Just like the rest of the world, social media is incredibly popular in China. However, the platforms used, how users interact with them, and how marketers can leverage each one are all completely unique to China.
The majority of the most popular platforms in the rest of the world such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, and many others are all blocked to users in China. While it may be easy to dismiss China’s own social media platforms simply as copies of western sites, as you dive deeper you’ll notice how different they actually are.
The age-old question about social media and SEO is does social media influence organic rankings? From our research and experience, we affirm what is true outside China is true for Baidu as well: Social media has no direct influence on organic rankings, though there is often a strong correlation between high performing social accounts and high-ranking sites on Baidu.
This means a link from social media sites won’t give the target URL an organic rankings boost. However, some social media platforms such as Sina Weibo are indexed by Baidu, so social media pages can receive organic rankings and traffic.
Regardless of the direct impact social may have on your organic rankings, understanding the unique social media environment in China will still be valuable to your SEO efforts.
China has many homegrown social media platforms that attract millions of daily users. Instant messaging platform Tencent QQ, online community platforms such as Baidu Tieba, Douban and Zhihu, and all continue to be extremely popular in China. Even Linkedin, one of the very few foreign social networks accessible in China, has an active community in China. However, no platform is nearly as popular and ubiquitous as Tencent’s WeChat and Sina Weibo.
Sina Weibo was started in 2009 with many similarities to Twitter. Over time, Weibo introduced many features to differentiate itself, such as threaded comments, long-form content, photo albums, and an algorithmic timeline. In spite of this, Sina Weibo still remains a micro blogging platform at its core.
Common Elements of a Enterprises Weibo Profile Page
Weibo is likely the most efficient channel for influencers marketing in China. Even the advertising platform itself offers capabilities to connect influencers with advertisers.
Celebrities and enterprises can earn verification (V Badges), which bring access to additional features such as:
Sina Weibo’s own advertising platform is called 粉丝通 (Fen Si Tong), which allows you to target users by demographic information, just like Facebook or Twitter.
Sina Weibo’s content is indexed by Baidu, and can appear as rich snippets right on the SERP. This makes it possible for users to see your Weibo page and content when searching for your brand or offerings.
Guangzhou Transportation Department’s Weibo showing up for the query “廣州交通” (Guangzhou Traffic)
Guangzhou Transportation Department’s Weibo showing up for the query “廣州交通” (Guangzhou Traffic)
Because of its integration with Baidu search, Sina Weibo is the most important social platform you should pay attention to from a strictly SEO point of view
Social media profiles tend to rank quite well for brand terms in Google. In Baidu, that’s not always the case. From our experience, there are a few factors that could make your Weibo page rank well in Baidu:
If you want your Weibo page to show up when for brand searches, your Weibo page’s name must match your brand name.
For non-branded terms, Baidu will take look at the quality and quantity of followers of the account
The more content your page has, and more frequently the page is updated, the more likely Baidu will rank your content
You should insert keywords into the page description and consider adding relevant tags to your page and each piece of content you post
Verified accounts tend to rank better in Baidu
Further reading Sina Weibo marketing
Launched in 2011 as a instant messaging mobile app, WeChat has grown into so much more. Not only is it China’s most popular live chat app, but it has become a massive multi-functional O2O (online to offline) platform that has completely changed everyday life in China.
While web and desktop versions exist, WeChat is primarily a mobile app experience. No app indexing is made available to search engines, and all URLs generated by WeChat are also inaccessible to most search engines. As far as most search engines are concerned, WeChat is a complete black box. Because of this, activities on WeChat will have no direct effect on Baidu SEO at all.
There one exception to this is Sogou. Back in 2013, Tencent (maker of WeChat) acquired a 36.5% stake in Sogou. It came as no surprise a few years later when the search engine was given exclusive access to indexing WeChat content. No other search engine besides Sogou offers the ability to search WeChat content. Besides being integrated into search engine results, a special portal for WeChat search is available, which is a great way of discovering related content and accounts to follow. However, with Sogou only occupying a 12.4% share of the China search market, you cannot rely on WeChat as major part of your SEO strategy.
Regardless of the lack of direct connection to Baidu SEO, the ubiquity of WeChat in China makes it imperative to understand for any marketer in China.
Much more than just an instant messaging platform, WeChat has so many features that describing it is often a challenge. There is truly no other platform in the world like it to draw comparison. By opening up the platform to allow 3rd parties to build services on top of it, WeChat has grown into a massive portal offering a staggering number of services and integrations all inside a single app.
Here’s just a small portion of what you can do with WeChat:
This infographic shows even more examples on how Wechat is being used in China
WeChat Discover provides social features that help users stay in touch with friends and find strangers to talk to.
Moments is a social news feed where users can share their current status, upload images, videos, and share articles. Users can like or comment on each status update.
Scanning a QR code allows users to interact with other WeChat accounts via offline elements (e.g. claim a coupon by scanning a printed QR code in a physical store)
Shake is a social feature that allows users to meet random strangers by matching users that both are shaking their phones at the same time. Last year WeChat expand this functionality to allow users to discover interesting things around their location, such as nearby stores that match their interests or are currently running a promotion.
People Nearby finds all WeChat users that are nearby their current location. Users can choose whether to be listed in this feature or disable WeChat from accessing their location information
Message in a Bottle is another social feature that allows WeChat users to leave their message to another user who can randomly pick up their message
Wallet is where all the transactional capabilities of WeChat are located. Users can add a bank card or credit card to their account to gain access to features like transferring money, paying bills, donating to charity, ordering taxis, and other services.
All of these extensive features bring a great deal of opportunity for marketers in China. Although WeChat activities won’t impact Baidu SEO directly, China SEOs should at least be familiar with the basics due to its immense popularity.
Businesses doing promotion on WeChat will need to open an official account (rather than a personal account). Users can subscribe to official accounts to consume and interact with content created by the brand and communicate directly with them.
It’s important to point out that if you are using WeChat outside of China, you’ll be getting a completely different experience than a local China user account. Official accounts created outside of China are not visible or searchable to local users in China. They can only be viewed by international WeChat users, who can see both international and local official accounts. No one in China will be able to subscribe to your account or see any content you create.
This has massive implications for foreign companies trying to use WeChat for marketing in Mainland China. To get a local Chinese official account, you must have a legal entity in China. Therefore, if your organization does not have an official presence in Mainland China, your options for marketing on WeChat there are very limited.
In order to market to WeChat users in Mainland China you must ensure you have a local China official WeChat account
It’s worth mentioning that there are 2 types of official accounts, used for different purposes:
For most non-media organizations, a service account will be the preferred option since they provide more integration capabilities to tailor their user experience.
While an official WeChat account’s basic features create a convenient channel for communications between consumers and businesses, what really makes official accounts so powerful is the additional functionality accessible via the WeChat Developer API. Businesses can leverage the API to completely customize the user experience for their subscribers. The opportunities are near limitless, but here are a few ways organizations are using the WeChat API:
Owners of official WeChat accounts can compose, save, preview and publish their content in the stock interface. With WeChat’s advanced content management API, account owners can add far more functionality to maximize effectiveness of their content marketing efforts on WeChat:
Customize bulk editing, uploading and downloading of media files
Send customized content to different segments of your subscribers at different times
Leverage A/B Testing and advanced custom event tracking by bringing data into 3rd party platforms
Customize the bottom navigation menu users see when they visit your Official Account
WeChat provides a basic interface for official account owners to respond to messages from their subscribers. However, much more advanced interactions can be achieved using the WeChat API:
Messages can be received and sent by another program such as an external chat interface or CRM
Support team members or sales reps can receive different types of notifications such as emails or SMS when users perform certain sets of actions within your official account, such as subscribing, unsubscribing or submitting contact forms
Customize how support requests from WeChat are assigned and handled by different support members in your team
AES Encryption can be applied to messaging via API to provide secure messaging environment between users and businesses
Now we get to the really good stuff. Organizations have built chat bots — complex auto-responding message services (often utilizing artificial intelligence) to add a myriad of services to the platform. These services have transformed how people in China get information about their daily life — checking phone bills, weather, traffic, transportation, news etc. can all be done through WeChat via chat bots.
Handle Auto Responding Rules Programmatically
Account owners can setup auto-responding rules, minimizing the need for manual responses and providing a better user experience
Perform Semantic Analysis of Natural Language Queries
WeChat offers their stock semantic analysis engine which can extract answers from business databases intelligently, eliminating the need of setting up their own automatic responses
Integrate with 3rd-Party AI Services
The most successful aspect of WeChat in China is its ability to connect the user experience of WeChat Official Accounts to physical stores visits. Thanks to the developer API, offline integration with WeChat is ubiquitous in every modern shopping mall in China — restaurants, retail stores, hair salons, movie theaters, and almost every other type of business use WeChat to promote their store visits and offline revenue.
Local Stores on WeChat are similar to Google My Business, where you can claim your business presence with WeChat. This is a requirement for many of the O2O features offered by WeChat. If you need to apply for a large number of locations (e.g. big retail chain stores), you can use the developer API to mange your local stores programmatically.
Subscribers of your WeChat Official Account can claim coupons with their own account and use it when they visit your physical stores.
Connect to WiFi
Retail stores can use WeChat as a tool to allow store visitors connect to their WiFi connection, thus encouraging visits and boosting revenue.
After witnessing the massive success WeChat has enjoyed, other major players in the West have taken note and begun implementing similar features. For example, Facebook recently announced their new messenger platform, offering many of the same features offered by WeChat.
Further reading about WeChat marketing
Social media might not be the most important aspect of Baidu SEO, but basic understanding of common social media marketing channels in China will still be important.
There are far more social media channels in China than the ones covered in this article, but Sina Weibo and WeChat are the basic building blocks of all social media marketing in China.
Modern digital marketing doesn’t operate in silos. Brand awareness created through social media works in tandem with improved rankings from SEO campaigns to drive targeted traffic to your site.