweb.



… because China is growing at breakneck speed!


In China, some platforms parallel to the “Western”are born and grow very quickly. Let me point out some important data that highlight the current trends:

  • The Chinese spend more than three hours per day online, unlike the Koreans that use less network (–the-Modern-Chinese-Male)
  • The e-commerce currently has one lap to 64 billion, over the next five years it will reach 271;
  • 460 million users log everyday from their mobile phone, so as to make this technology the first access point to the network;
  • The Online TV is growing rapidly, in terms of access and average spending users.

But let’s start from the TV: Sohu (company that provides online gaming, web TV and search) has bought all the rights to “The voice of China”, which has 10 million listeners. Tencent bought “The Song of China” and the World Cup 2014 in Brazil (source: What implications are there for the brand? The possibility of a super targeting of advertising, and better management of the effectiveness of the budget, which will be increasingly diverted from traditional media to online ones.

The question of e-commerce, however, is very complex. As mentioned earlier, China’s users are unfamiliar with online purchases, but this trend seems to be disappearing in favor of an increase in transactions on e-commerce. On one side there is an older population for social and cultural reasons that does not have access to the internet and then never buys. The other side is the new generation, the young that weekly shop online all kinds, from clothing to objects in general.

The Asian brand which is the most sold online is L’Oreal Men Expert, which has a penetration in the total purchases of the population of 5%. This means that the big players still have a long way to go to consolidate their position in the Chinese market. As for the buying behavior of consumers, the data say that 80% of Chinese is inquiring online, while 66% writes product reviews. Users will not take kindly actions cross (offline – online) because the dynamics do not work properly due to poor infrastructure (too many rural areas, moving difficult, income inequality). So it is better to create a clear separation between the online and the offline channel.

An other aspect to be highlighted is the payment system: the Chinese prefer cash on delivery. This is to prevent consumers from receiving shoddy products and not in line with the purchase: pay on delivery is a sign of quality and peace of mind. With Alipay, a system very similar to PayPal, you can buy and sell in complete safety thanks to the mechanism of verification of the transaction. Upon payment, the system keeps the money, not pouring it immediately into the seller’s account (as opposed to Paypal); once the product delivered, the customer authorizes the transfer of Alipay sum only after checking that the merchandise complies with the order.

The implications for the brands are considerable, since the safety of receiving the original products has increased the number of transactions. Also grow confidence in the brand and customer loyalty, while home delivery increases the points of contact and the opportunity to improve the consumer experience.



… because the key to communication is to communicate the strong and deeper feeling of the human being. In recent times, we are witnessing an increase in the use of the furniture to create a brand-consumer relationship close and confidential. We analyze some success stories.

Burberry at London Fashion Week 2014 in London, there was a direct action to all Chinese people attended the event in the British capital.

Writing in private in the profile on the official Burberry We Chat could allow receiving content live from backstage or from the front row of the catwalk. For some users VIP exclusive content were available. Burberry has created a flow of communication 1-1 in which the individual user is valorized with special features, high quality and sometimes unique: imagine what can be exciting for a user to receive a message from a brand such as Burberry. The Chinese take kindly brands seeking to establish a personal relationship and are willing to pay a premium price for a product hyper customized.

I also pleasantly discovered that We Chat provides the sdk.



Harrods is the first European brand that went on Seina Weibo: in 2013 it was the most followed account. To intercept the large flow of Chinese visitors to London, it has launched a very special Christmas campaign. Inside the mall, gift packages with the logo of Seina Weibo were hidden. Participants, after having discovered the packages were to take a photo and upload it to your profile on Weibo. The company then extracted 3 winners who were given a teddy Harrods, a bottle of Champagne Laurent-Pierrer and a leather bag screen-printed with the initials of their names. The announcement was made directly online. The campaign was directed at Chinese residents and visitors to London, but also to all traveller-influencers, with the aim of generating awareness for all those who travel in the UK.


British Airways has more than 350,000 fans on Sina Weibo and has decided to move its fanbase on We Chat to make selling and customer service in real time. The actual launch of We Chat account was made by sending an enveloppe to early users who already followed the brand. Inside each enveloppe there was a letter of congratulations from the CEO Tracy Dedman and a promotional coupon for $ 50 for the purchase of airline tickets. Five lucky people found a golden ticket that allowed them to win a flight for London. Only the first 10 days the account has received more than 10,000 followers.


British Airways has taken communication to a more personal and private level, with which it is easier to manage all facets of customer service, in particular points to the detriment of the company. In addition, direct communication with the user can implement actions and promotions, thus increasing the perceived value.

Pepsi has launched a major campaign – “Pepsi Bring Happiness Home” – to help families in need living in poverty and living in the most remote rural areas of China. This is the first humanitarian charity initiative sponsored by a company and not by a non-profit organization or government. Pepsi has used its distribution network Tmall to collect donations and announced the action entirely on the internet. It has established a website to collect donations and to make storytelling; They have also been filmed some miniclip with the greatest stars Chinese inviting the population to participate in the initiative – here’s the official channel on Youtube.

Pepsi, using We Chat, has enabled its users to invite friends and family to join the action. Sending a voice message to the account officer, it was possible to get a clip with the official remix of the song. All the records were then collected and some were published in the Pepsi page on Weibo. The company has created an action very structured in a very large country and it has many differences in terms of culture, incomes and lifestyles. The campaign has been well perceived, whereas the Chinese feel very involved when the key of communication is strong and deep feelings as charity, bring happiness and serene living. In this case the mobile component has been used to expand the scope viral online.


Particular dates

Among all the university students, there is a very special recurring event: the Single Day. In Italy we have San Faustino, the single day, and now also in China it is celebrated with kids that meet each other to sing in karaoke and socialize. It is celebrated on November, 11th, date that contain number 1 four times and represents 4 single men. This festival has a range of significant economic impacts, just think that Alibaba had saled in one day 35 billion yuan, equivalent to about US $ 6 billion (Source:

An interesting case is “Lo Stile Di Vita”, a Tuscan cosmetics brand that exploits Single Day to increase their sales. A promise is due: the Chinese pay more attention to the cleanliness, from a research made by Kantar World Panel, it is possible to understand that 85% of respondents use body care products and this make them more happy and they feel more comfortable. Respondents believe that more cleanliness and hygiene do have more success with women and the workplace. The Chinese buy every two months 7/8 categories of products for body care. Therefore the relevant market presents many opportunities for entry and growth of market share.

LSDV was aimed at increasing brand awareness and product quality, and has encouraged users to test the product offering “buy one get one free”. Actions of commitment were also carried out, such as the free purchase for the first and last customer and extraction for a good expense. To communicate the promotion, they used the classic social medias (Seina Weibo and We chat) but also Douban and some forums. There have been over 300 new orders, the shop came had about 150 new users and page LSDV on Taobao was ranked thirteenth on 450,000 active online shops.


Some observations

In conclusion, it seems that China (like the rest of the East) is going through a period of frenzied growth, but it also seems that there is much a “crude” use of the tools. From the analysis of the cause / effect connections, it seems the Chinese are less interested in the dynamics of commitment and the functional structure of the instruments, but rather in the intrinsic meaning of the shares, the deeper objective. However, the big players are starting to operate very effectively, managing to position themselves to be able to optimally exploit the strong growth of this country. The use of the network and the phone seems very rooted and this will, of course, allow the creation of many innovative and very structured actions.


To see the Italian version of this article, click here

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