Make the Most of Your Content Marketing in China
You’re probably here because you’re looking for a solution to a problem: how to create content that resonates with your potential customers and at the same time provides a return on investment. You want to build trust and also make sure you receive leads that more are representative of your target audience and are therefore more willing to convert. However, China is a challenging environment. For businesses that are new to China, two things can prove difficult: knowing what platforms exist, and getting past the language barrier. You have probably done some research and identified WeChat and Baidu as the must-haves to target consumers in the Chinese market, but what now?
I’m going to break the news to you: Chinese users on average have accounts with 9 social platforms. And yes, most likely WeChat is one of them, alongside Weibo, Douyin, Zhihu, Baidu Tieba, QQ, Bilibili and… I could just keep going. Am I saying you have to create content for all of the platforms? No. So, what exactly am I saying? Well, two things really.
The first thing we need to consider is that it’s difficult to grasp the attention of people who are distracted by an avalanche of information across multiple platforms. Actually, there’s a reason why short-video platforms (such as Douyin a.k.a. TikTok) became so popular, and that’s because 15-second videos are perfect for the modern netizen's attention span.
Secondly, as we work with educational institutions and companies in various industries we need to keep learning and adapting to the changing environment. If we can manage to review our content strategy to make the most of each piece of content we create—so can you. If you’re coming from a marketing background yourself then I’m not gonna reinvent the wheel for you here. The repurposing of content is something that Western marketers have been talking about (and executing!) for a while. However, what I will teach you is how to make use of the strategy within the Chinese market.
Oh, and one more note: nothing I am about to share with you here is just theoretical. These are all tried-and-tested methods that are currently being implemented by myself and our team on-the-ground in China. I will also use some examples to guide you through the process.
Create Content That Resonates
Our main goal here is to position you as an expert within a certain niche and build trust between your brand and the users. We want to associate your name with certain topics and make sure your readers turn to you when they are seeking expert advice. You can achieve this through repurposing your content.
So, the idea behind repurposing the content is pretty simple: focus on creating one central piece of content that provides real value. Gary Vee refers to it as 'Pillar Content'. It should be well-researched and long enough to cover any questions your readers may have. Let’s drop the idea of creating as much content as possible in the shortest possible time and captioning it with a clickbait title—all it does is bring disappointment. We need to prioritize quality over quantity and stop pressuring ourselves to release loads of content.
Let’s first talk about creating the pillar content. I assume you write in Chinese yourself or have a Chinese content creator handy. I’m also guessing that you may have a piece of content in your native language ready, or you have enough expertise (or research done) to just sit down and write. On top of all that, you have probably done keyword research in your native language to find out what topics are more likely to get attention. Hold on for a bit here— why not do it in Chinese as well? We do not recommend using Ubersuggest; instead, have a try with Aizhan. If you’re in a similar position to us, our industry pro tip is to check Zhihu (China’s answer to Quora) to see what questions people ask and adapt your content accordingly.
Our clients often work in specialist industries or areas that are new to our content team when they first encounter them. If there is a Chinese speaker available on the client’s team, that’s perfect. We do some brain-picking with the Chinese sales team to see if their leads have asked the relevant questions, and we also ask them to double-check the content, industry-specific wording and definitions, etc. However, if there’s no Chinese-speaking expert available, our team often goes to Zhihu, Baidu Zhidao or industry forums to see the current topics of conversations, what language is being used, and to directly ask specific questions. We also try to imagine what the customer’s journey is like and come up with questions they may ask (unless the sales team have already helped with that).
Generally, depending on the situation, we may create the content from scratch or translate a given piece (which is often cheaper). But we always make sure to adapt the message and the language to the readers. Localized content is always more likely to win over your audience.
On top of that, your pillar content does not necessarily have to be an article. Videos are now the most desirable medium in China, and it creates more opportunities in terms of distribution. What we do for our own marketing as an example, is create a training video on the topic (either in Chinese or in English) and use it for our bilingual marketing. Moreover, more and more of our clients choose to rely on videos for their English-language marketing. The central piece of content is then handed over to us and we take it from there: adding subtitles, creating a Chinese-language article based on the video, and repurposing it for social media, Q&A platforms, and forums. Did I just jump ahead?
Repurposing Your Perfect Piece of Content
You don't always attract your exact (and desired) target audience with your content and that shouldn't be viewed as a waste of time. You should be concentrating on reaching the broadest audience possible within your niche with one piece of content. By increasing distribution and maximizing your scope, you will increase your overall readership, which increases the chance of finding your target audience. The more readers, the lower the cost, and the higher chance you reach people who are actually interested in what you sell. However, a completely random distribution is not advised. It's still important to focus your efforts across the platforms that your potential customers are known to use on a regular basis.
Actually, let me show you some data first. Imagine the situation, you’re a new consumer brand in China and no one knows about you. Your product may be in high demand, but your local competitors are always ten steps ahead of you. WeChat has been recommended to you as a good starting point, and so you produce highly-professional and valuable content and publish it to your official account. But you do not have followers, or just a low ad budget. Apart from sharing the QR code on offline events, it seems impossible to build a follower base. Six months later, very little has improved or changed and your social reports are looking rather sad.
Let’s look at another case. You’re a B2B company and you offer a rather niche service. You are going after the quality of leads rather than the quantity. You don’t have direct competitors in China, but your potential customers have no idea that they need the service you offer. You do not have the human resources to send your sales team after the potential clients, but you do have the resources to create more content. Your initial efforts with just WeChat do not bring enough traction, so you dig deeper and start publishing the content on multiple platforms. You have your articles published on WeChat, Zhihu, Sina Blog and Baijiahao, and a few Chinese business platforms per month. Your sales team also uses WeChat and QQ for customer support, so they can conveniently share relevant content with incoming leads, which helps you retain unclosed sales. Additionally, you go ahead and publish shorter pieces on Zhihu, replying to questions people have already asked. And the numbers do not look bad at all! Apart from building a follower base on WeChat (something you have been after from the beginning), you also get a great response on Zhihu.
Of course, you may still think this is more miss than hit. How many of the few hundred or thousand followers you gain will turn into customers, especially if you sell a very niche product/solution? Well, by the rule of thumb, when you enter a completely new market, you must expect some misses. That’s why it is important to distribute across as many (relevant) platforms as possible. This will help you expand your reach, save money and learn more about the consumers. With time, you will learn what content is the most valuable, and what platforms generate the most leads. But while you’re still learning, let’s apply your resources in the right place.
The Process of Creating Micro-content on Chinese Platforms
Once you have your pillar content ready, it is time to determine which platform it will go to. One obvious choice is building a blog on your Chinese site. Blogs may not be very popular in China, but at least the information is there if anybody should come across your website first. You should also have a verified WeChat account where you can publish the article. But what next? It is worth setting up more accounts on platforms with a user base which is close to your target audience. Zhihu would be another obvious choice because there's a place for all kinds of content on Zhihu (learn more here). But do not only stick to the most popular platforms. There are various platforms relevant to your industry! For Epsilon (who offers data-driven marketing solutions), we set up accounts not only on Zhihu and WeChat, but also on Woshipm, Jianshu, and PMcaff - platforms focused around Product Managers in China. For each article we write, we also research platforms independently; because a topic may find success on one platform and not others.
Some industry platforms in China are more similar to working with an influencer as you have to pay for your content to be featured. The prices may be as low as 100-300 CNY, but some will cost you thousands of CNY. If your business is in a high-risk industry and you need to gain customer’s trust, it may be a good investment. However, the cheaper platforms work just as well. Irrelevant of the cost, each platform will also work as external links for your SEO, and are likely to rank much higher on Baidu’s SERP than your website.
As for the micro-content, you have multiple opportunities. But remember: visual content creates a longer-lasting impact. First, take out smaller pieces and quotes to publish on platforms such as Weibo. If you create graphics with the quotes or word clouds, they will break down your longer articles nicely, which means they are more likely to be shared by other users. If you are experienced with video creation, you may also repurpose your pillar content into short videos summing up the main points of the article or record a Q&A, which answers questions that have been posted in the comments across the platforms. You can post it on video platforms, as well as Zhihu, WeChat and Weibo.
We actively go and search for related questions on Zhihu, Tieba or Baidu Zhidao to see if our content can provide any value there. If you did some research ahead of creating the content, you most likely already have some posts to answer. The advantage of setting up an account on Chinese platforms is that you can follow certain topics. This way, you stay on top of the posts others publish, and you can interact with them using the content from your pillar piece. You never know when a chance to reuse your older content may pop up! For example, for Matmatch (a material search platform that connects engineers and material suppliers), our post about Tesla’s Cybertruck on Zhihu gained a lot of attention!
We do not copy-paste the content and we always make sure we adapt the language to the platform. That’s why it is good to do a bit of research and learn more about the platforms you post on. The fact that something started as a professionally-written article doesn’t mean it cannot be adapted for a Q&A platform where you’d keep a more informal and conversational style. We actually covered Zhihu’s style more in detail here.
Here are some final thoughts on the rules to follow while working on your content:
- For the pillar piece, you need to find the right balance between the length and the amount of information. Especially for WeChat, make sure you include enough visual content, and break down the content into shorter paragraphs. Remember that Chinese characters can make the page seem crowded. You may also consider breaking down your pillar piece into two pieces of content or a series of articles. Make sure to link these to the previous articles.
- Generally, link wherever you can. Many platforms in China do not allow sharing links; in that case, make sure you add a short bio in the footer so users know who you are and how to stay in touch with you.
- Don’t be afraid of using different formats. Videos may be scary at the beginning but you’ll get the hang of it. Besides, users are often attracted to styles that feel natural and unstaged! Especially if you’re talking to, let’s say, Chinese students. Video is a great way of getting their attention, and is their preferred way of receiving new information.
- Make sure you share the content you create with existing clients and sales you haven’t closed. If you use a personal WeChat account as a customer support tool, you can send it to your existing contacts and post the content on Moments as well.
Phew! It seems like a lot of work for just a single piece of content! But think of all the readers you will be able to reach with just that one piece, and as people have nine social accounts on average, they're going to see your content across multiple platforms; increasing your exposure and ensuring they remember your name!