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A guide to Chinese social media - let's chat

Madeleine Jannes
14th March 2018

It might be difficult to picture a world without your favourite social media apps.

A life without #ThrowbackThursday or #SelfieSundays may be unimaginable, but in China, practically no one uses the apps we’re familiar with. Social media in China is dominated by WeChat and Weibo, two super apps that combine features of many well known apps on just two platforms. To explain these super apps further, here’s our guide to understanding Chinese social media.

What is WeChat?

WeChat launched in 2011 by investment company Tencent. The app gained popularity quickly, and by the end of 2016 had 889 million users. In addition to viewing the profiles of friends and families, WeChat users can also view celebrity profiles and see what events they are hosting through the app. Unfortunately, members aren’t able to become friends with celebrities and influencers but can view their posts. Users can even explore who is in their location and communicate with people nearby them. WeChat can be described as a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Venmo, Instagram, Tinder, Yik Yak, Fandango and Ticketmaster, as well as various food ordering sites. Thats a lot of apps, so let’s break them down and compare them with the features of WeChat.

Moments: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

Similar to Instagram, you can use the Moments tab to post a picture and comment on your friends’ photos. You also have a profile pic and cover photo - like Facebook and Twitter. Users can also control who sees their posts, similar to Facebook.


Top Stories: News

Top Stories allows users to browse current events just like the Apple News app.


QR code: Snapchat

Through QR codes, users can scan each other’s code to add contacts. This is similar to a snapcode, which is how users add friends on Snapchat.


Games tab: App Store

With the games tab, users can browse various other applications to download and play their favourite games.


Shake: Tinder

Shake randomly connects with another user who has shaken their phone at the same time. Like Tinder, users can pick and choose who they want to talk to, and shake again if they don’t like what they see.


Drift Bottle: YikYak

The Drift Bottle feature allows users to drop a voice message or short text and leave a virtual message in a bottle. You can pick up a message or drop one and correspond with the finder of your message. Like YikYak, everything is anonymous unless both users agree to become friends.


TenPay: Venmo and PayPal

Tencent, the company who created WeChat, have developed their own banking tool called TenPay, where users can pay each other and companies for various different occasions, such as going out to eat.


How are brands using WeChat?

Brands are now utilising WeChat to reach Chinese consumers. Chanel has made use of moments in WeChat by showcasing their Spring line in pictures and short videos. Burberry has used its official WeChat page to showcase runway looks, the history of their most famous pieces, and to enable users to shop from the Burberry collections. Starbucks even ran a campaign where they asked WeChat users to send in an emoji and Starbucks would send back a song to reflect that mood.


What is Weibo?

Weibo is a Chinese microblogging website. The app launched in 2009 and is currently used by more than 30 per cent of internet users in China. It's most often compared to Twitter, with about 100 million messages posted to it each day. Similarly, there is a character limit to each post, and the app is built around a follower-followee network. It's believed that users disclose more personal information about their day-to-day lives on this platform when compared with WeChat. 

Like many networks, users can also be ‘verified’ on Weibo if they're a well-known celebrity. Big names on Weibo include Jackie Chan, Emma Watson, Avril Lavigne and Mike Tyson. Of these, Jackie Chan is the most popular with approximately 12 million followers. Most of Weibo’s verified accounts are traditional celebrities rather than self-made influencers. Unlike WeChat, Weibo members are able to follow celebrities and comment on their favourite celebrity content.


Professional influencers in China

Although traditional celebrities influencers on WeChat and Weibo remain the most popular in China, professional influencers are also on the rise. There's even a college in China that offers courses in becoming an influencer. This includes modules that train students in make-up, catwalk practice, dance performances, and anything else you need to be a social media celebrity. Students train in aesthetic cultivation, fashion sensitivity, public relations etiquette and photo-processing skills.

On average, top-earning social media celebrities can earn $46 million a year. Famous influencers include Gogoboi, a 4.5 million follower blogger who comments on fashion and is known for his candour. Mr. Bags, a fashion blogger with a 3-million strong following, known for his high-end accessory recommendations. Fil Xiao Bai, a fashion blogger with 560,000 followers has now landed the role of head stylist on China’s Next Top Model because of her online presence. In total, these influencers have 8,060,000 followers on Weibo alone-well worth the classes if you can achieve the reach these influencers have…

If there’s one word to describe Chinese social media, it's 'integrated'. Everything is accessible through just two platforms - both with distinct and separate uses. It makes the social media most of us are familiar with look lightweight and incomplete. China might not have the breadth of networks that we're able to access, but it's clear they're not missing out on any social media innovations.

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