Why China Could Be the Most Social Media-Savvy Country

Laurent Francois Co-founder & exec. creative strategist, RE-UP

Posted on January 31st 2014

Why China Could Be the Most Social Media-Savvy Country
The Lunar New Year is here. And while brands are competing to promote their ads through digital channels for the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII, far more subtle social channels are tested in China.
Last Tuesday, Wechat released a brilliant new feature: allowing users to send Hong Bao, envelopes of money which are traditionally offered for the New Year.
Mashing up culture and technology
It's the fantasy of any marketer: being able to provide a service which totally fits with a natural usage. What WeChat reminds us is that most of the basic needs or habits are not yet solved through social or digital assets. It is obvious that people celebrating New Year need to offer money in Asia; but it is also obvious that using a technology connected to a bank account is not really natural per se for users. Because they might be worried and have hundreds of alternative ways to send and offer money.
On the contrary, some companies like Nike are able to create services that are not directly asked for by the consumers, making tangible a new trend (e.g., assisted health management) to create new needs and behaviours (e.g., Nike + system, Nike Running Clubs, and so forth). Those are fantastic developments, but they required years and millions of investments to create change...
In the case of WeChat, we can see a sort of sweet spot between design (it's easy and convenient to send Hong Bao), socialized context (we are really preparing this transfer for New Year) and technology (I can directly and easily send the money to my personal contacts).
Generating change through organic social connections
The fantasy of a lot of social networks, Facebook included, is to generate transactional revenues through the users the network earns. Facebook gifts never really skyrocketed; the action is still not natural in terms of UX. And that's the reason why at the moment, the way Facebook generates revenue is uber classic. Ads, ads, and again, ads. Not a bad news for the current shareholders as mobile devices have a long way to go before reaching a negative breaking point.
But what WeChat brings is far more advanced: through Hong Bao, WeChat made micro-payments and mobile cash transfer...natural. 
Real Time Marketing vs. On-Time marketing
While Super Bowl social media teams are all talking about the power of real-time marketing, let's confess one thing: we won't be any longer surprised by an Oreo visual showing an athlete failing or making fun of an electric problem. And to be fair, some brands' tone of voice are not made to be funny.
This focus on techniques really looks like a male team of nerds in a fraternity party, trying to show who has the biggest weapon...but is it really what social media is about?
With WeChat, we re-discover the power of relevance; in an era of context, it's not enough to quickly react to whatever happens in the world. It's far more relevant to be on-time with a community real ritual.

At the end, WeChat reminds us that social media should not be approached as another digital channel but as the place where people talk, share, and live with other people through a technology. While focusing too much on big data - therefore on the myth of social media marketing as the killer direct marketing methodology - we forget that there must be a place for uncertainty, accidents...and freedom.
WeChat allows users to accomplish a personal mission, to whomever they like. That's real social media influence.

Laurent Francois

Co-founder & exec. creative strategist, RE-UP

Laurent runs a creative & digital agency in London, RE-UP.

RE-UP develops strong social media strategies for clients like L'Oréal, Clarins, or Nestlé but also for start-ups in the tech industry. 

Laurent also teaches Digital Marketing & Strategy in diverse business schools (ESCP Europe, ECS etc.).

Laurent was the first head of 360° Digital Influence in Europe (now Social @ Ogilvy), operating for clients like Lenovo, Vodafone, Tom of Finland or French government. He then created a business unit dedicated to social media revenue in one of the main media groups in France.

Laurent blogs on fashion on Hit Bag and Le Boulevardier

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