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Social Media in China: the Consumer Impact

Mobile phone Internet access grows rapidly

According to figures from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), by the end of June 2013, the number of Internet users in the Chinese mainland has exceeded 590 million, of which 464 million (or 78.5%) use their mobile phones for Internet access. Among the different types of Internet applications, instant messaging apps are growing fastest with a user population of 497 million, accounting for 84% of all Internet users. It can be imagined that the popularity of electronic devices and in particular smartphones is having profound effects on the lives and even consumption patterns of mainland residents. When formulating strategies for domestic sales, Hong Kong companies should keep abreast of and harness this trend.

Screen-staring lifestyle on the rise

According to the Survey on China’s Middle-class Consumers published recently by HKTDC Research, the rapid popularisation of electronic products has not only made information and consumption more easily accessible, but has also led to longer screen time (i.e. staring at the screen of an electronic device). The new lifestyle of increasingly long screen time has significant implications on the marketing efforts of enterprises in future. Having the smallest and most frequently watched “screen” among all electronic products, mobile phone will become the most important channel for accessing information about daily life, and for the publicity and marketing of products and services. Enterprises should seriously consider the strategies on how to use appropriate means at appropriate time to promote their products and services via the “screens” of consumers.

Majority have online shopping habit

Among the 1,600 middle-class consumers polled in eight mainland cities in the Survey on China’s Middle-class Consumers, the majority have the habit of shopping online. On the Internet, product range is wide, price comparison is easy and logistics is speedy. All these contribute towards the rapid growth of online shopping. Findings of the questionnaire survey indicate that 83% of the respondents have shopped online. Among them, 61% make online purchase once or more per month, and the overall average of online shopping is 1.43 times per month.

Social media is everywhere

The HKTDC survey revealed that it is common for the middle class on the mainland to make use of instant-messaging software and social networks. Only 4% do not use instant-messaging software or social networks while 93% of the respondents have a QQ account, followed by Weibo (64%), WeChat (54%), Fetion (38%) and MSN / Skype (28%).

Younger respondents not only have a higher ratio in the use of instant-messaging software and social networks, their ratio in using more than one such software or network is also higher. Among respondents in the 25-30 age group, 99% have used QQ and 69% have used WeChat, whereas in the 46-50 age group, 75% have used QQ and 30% have used WeChat. 

Chart: Instant-messaging software and social networks in use (%)

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Social networks influence spending decisions

The middle-class consumers exhibit a greater desire to try out trendy and novel items and products. They are also more willing to share their experience with others. 73% of the respondents agree that “I like sharing and discussing with friends the latest fads and my experience of them”. The proportion of younger respondents who agree that they like trying out new things as well as sharing and discussing trendy stuff with their friends is higher.

TV is definitely the channel through which most respondents obtain information, but when asked which channel would most likely lure them into trying out a new product or service, the most effective channel cited is “sharing among relatives/friends/colleagues”. Online ads are the second most effective channel. Therefore the use of web resources in generating good word-of-mouth will help towards brand image building and the promotion of products or services.

Social network is one of the channels through which the respondents actively share their consumption experience. 58% of the respondents agree that “I would make use of instant-messaging software or social networks to share my good or not-so-good experience in consumption”. Although 42% of the respondents indicate that they seldom take the initiative to share their consumption experience at social networks, they would still take note of the experience shared by others.

StatementProportion who agreeStatement
I’ll either skip or close an online ad when it pops up45%55%I’ll look at an online ad if it is interesting
I believe in products recommended by people I follow on Weibo and WeChat and am interested in giving them a try63%37%I don’t believe in products recommended by people I follow on Weibo or WeChat
I am interested in trying out products recommended by web celebrities49%51%I don’t believe in products recommended by web celebrities
I would make use of instant-messaging software or social networks to share my good or not-so-good experience in consumption58%42%Most of the time, I only watch the experience shared by others, but seldom share my own consumption experience
* Respondents were asked to pick either one of two contrasting statements that best describes their view.
Source: Survey on China’s middle-class consumers, HKTDC

Nearly half (49%) of the respondents indicate that they are interested to try out the products recommended by web celebrities. 63% of the respondents agree that “I believe in products recommended by people I follow on Weibo and WeChat and am interested in giving them a try”. Besides, online ads do not really bother the respondents, as 55% of them said they do look at these ads. As this is the case, how to make the best use of social networks to generate word-of-mouth and publicity for products and services has become an important topic for marketers.

Matthew Kwan, principal consultant at marketing consultancy Adams Company Limited, is an e-marketing specialist on the mainland. He says that a large number of mainland enterprises are now actively using social media as a publicity and marketing tool. Some have even set up teams of more than 100 people to roam social media sites every day. They will post on these sites information about their company’s products and services, chat with other people, and invite them to browse their company’s website. Hong Kong companies interested in expanding sales on the mainland should consider setting up dedicated customer service teams for e-marketing purpose. (Interview with Matthew Kwan at "Social Media in China: Maximising Sales Potential")

Content provided by Picture: Billy Wong
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