Foreign enterprises entering into China have been facing a challenge that is unique to the Chinese market, as native competitors are quick to develop their brand and products faster and better than the originators. For new in-coming foreigners, it is a battle for hearts and minds, to overcome the deep-rooted cultural advantage of native enterprises. If you are the premier company in your industry, you may not need to worry about courting the public’s attention, as the Chinese are really fond of the top companies. For the rest of the companies, building online communities will yield a bountiful result with persistent effort. In order to extend your business into China without being nipped in the bud by local competitors, building an online niche is a viable business plan in China.
If this is your first online community in China, you must be ready to face three major obstacles
How do I start from 0 customers? How do I convert new customers into regular ones? How do I maintain a healthy development of my online community?
Here are the Five Keys to the three “Hows”
I. Get ready to start
If you are considering expanding to the Chinese market, you should, at least, have a steady customer base within the mainland. The communication between you and your Chinese customers up to now have probably been unidirectional. Without consistent communication between your PR and the customers, you cannot hope for your customers to patronize your business or to promote it. Here having an active online community can work out to your advantage. It allows two-way interactions which have the magic to draw your regular customers closer to you and through them getting more potential customers to promulgate and reciprocate. A good online community will in due time enter in a self-sustaining cycle where business expands at an exponential rate.
The choice of platforms is crucial to the final success. Popular ones like Weibo, Wechat, Tecent QQ, RenRen, etc are all acceptable choices. Today we are going to focus on Weibo and Wechat as these two are the most influential among the Chinese people. After establishing a regular Wechat account, your PR department should be responsible for the customer data (wechat numbers) collecting and the management of the customer groups. You may not have many clients on hand at the beginning, whereas with patience and due diligence you will enlarge your customer base greatly in China. Besides the regular account, you should also go to the official Wechat website and establish a public service platform (usually an account for self-promotion) where you update your new products or events and provide custom services or consulting services if possible.
Wechat is mainly for maintaining the customer loyalty and promoting products on a small scale. Differing from Wechat, Weibo serves as a completely open platform to gain large popularity and to package yourself. After signing up for an account , you should apply for verification (displays a symbol that verifies your identity) to better convince other users of your credibility. While you are waiting for the verification process to be completed, you can begin to position yourself and search for potential customers as well as latent competitors. Thereafter you can gather intelligence for your future strategies.
II. Content that makes you
With the preparatory work done, you can start to decorate yourself with new content. The goal of publishing content is to increase your company’s exposure online, to provide information about your company that people should have access to and to influence the public to follow your communication channels. Once they find common points of interests or value with your company, they will start to heed you. Henceforth, you will have the power to guide their purchases and to influence their choices.
In this fast-paced era, content with eye-catching titles and with crisp and concise wording are more easily to spread. If the content aligns with the latest trends and moreover if it contains funny and snarky remarks on hot topics, Chinese people will love it, and they will feel impulsive to share. Once you catch their eyes, you can leverage their demands to better adjust your promotion strategies. Content updates should be at regular intervals. Consistent updates will not only help you maintain the habitual attention of the market audiencebut also help build rapport with the consumers. Asides from the content itself, the various forms of content will also help your rise in popularity. In most cases, people are more likely to click on a picture or a video which leaves a stronger visual impact lasting longer on them.
Online social celebrities in China all share one thing in common. They all have particular features which make them special and stand out. Some enjoy a higher social status, some are well-known on the silver screen, some are successful in business, and others either master one particular skill or are just agreeable to look at. If you want to attract more people to your online community, you should emphasize the feature that will not only represent your company but will also appeal to the Chinese audience. Considering that you may require further market knowledge or market insights concerning Chinese social medias, there are many consultants that are well versed in this field; even some college interns would suffice as they produce the majority of the online content and are keenly aware of the trends online.
III. Share and Credits
Now you know that good content will to some extent trigger people to share it with others but the condition is that you have enough followers in your community. At the beginning, you may wish to accumulate 200-300 users who might be interested in your company. After establishing a small base of followers you can start publishing your content. In the first several months, it’s very important to rapidly gain followers and expand your popularity. One method that has worked very well for others on Weibo is the Lottery, a reward for people who repost your content (usually includes the most important information to be disseminated) to their circle of friends. Most of your follows won’t miss the bonus and will share to their followers; thus, the cumulative number of people who will be exposed to your content, by dint of the power of social media, could surprise you. When people become invested in your company and products, further interactions can begin to ensue. These online events like voting, drawing a lottery, inviting discussions are all very effective ways to engage your audience and increase your followers. At first, you are ought to frequently host these events to intensify interactions with the public,but after several months, when you successfully gain enough popularity, you may reduce the frequency to an appropriate rate (varies from situations).
When you reckon that it’s time to convert the interactions to a more intimate stage, you can start promoting your Wechat platform. Post your Wechat QR code on Weibo, your websites and other affiliated sites and then draw newcomers into several groups based on demography. Interactions on Wechat is more direct than that on Weibo, so the content to be published on this channel should be closer to life. To the members who invite new people into the groups, you can give them extra credits through paying electronic money (red packets in China). Or you may give active members coupons or discounts as an exclusive privilege. With the incentives, they will be more willing to become your loyal followers.
IV. Caring and Engaging
Having a native PR team will help you a lot in customer management. Your PR team can break down cultural barriers, which can lead to more effectual interactions with the potential customers. To do so they need to be able to identify the customers’ needs, tastes, their impressions of your company and products and that of your competitors. Their suggestions, feedback, and concerns, everything contributes to customer loyalty. Once you get feedback or questions from the customers, you should promptly publicize the answer to some of the most pressing questions, this will show your good faith towards the Chinese customers.
Your company should be active in mutual communications, giving a public statement for every significant event, big or small. For example, during Chinese holidays and festivals, the company should spread the season’s blessings and give credits to your customers. In addition, charity is very big in China, and it is a cultural expectation that large companies are involved in the public welfare. As such you should strive to meet and exceed these expectations if you wish to become well-received in China.
V. Offline involvement
The online community can establish a good relationship between your company and your potential customers, but its ultimate purpose still lies in physical realm, to move physical products or services to customers. Offline involvement can bring a synthetic effect to the online interactions. If you manage to combine the virtual world with the real world organically, through events such as free samples (services) at places like shopping malls, plazas, etc, you will be able to expand your business to your expectations. The online community should focus on products, the promotion and business expansion, while offline involvement should guide customer experiences and carry out practical product testing. Make full use of these two battlefields, and you will make the impossible possible.
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