Tips to boost your social campaigns in China

by Frank Xu  
May 27, 2019
Frank is a brand/business strategist and researcher with extensive experience in Chinese digital marketing.

When talking about social marketing campaigns, top-of-mind key words will be “KOL”,“data” or “traffic volume”. But few people are mentioning a hidden yet basic principle on social network.I’ll call it “value exchange”, which we believe all social marketing efforts should be built upon. This means that if the brand wants the customers on social networks to click, comment, like or share, you have to offer real value to the audience to exchange for the desired behaviors. What values are Chinese audience seeking besides discount coupon or red packet? We studied close to one hundred successful Chinese social marketing campaigns which triggered millions of retweets and likes during the last three years on WeChat platform and found a pattern. Here are five types of value successful brands are offering to their Chinese audience:


1. A value worth debating

The first secret is not about any specific value, but about the room for audience to participate to express their own point of views. Like and dislike, agree and disagree can both be good for brands on social network. The controversy arouses participation. The worst response is indifference. So brands tapping into a social topic which can arouse strong empathy and controversy can always attract huge consumer engagement. This is because social network is the very few public places allow Chinese consumers for relatively free expression. For example, SKII’s call to understand “leftover females” in 2016 aroused both love and hate from its customers and triggered an online social debate about femininity. Apple’s 2018 CNY campaign “Three Minutes” telling a unique yet universal story between a Chinese kid and his mother started wide-spread discussions about parenting style and education. The most successful social case in 2019 CNY “Who’s Peppa Pig” also instigated heat debate on the meaning of family reunion.


SKII “Leftover Female” campaign


Apple’s “Three Minutes” Video


“Who’s Peppa Pig” is the most successful campaign in 2019 CNY

2. Entertaining value

Entertainment is one of the basic functions of social network. The best example is Durex, it exemplified how good entertaining value could build an iconic brand on social network. For a brand that cannot talk explicitly about its product, it creates a unique playful and humorous style and smartly link itself with real-time hot social topics. Dures has become a unique voice on Chinese social network. This playful style has been widely adopted by brands like Douyin, or known as Tik Tok outside China. Douyin’s hilarious way to demonstrate ancient Chinese national treasures was an instant hit. Pechoin, a Chinese herbal cosmetic brand produced a unique long HTML5 page telling a spy story during Chinese civil war made the brand become popular and cool again among generation Z in China.


Douyin’s social campaign to promote videos of Chinese museums on its platform


Pechoin’s “Killing Time” social campaign

3. Being meaningful = being useful

Chinese people may be the most pragmatic audience in the world. “What’s the benefit for me” is the first question most Chinese audience ask when being introduced a new brand. Social campaigns that can offer a real value of utility can often tick. Nike running app is a typical example perfectly combines brand essence with true function. Adopted as a useful record-keeping tool for runners, Nike running app built a community of runners who established an emotional bond with Nike brand through using Nike app every day. Another case is Xiaomi, the innovative mobile device company launched a “relative calculator” on WeChat platform to help young Chinese to identify the relationship with their extended family members during Chinese New Year. This insightful functional program was widely shared among young audience and further enhanced its brand image as a high-tech brand answering real life needs.


Xiaomi’s useful “Relative Calculator”

4. Help to build an ideal online persona

Chinese online users have a stronger emotional relationship with the social network compared with their western peers. A survey done by JWT APAC analyzing psychological difference between Chinese and American internet users in 2016 showed that 70% of Chinese respondents claimed “I have adopted a completely different persona in some of my online interactions” while only 44% of American respondents agreed so. And a majority of 78% of Chinese respondents said “I have experimented with how I present myself online” comparing to only 31% American respondents agreed on this. This indicates that brands who can help audience to build an ideal online persona will appeal to them. Successful cases leveraging this insight can be easily found on Chinese social platform. Amazon China’s “Everyone is a unique book” campaign allowing audience to project their image through the books they like was an instant hit in 2017. Netease Cloud Music service helped users to generate a self-psychoanalysis report through their preference in music taste. Even as transactional as AliPay leveraged customers’ annual bill to allow them to project their lifestyle and image status. All these campaigns followed the same effective communication strategy: using personal experience to build personal brand.


Netease: “The User Manuel of Who You Are”


AliPay: “Share Your Annual Bill”

5. Demonstrate superiority

If we dig deeper into the insight of building an ideal online persona, brands can play a more powerful role to help their target audience to demonstrate superiority. The common approach is to share your ranking in a certain competition. WeChat Sports mini program offered a function to record your daily walking steps and compare with your friends on WeChat. This result report was fervently embraced by users and constantly shared on social network. Mint Reading APP is another example leveraging this insight. They test and rate potential users’ English vocabulary score to recommend suitable English books and encourage them to share on WeChat to attract other friends to participate. The competition/game ranking mechanism is just the form, the motivation behind it is the opportunity to show off with substance.



WeChat Sports Ranking of Steps

Every successful social marketing campaign in China is rooted in a certain type of cultural value even though in a new digital age. Brands need to truly understand their hidden motivations to trigger the desired behaviors. Our suggestion will be to follow the insight, not the observation. Follow the why, not the what or how. Arouse their empathy or challenge the social prejudice, be entertaining, truly useful, help to build an ideal online persona and show off superiority are just five of the many ways to engage Chinese consumers.




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