In China, middle class consumers regularly use social media to share consumption experiences. The numbers are staggering, and not simply because of China’s population of 1.3 billion people. The country has 618 million internet users, but 625 million active social media users (thanks to mobile use by 1.24 billion Chinese).
You’ve probably heard of China’s two big social media platforms, WeChat (Weixin) and Sina Weibo, with 355 million and 129 million users. A survey of China’s middle class consumers found that 63% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I believe in products recommended by people I follow on Weibo and WeChat and am interested in giving them a try.”
While you might think China’s social commerce experience is just like the social commerce experience in America, only scaled up for a larger population, you’d be mistaken. There are critical differences in social commerce in China and social commerce in the West – differences American companies can learn from.
Chinese Social Media Users Favor Content Creation Over Content Consumption
Whereas in the US, social media users are mostly content consumers, Chinese internet users are content creators, and influential ones at that. The sheer size of China coupled with small families drives more adults to use social media to interact with trusted friends and family. In China, around three-quarters of all internet users post purchase feedback at least once a month, compared to less than 20% of US internet users, so it’s easy to see how big a deal social commerce is in China.
Commerce and Social Media Have Been More Tightly Coupled in China than in the West
The rise of the middle class and its immense purchasing power in China has proceeded simultaneously with the rise of social media there. By contrast, in the US, there is a generation gap between those with maximum purchasing power and avid social media users. That means that in China, the confluence of those spending money online and those spending time on social media is far more dramatic than the intersection of those two populations in the US.
Why Weibo Is Such a Huge Shopping and Social Platform in China
Weibo is the top social app in the world, and an astonishing 82% of Weibo users shopped online during the third quarter of 2014. Weibo had 167 million monthly active users as of the end of September, 2014, a year-over-year increase of 36%. Most social media users in China shop online more than three times in a given month. Moreover, the biggest Weibo users are in the 20 to 35 age group, which coincides with the demographic with the greatest consumption capability.
Now let’s look at the figures for Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest users and their habits. Sixty-nine percent of Facebook users purchased a product online in the third quarter of 2014, with 77% searching online for products or services. The figures were 73% and 79% for Google+ users, 73% and 79% for Twitter users as well, and 72% and 75% of Pinterest users. So in China, you have a higher percentage of social media users engaged in social commerce, coupled with a larger overall population, so the influence of social commerce is clearly significant.
Lessons US Brands Can Take from China’s Social Commerce Prominence
For those selling products in China, delivering social commerce is expected in order to have a strong social media presence. Social media simply as an advertising platform isn’t how it’s done. US companies can take a cue from this model, and most already know that continually using Facebook to push products alienates today’s savvy social media users. Whether or not Facebook succeeds in transforming an instant messaging app into something comparable to WeChat remains to be seen. Regardless, US social commerce can put a few lessons to work.
First use your digital properties for brand building rather than just advertising. That means using social interactions to encourage user-generated content, which serves as social commerce “proof” of the value of your brand. Second, if you haven’t already, you need to prepare your business for social commerce everywhere. In the future, social commerce won’t necessarily be a separate entity from commerce in general, and the best brands will integrate brand building, social media, and social commerce into seamless experiences that meet consumers wherever they are.
Mastering social commerce may require you to break down silos within your organization so everyone can share new criteria for success focusing on the needs of the consumer. China’s parallel rise of its middle class and its social media have worked out amazingly well for brands there, and companies elsewhere can learn from China’s social commerce experiences.