While we are all familiar with social media and how it works in the West, social media in China, however, is a different beast. Not only are the functions and features different, but also how users interact and how businesses approach it to market their products and services. WeChat as a super app may dominate the marketplace, but other Chinese social media platforms thrive in their own right. They cater to different audiences and needs, and new niche social apps constantly spring out to capture the imagination of an ever-growing Internet population.
Most popular social media apps in China
China’s social media landscape is considerably more unique than the rest of the world in quite perplexing ways. As you may be aware, foreign tech giants do not have the same reach in China as they have elsewhere. Popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are outright banned in China while others may or may not make it free through the Great Firewall of China. In the meantime, Chinese-made social media apps have become popular not only in the country but have gained international territories, such as Tiktok and Wechat.
Here are the current top 5 social media apps that you must know if you want to set foot in China’s social media world. You should keep an eye on the evolution of China's social media scene as the ranking is in constant flux.
WeChat (Weixin) is what Facebook is, and every other messaging app there is to the rest of the world. WeChat is so huge in China, that its users spend an average of 29 hours per month on the app. It also reached a total of 1.2 billion active users in the country in January 2021 alone.
Though a super app with a myriad of features, WeChat has three major functions: instant messaging, social networking, and eCommerce. You can also create campaigns on WeChat mini-programs, which have additional marketing channels such as live streaming and mini stores. It also uses location-based marketing as well as Moment ads to help increase brand awareness. WeChat also constantly adds new features and functions to make it even stickier to keep users glued to the app.
Sina Weibo's MAU were 573 million in September 2021, a net addition of 62 million users on a year-over-year basis. As of January 2021, it has 511 million active users worldwide, with 46.6% of the user base composed of female users while the remaining 53.4% percent are males.
Sina Weibo is a microblogging site acting sort of like Twitter’s counterpart in China. Although known for its constant censorship and strict monitoring of posts, Weibo still figures heavily in social and political discourses in China. Some of the breaking news and issues happening in the country, or related to it, are often discovered in this social media app. This platform is also star-studded as a huge number of fans follow their idols' every movement.
The site uses a double hashtag instead of a singular one like in Twitter to mark trending keywords. It also uses some image features that are similar to Instagram. Weibo also allows stories and vlogging on their platform.
Kuaishou is TiktTok’s biggest rival in China. As of January 2021, it comprises 45.1% of social media usage in the country. Kuaishou e-commerce GMV up 48% in Q1 2022. Kuaishou is a popular short video-sharing and live-streaming app in China and outside its tier-1 cities.
The app started out as a GIF-sharing platform back in 2011 until it evolved and enabled users to share short videos in 2016. Since then, it has become a popular eCommerce platform attracting influencers to help increase brand awareness. Kuaishou profits mainly from live streams, ads, and online marketing, as well as games and eCommerce profiles.
Douyin is known worldwide as TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance. About 41.1% of China’s Internet usage is done on this particular app. But unlike Douyin, TikTok is more focused on editable short videos that often feature music in the background. TikTok has more basic features than Douyin and has not yet reached its full eCommerce potential as it’s most popular among music fans. However, times are changing fast and Douyin is slowly building up on its eCommerce features too. The edge of Douyin is that it has more influencers not just in China but also worldwide.
In terms of featuring accounts to current users, Douyin displays about 90% of its content from newly created accounts that are popular among users. Meanwhile, Kuaishou's Discover section enables about 50% of its contents to be distributed among the accounts that the user is already following. This can be considered the biggest differentiator between the two, aside from eCommerce capabilities. Douyin attracts influencers to its platform, with some of its top accounts ranging from 30 to 50 million followers online.
It might not be as commonly heard of as Weibo, but Baidu Tieba has been around for longer. It currently contributes to 30% of China’s social media usage. It was launched way back in 2003, way ahead of Weibo. Baidu Tieba is a social networking site that follows a vertical organization wherein posts are arranged per forum and a host interacts with several users per thread. You can think of it as similar to the popular forum site Reddit.
Interestingly, the word "Tieba'' is just a Chinese made-up word that translates to "let's post" in English. This was probably done in keeping with the forum format of the site. Since the platform is created by search giant Baidu, Tieba makes use of search keywords to link users to forums that may interest them. Advertisements have quietly crept into the once ad-free forum, but businesses can still engage more organically with their target markets on Tieba using niche topics. Such topics can also open the gateway for niche marketing as passionate fans abound and engage in active conversation.
Aside from the five leading social media platforms in China, there are another dozen popular social networks that deserve your attention. These include the unabatedly popular QQ and Qzone, Youku (China's Youtube), Zhihu (Chinese Quora), Meituan (food review), Toutiao (headlines and breaking news), Momo (dating), Douban (movie review), as well as rising stars Xiahongshu (Chinese Instagram) and Bilibili.
Maximizing social media mileage in China
Social media is a very potent tool for marketing, but it’s also complex and ever-changing. Most platforms have also come up with their own analytics or engagement tools to help users, especially businesses, to study user behavior and even do a competitive analysis to keep them updated. To make things easier for your business, it might be a good idea to partner with an agency that can help you set up your business for social media marketing. This way, you can learn the ropes of social media at your own pace while still being able to focus on other aspects of your business.
Find an agency such as GoClick China, which has the technical capacity to help you build your profile in these social media apps. You can ask for help to build these profiles in alignment with your app marketing strategies and brand visibility via your website.