Social Media Pointers for Food and Beverage Brands Launching in China

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There can be a big payoff for businesses using social media marketing in China—so long as they consider the country’s unique platforms and online preferences

 

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Social media marketing in China is a growing force, but the country follows a playbook different from any other.
  • Businesses using social media in China must learn to work with unique platforms since many of the standard ones, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are blocked within China’s borders.
  • Because of the structure of China’s social media platforms, creating a loyal brand following may require a large investment, including getting endorsements from a Key Opinion Leader, or influencer.
  • In addition to pushing out messages, brands can mine consumer-generated content for insights.
  • With ecommerce becoming a mainstay for much of China’s population, creating purchasing opportunities via social media is recommended.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

For food and beverage manufacturers, there’s no denying the power of social media marketing for product promotion. Over 3 billion consumers now fall into the socially-connected, always-on consumer category and Hootsuite projects that in 2018 alone, more than $51.3b will be spent on social media advertising. But, although general social media strategies remain the same worldwide—increase brand recognition, perception and sales—the specifics change dramatically by location. Nowhere is the social media landscape more different than in China. Businesses using social media in China must adapt their marketing plans to align with a few fundamental truths.

China has unique social media platforms
Sometimes limitation breeds innovation. China has a history of blocking world-famous digital platforms, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. But developers have created stand-ins that replace these and, in some cases, actually improve upon mobile payment, social engagement and more. Although there are dozens of successful platforms to choose from, the following three are currently considered the best for brand-building among China’s consumers.

WeChat: This is the biggest social media presence in China and a platform that recently surpassed 1 billion user accounts globally. WeChat has been compared to Facebook/Messenger and is focused on social interaction. Functionality on WeChat includes a newsfeed, chat and ecommerce capabilities, though the closed platform can make it challenging to widely share posts, which is why some marketers say engagement with targeted community groups is a must. People can easily create “Groups” and “Moments” to share their favourite meals, snacks and drinks or to show off fascinating foods and beverages, and brands can join the conversation. WeChat is where internet-famous food and beverage brands such as HeyTea and Master Bao got their start—the often-posted-about tea and bakery shops now have long lines queuing outside of their shops at all hours.

Weibo: Though smaller than WeChat, the social media platform Weibo still has around 400 million users. It is commonly compared to Twitter and is mostly used as an information sharing site, with users posting short text blurbs along with photos or videos. Because it’s an open platform, users can see content posted by anyone, not just their direct contacts. Content is generally searchable by topic, meaning brands have a good chance of having their content seen. The top Weibo food bloggers focus on bringing their unique perspectives on new food and beverage to the platform, posting about local and international restaurants, recipes, trends and travel experiences. Like WeChat, this is a useful platform for posting and is also a great resource for watching to better understand market trends and blogger and consumer insights.

Dianping: This group buying site is the biggest O2O (online to offline) platform in China. Like Groupon, it allows consumers to make discount purchases for events and services. But it also acts a bit like Yelp, featuring an extremely popular rating system which ranks a large proportion of China’s restaurants, shopping malls, hotels, karaoke, bars and more. For the foodservice industry, in particular, it is an important place to promote brand reputation and interact with consumers. People turn to Dianping when deciding where to go out to eat or for entertainment. Decisions can be made based on location, price, ratings and more, which pushes the industry to provide high-quality service, food and experience in order to reach and maintain position at the top of the category.

Social media marketing in China isn’t cheap
It may be relatively inexpensive to make food and beverage products in China, but marketing them comes at a heftier price. Even brands based in China often choose to engage a local social media agency to navigate platforms, design strategy and maintain posting. But, because the general quality of marketing content in China is not good, with brands focusing on free advertising in marketing platforms and a low investment in images and articles, people tend to not follow brands. This makes it a challenge to engage with consumers, but creates an opportunity for marketers with quality content to stand out.

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Influencers come in all shapes and sizes
While social media “influencers” are pivotal in Europe and Latin America, China has KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders. A KOL can be a person or brand that already has a trusted relationship with thousands or even millions of consumers. Especially on closed platforms such as WeChat, engaging a KOL is key to attracting new followers, promoting content and converting consumers into customers.

KOL recommendations can direct fans to follow a trend, go to a certain restaurant, purchase a particular infant formula and more. Consumers tend to see a KOL simply engaging with a product as an endorsement, and will often make purchasing decisions to better align with the KOLs they follow. Of course, before engaging with a KOL, it’s important to research which KOLs would appeal most to the market you’re trying to reach. Although engaging a KOL is another often expensive part of social media marketing, it can help food and beverage marketers promote products to their target customer and potentially get a head start when entering China’s competitive marketplace.

Social Media can Help You Capitalise on Ecommerce
When consumers in China aren’t using their smartphones to visit social media apps, they may be shopping with them. Alipay, a popular mobile payment app in China that’s managed by the shopping site Alibaba, has 520 million active users. (U.S. favorite Paypal has 203 million consumer accounts.) During Alibaba’s 2017 “Single’s Day”—which some say is comparable to the U.S.’s Black Friday—82% of Chinese shoppers shopped on their mobile phones; in comparison, only 36% of Americans made black Friday purchases on a mobile on last year.

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WeChat Pay is the other big player in China’s mobile payment space, largely because people can book appointments, hail cabs and shop for products, all without the need to leave the app or log into another platform. This blurring of the line between social media and ecommerce makes it clear that, in China, brands with online purchasing opportunities—including ones linked through social sites—make it easy for consumers make a quick purchase. In order to get the best results from social media, brands will want to ensure there’s alignment with their digital and ecommerce strategies.

Kerry has offices around the world, including in China, which helps us to have a local perspective on food and beverage trends. To learn more about our capabilities, or to get insights into consumer preferences for foods and beverages, contact us.

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