B2B Social Marketing in China - Beginner's Introduction
Somebody asked me for some general advice on how to use social media for B2B marketing in China.
I’ll answer that here. This is a beginner-level post for marketers with little to no experience with China.
Now for some details about the project. The company in question provides environmental services to other businesses. It’s a large business, but has a small online presence in China. Let's call them “AB Envirobots”. (Just “Envirobots” is taken already!)
AB Envirobots’ main goal is to drive leads to their sales team. The sales cycle is slow, so at first, they expect to build their brand and build relationships in the industry.
As a secondary goal, they also hope to be able to attract quality employees. I think it’s great that they set this as a goal from the beginning, because this can often get left out. But for any large business planning to be more active in China, attracting and keeping the right employees may even be the most important thing they can do.
Specifically, they want to answer these questions:
- Should they use social media in China?
- If so, which platforms should they use?
- What type of content should they post? How often?
- What style should they use?
- What should they do to attract employees?
Should they use social media?
Absolutely they should use it! Both in China and out, people will watch your social media – potential partners, clients, employees – all of them will pay attention. It counts.
I can sense that the reason they might ask this question is that they’re thinking that maybe social media just isn’t relevant for business-to-business marketing. Maybe it’s too dry, too boring or not the right medium to reach people for business decisions.
So here are some quick facts about social media & business in China:
- WeChat is the main way people keep in touch with business contacts. Even business cards are going out of fashion.
- There are over 700 million daily active Chinese users on WeChat and over 300 million monthly active users on Weibo, both popular with white-collar professionals. For more, see WeChat’s 2016 Data Report or Weibo’s 2017 Q1 financial results.
- Most of the major global social media platforms are blocked, including Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. LinkedIn isn’t blocked.
- Only about 1/3 of Chinese Internet users use email. (See data like this on CNNIC’s website.) However, email is common on workplace desktop computers.
Next question: Which platforms should they use?
The Big Two: WeChat & Weibo
WeChat is the most popular social platform in China. For B2B purposes, there are two main ways I’d recommend AB Envirobots uses WeChat for sure.
First, they should use it to share news with their followers. WeChat is mobile-first and allows for long-form posts. It’s best to use a mixture of text and images in each post. It’s more like blogging than it is like posting on Facebook.
Second, they can use it as a customer support tool. They should allow users to contact them directly via WeChat.
With these points in mind, WeChat isn’t the easiest platform to spread the word on. We think of it as a tool to keep in touch with followers. It can be tough to build the first few hundred followers. You can see some more tips on how to do that here.
I believe AB Envirobots already has partners and employees in China - they can be a great resource! Anything they post officially, is likely to be shared through these contacts. Keep in mind that these individuals are very likely to have many business & personal contacts on WeChat. I find Chinese people to be quite open to sharing posts from friends or work too.
Now for Weibo. Weibo’s a bit like Twitter. It’s more open than WeChat, making it easier to spread content and gain followers. In my opinion, it’s actually easier to generate interaction on Weibo than it is on Twitter. Weibo has a lot more features built in, including a nicer commenting experience and richer post formats.
We recommend integrating images and video into our posts.
Here’s an example of a post by Siemens:
Do not get dissuaded by the fact that Weibo only has about 1/2 the number of active users of WeChat. Even though they have fewer users, they still have over 200 million monthly active users. Plus, our Weibo campaigns consistently kill it – that’s what matters most to me.
Weibo’s advertising options are particularly useful for businesses that are just starting out and want to gain followers. In short, Weibo ads can be used for B2B purposes to spread the word from friend-to-friend. There are a variety of ad formats, targeting options and other configuration options.
Q & A Platforms: Zhihu, Baidu Tieba
Baidu Tieba is a forum-like platform. It’s owned by Baidu, so shows up in search results a lot.
We use Tieba in two ways. First, we create and monitor an official Tieba (board). Second, we monitor various topics, then jump into the conversation.
Here’s a Tieba for Siemens, with 120,000 posts on it and almost 30,000 followers!
It’s possible for a business to gain control of a board about their business. In the case of Siemens, it doesn’t look like they’ve put much effort in. They haven’t even put up their logo.
Zhihu is a Q&A platform that feels a lot like Quora. For marketing, it can be used to answer direct questions about your company. For Siemens, we can see that people use it to learn about job opportunities. The top two questions of today are:
- How can I get into Siemens?
- What kind of company is Siemens?
When it comes to technical topics, it can be tricky to choose the best team configuration. While an in-house marketing department or agency should be able to outline a strategy and form style rules, some questions can be very technical. It’s best to leverage staff from within the company that can answer questions authoritatively. (See this post for my opinion about how to choose between in-house and agency staff.)
Not a social platform, but still very important to the marketing effort. Baidu Baike is Baidu’s wiki. It will be important for EB Envirobots, because once more people become familiar with their brand, they’ll start to search about it on Baidu. When they do that, we really hope they’ll see some positive & accurate content from a variety of sources, such as Weibo, Baidu Tieba, Zhihu and Baidu’s wiki. Plus, it’s possible for a brand to apply for control of their wiki.
Let me quote the Dragon Metrics team’s Baidu SEO guide: “Maintaining a corporate page on Baidu Baike can be helpful for optimizing for branded search queries. Since Baike is considered as the authoritative source of information, building positive, unbiased content on your company’s Baike page can be extremely important.”
What other platforms?
I listed some of the most common platforms we use. But it’s important to do the research and use whatever opportunities are available. In most industry verticals, there are niche websites with news, forums, networking tools, etc. We always poke around to see what we can find. We ran a B2B campaign last year (2016) where a regular-old banner ad on an old-fashioned forum website outperformed a well-tuned Baidu PPC ad campaign.
Question 3: What type of content should they post?
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan. But I’ll tell you how we think it through and give an example of an imaginary campaign plan.
To plan it out, we look at these things:
- What are potential customers & employees saying about the business now? We ‘Baidu’ it and check on the platforms mentioned above.
- What types of content is the business producing in English? What’s been working well and what hasn’t?
- What are competitors doing on social? What seems to be working for them?
- As an agency, what do we know from other B2B campaigns that is applicable here?
Based on this research, we form a content plan.
We often start by looking for easy wins. If a company already has great content in English and we think it’s relevant for China, can we simply translate & subtitle it? Sometimes we can. Hey, we won’t be winning any awards for that, but practical approaches like that are usually what brings the right ROI.
We’ll also ask ourselves “what type of content should be created fresh for the China market”? How can we obtain that content?
To illustrate a content plan, we’ll imagine an outline for AB Envirobots’ fictional Chinese B2B social campaign.
For the topics, we’d choose several areas and briefly describe them. I try to write it in a way that speaks to the heart and lines up with any branding guidelines passed down from above.
- Environmental inspiration – Share inspirational stories about environmental service success around the world. The topic is broad and the rules are few. Connect with the hearts of the modern Chinese adult dreaming of a clean & safe China for their children.
- Environmental technology drill-down – Share technical insights in our areas of work. Posts should be technical in nature and as close to the leading edge as possible.
- Green events – News on exciting environmental awareness events that we sponsor.
- Company promotions – As a rule-of-thumb, only 20% or less of our posts should be direct promotions. For example, the launch of a new product or new job openings.
For a schedule, we’d set out a general outline of what to post when. Then, in most cases, we’d also create a specific plan that shows actual post topics by day.
- Weekly – Two long-form articles on WeChat. Content adapted and translated from English.
- Daily – Two posts on Weibo.
- Work days – Review content on Baidu Tieba, Zhihu and other platforms. Provide answers as soon as possible. Ideally, this would be daily, but realistically it may require days to get and share appropriate responses.
- As soon as possible – Setup social account profiles, Baidu Baike page. Review other promotion options. This could take up to two months.
The real content plan would be more thoroughly thought out, but hopefully it still wouldn’t be very long or complex. Long, boring files tend to get buried and forgotten. But concise guidelines can be referenced often and kept up-to-date.
Question 4: What style should be used?
This is a tricky question to answer for an imaginary campaign. For real campaigns, it’s always a debated topic.
Chinese business culture can be formal and stodgy on the surface. But Chinese Internet users are very open to fun, friendly ‘meme-ified’ communications.
A business should have a deep understanding of their purpose and core values. Those should be used to guide the style of their social marketing. There is a way to seem like a big, professional business but still have a lively, colourful personality.
As for the post formats, I’ll give a recap:
- WeChat – blog-like posts with plenty of images. Around 1,500 Chinese characters would be about right.
- Weibo – Twitter-like posts, but with images & video if possible.
- Zhihu – High-quality logical answers.
- Tieba – Concise answers.
- Baidu Baike – Formal informational wiki.
Question 5: What should they do to attract employees?
First, post on social platforms. Second, if necessary, post on job-search platforms as well.
Everything I mentioned above about B2B social marketing is relevant to attracting employees as well. I envision an ongoing campaign to build the brand, followers and interaction over time. They should periodically make job postings, but stick to the content outline to keep users engaged. Just like there can be too many promotions, there can be too many job posting too.
During key hiring drives, they should also post on job-search sites such as 51 Job.
To Close It Up
Every situation is different, but the advice above should apply to many B2B marketing situations.
If you’d like to discuss a social marketing plan for your business, feel free to contact us. We may be able to provide a related case study, custom quote or otherwise point you in the right direction.
If you’re starting out learning about marketing in China, you could also check our China Digital Marketing 101 page for more info.