Navigating the Chinese Social Media Landscape During Covid-19

By Xavier Schillinger 

The world changed in January 2020. With the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, the Chinese government responded by implementing a national lockdown and strict regulations to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus. Coinciding with the pandemic was the world’s largest annual human migration: around three billion trips made before and after Chinese New Year. 

Born from this chaos is an increased reliance on social media and online platforms as ways to adhere to the nationwide restrictions, while keeping in touch with family and friends, and accessing information, shopping, and entertainment. 

What does this all mean in the digital world? Simply put: it opens up new opportunities. With no definitive end in sight for the pandemic, it’s now up to brands and agencies alike to respond accordingly. 

Which social media platforms in China are on the rise?

Demand for short-form video content has skyrocketed. Audiences flocked to Douyin (Bytedance’s Chinese version of TikTok) and Kuaishou for their social media fix during the week of Chinese New Year. These two leading short video platforms reported a growth of 39% and 35% in daily active users, respectively, when compared to the same period in 2019. 

Changes in the first quarter of 2020

  1. Tencent Meeting: Tencent launched its new webinar platform in December 2019. The company has since been updating its features constantly to help enterprises deal with the evolving crisis, which has forced much of the country to work remotely. Since January 24, the platform opened its business solution for free in China, initially allowing up to 300 attendees for video conferencing. As the virus continued to make its way around the world and dissolve what everyone knew as ‘normal,’ Tencent stepped up by promptly releasing an international version on March 20 to 100 nations free of charge.
  2. Ding Talk: As schools were closing down due to the growing pandemic, it became clear that educational institutions needed to look for new ways to continue lessons and finish out the school year. A communications solution initially intended for business enterprises, Alibaba Group’s Ding Talk pivoted to launch an ‘Attend Classes at Home’ project on February 20, which offered all schools and students free access to its platform. 

How and what content has been shared over social media during the pandemic?

The overriding theme of content shared during this crisis has been one of optimism. People’s Daily published an article titled ‘Light Up Wuhan’ on WeChat to celebrate the end of the lockdown and resumption of life at the original epicenter of the outbreak in China. The article integrated interactive elements for readers to ‘tap and turn on’ the lights of Wuhan’s iconic locations and monuments, generating more than 100,000 views upon being published on WeChat–a metric that is considered the holy grail of readership reach for articles on the platform. 

Another hit in the digital world during this pandemic was entertaining content with a self-deprecating tone. Ding Talk’s agile response to negative feedback is an excellent example of the pervasiveness of this sentiment. When it opened its solution for remote learning, students were left disappointed with its functionalities–as it was initially built as an enterprise platform–leading them to leave poor reviews that caused its ranking to fall from 4.7 stars to 1.3 in the App Store. In response, Ding Talk released a self-mocking song to apologize on Bilibili (a Chinese video-sharing platform), instantly gaining 180 million views and 1 million followers. This campaign soon bettered students’ impressions, and the rating went back up to 2.9 stars. 

User-generated content (UGC) is a critical part of any social media strategy, as it can take on a life of its own in terms of guiding trending content. For Douyin or TikTok, its UGC swung from a challenge-centered trend to popular science and Covid-19-related content, with more accounts promoting a healthy lifestyle through video tutorials of at-home exercises. This shift is a giant leap for the young platform, which–up until this point–was primarily focused on pure entertainment-related content. 

Key takeaways for tackling social media in today’s China

Companies must be extra-mindful of their tone of voice, wordings, and expressions. Avoid being too sales-driven or pessimistic; instead, focus on sharing positive and optimistic content. Creating high-quality content is more of a dealbreaker than ever. When people are relegated to staying at home to follow social distancing measures, where and how do they spend most of their time? You know the answer.

Now is the time for reverse online-to-offline (O2O). Instead of driving customers offline, brands should invest more into enhancing their ecommerce features, live streaming content, WeChat H5 landing pages and campaigns, and mini-programs. 

It’s also crucial to seriously consider investing in online advertising. Cost-per-click (CPC) has plummeted, as most companies put their marketing plans on hold. However, research shows that more people are shifting to online lifestyles, which means running online ads at a lower cost is currently one of the most cost-effective ways to reach your target audiences.

You don’t want to get left behind when this crisis is over, but more importantly, lose too much ground during it. Adapt and adjust in real-time as your audiences are doing the same in navigating this new normal. Please stay safe and be agile; your consumers are counting on it. 

Xavier is the Director of Operations and a Partner at Digital Business Lab.

About the Author

Xavier specializes in traffic acquisition & marketing performance. He is the Director of Operations & Partner at Digital Business Lab, a social media agency based in HK & Singapore. Also, an instructor at HKU SPACE, he teaches the roots of growth hacking marketing and the secrets of Google Analytics.


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