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Sam Flemming on Chinese consumers: mobile, funny and showing off

April 26, 2012

Sam Flemming speaker at China Connect in March, introduces interesting facts and insights in this interview from Kantar Media

A diverse and dynamic media landscape has made Chinese consumers among the most expressive in the world, reports Sam Flemming, founder and Chairman of CIC, China’s leading social business intelligence provider and new Kantar Media Company.

How popular is mobile social media with Chinese consumers?
According to Charles Chao, CEO of online and mobile media company Sina, in a statement for its fourth quarter financial report, mobile weibo (micro-blog) use is growing much faster than PC – particularly iPhone and Android usage. In fact, from our own data, we can see that about a third of mentions of brands on weibo in 2011 came from a mobile device. So mobile social media is certainly popular among Chinese consumers. There are many Foursquare style check-in services in China, including Jiepang, Qieke, Kaikai, Wei Lingdi and so on. However, we recently conducted a survey that showed only 16.8% of social media users “checked-in” during the last 6 months.

Are these sites popular with advertisers as well as consumers?
Location Based Services (LBS) started to spring up in 2010 and now there are almost 20. Many of them have partnered with brands. Jiepang has been quite impressive in this aspect, with pretty wide industry coverage: sports with Nike and Adidas, automotive with BMW and Mercedes Benz, food and beverage with Starbucks and McDonald’s, as well as a host of concerts, festivals and conferences. Theoretically, the emergence of LBS incentivized consumers’ engagement and facilitated seamless interaction between brand and consumer both off and online. In truth, though, the campaigns are still pretty straightforward and involve awarding badges to consumers who “check in”.

Which are the most popular social networks in China?
The top three are Qzone (537 million registered accounts as of September 2011) Sina Weibo (300 million, February 2012) and Tencent Weibo (300 million, September 2011), with Tencent Pengyou and Renren following with 149 million and 137 million registered users respectively (sources: McQuarrie Research, Sina Q4 financial report conference call).

How does the behaviour of Chinese consumers regarding social media differ most radically from that of consumers in the west?
According to Forrester research, China’s netizens are more engaged than America’s. The research suggests that Chinese online communicators outperform Americans as  “conversationalists” (66% of citizens as opposed to 36%), “spectators” (96% vs. 73%) and, perhaps most surprisingly, as “critics” (a massive 83% of online Chinese compared to 36% of Americans). Importantly, social media provides Chinese netizens a route to (relatively) free self expression.

In addition, the Chinese social media landscape is more diverse and dynamic than west, which opens Chinese netizens to a greater choice of social media platforms.

Has CIC noted any specific behaviours that may surprise readers from other markets?
“Shai” – a culture of showing off. The most engaged netizens are driven both by a desire for social influence and a zeal for self expression. As such, “Shai” is an expression of both your purchasing power and your knowledge. In terms of sophistication, this can range from simply showing off what you’ve just bought, to tips on how to use it, to its place within your lifestyle. It’s particularly prevalent in the beauty, auto, travel and luxury categories.

“Spoofing” – Chinese netizens are extremely creative and show a really strong sense of humour. Just “retweeting” doesn’t cut it. They take a topic on, make their own versions, develop the original content through various iterations and really make it their own. This often leads to the mainstreaming of digital concepts and provides a wealth of inspiration for advertisers.

The online clothing brand Vancl has, no doubt knowingly, provided some excellent fodder for this behaviour, with its ever-trendy and easily photoshopped ads. Last year Vancl ran a poster campaign showing blogger Han Han and actress Wang Luodan against a white background splashed with phrases like “Love the internet” and “Love pretty clothes”. The headline read: “I am just like you. I am Vancl.” Online spoofs included posters starring Paul the Octopus (“Love soccer”) and Homer Simpson (“Love beer”).

To read the Q&A, online click here

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