The number of Chinese netizens is surely overwhelming, but this giant market can not be seen as one.
Based on research done by McKinsey (China’s Social Media Boom 2012) Chinese social media users can be roughly grouped into six distinct user segments based on their motivation and online behavior, with the first four of them building the key segments.
… are those 15% of social media users, who spend a large amount of time on maintaining their friendship networks. These social enthusiasts can be thought of as brands’ best friends who with 69 minutes a day spend more time on social-media sites than any other segment.Their main motivation to use the social web is building and maintaining their network of friendships by posting daily updates on their lives. This segment is somewhat younger and more educated than the average social media user and the social enthusiasts are open to seeing brand ads on their social media sites.
They are the segment most open to learning about products and services they might purchase and they also welcome advertising and special-purpose apps sponsored by brands more than any other segment. For the social enthusiasts, social media is mostly used for sharing comments, feedbacks and reviews of products and services and telling their network about recent purchases and experiences with brands. Users in this segment are also the most likely ones to use coupons issued to large groups of consumers (as practiced eg by Group-On).
… compose another 15% of social media users, who actively repost content, such as posts, messages or images, from other sources. Despite the fact, that their posted content is not actually original material, they often have large groups of followers. Like social enthusiasts, resenders are also brand-friendly, but they primarily use social-media sites as a way to promote themselves by driving traffic to their blog and generating followers. Their common activities include commenting on others’ blogs, writing on their walls, reposting videos or images and rating others’ content.
They have slightly lower education and income levels than the average social media user and more of them live in lower-tier cities. Being accepting and friendly towards brands on the social web, these users are also happy to contribute to pages devoted to a particular brand’s products with 69 % of resenders saying they spend money every month on things seen on the social web – even more than in the segment of social enthusiasts.
… are those 14% of social media users, who simply read what other users create and post, but don’t usually participate in discussions or content creation. With 55 minutes daily, readers also spend significant time on the social web, mostly for reading content. Readers for example follow a number of micro blogs which they read on a daily basis, but only 13 % of them comment on blogs, and only 7 % write on others’ walls.
They rarely post their own content and consumers in this segment usually tend to be neutral about brand advertising on social-media sites. However they could be influenced by other enthusiasts (such as bloggers) who talk positively about brands and products. Like social enthusiasts and resenders, they also companies and brands as part of their social networks and see them as potential ‘friends’ online.
… make up about 14 % of social media users and use the various platforms to express their own opinions and views on various issues. They often build large groups of personal followers. Opinionated users can potentially become a brand’s worst enemy: They spend an average of 60 minutes on social media sites every day, with the larger part of time spent on creating and uploading content rather than reading it.
Over 60 % of the opinionated users see the social web as an important place to express and share their opinions. These users don’t like advertisement on the social web and they will publish any bad experience they might have had with products or brands. They are also much less likely to purchase products featured online than other segments.
… add up to 21 % of all social media users who basically access social-media sites and content only through their use of the QQ instant-messaging service (by Tencent) which includes content mash-ups from various social media sources. They might access these bits and pieces of content, but their interaction is minimal.
… finally compose the rest of the social media users who belong to one or more social-media sites, but they do not actually participate in any way.
This segmentation strongly suggests that the Chinese social web can’t be treated as one with one overall strategy. A clear distinction between target segments is necessary in order to succeed and appropriate strategies for each segment need to be developed.
China’s social media platforms and online behaviors not only vary internally. They also vary in important ways from those that may be considered their international equivalents.
This variation is not all due to censorship. In China, as elsewhere in Asia, local variations of Internet usage are driven by language, culture, levels of economic development, and the underlying digital ecosystem. Digital ecosystems—the platforms around which populations focus online communications—can vary wildly between countries and within a single country.