5 things to know about Chinese social media, and 4 ways to succeed

Focus on buyers' needs and stick to your brand identity

Why go to the extra trouble of engaging in Chinese social media? After all, if you are targeting buyers from mainland China, you probably already have your listings on a Chinese international property portal, you may be attending property expos in cities like Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and you are definitely closing transactions with Chinese buyers.

Agents who engage in Chinese social media find that it gives them another channel for building their brands in China. It is another way of connecting with potential buyers.

And because Chinese consumers are so much more dedicated to social media than even Americans are, your efforts can pay off handsomely.

Five things you should have known about Chinese social media

Before we get to Chinese real estate social media tactics, let’s look at the landscape.

China is the world’s largest social media market. It is also hugely different from social media markets in Western countries. Luckily, as Cindy Chiu has written in the McKinsey Quarterly, you will the same strategies work in China as in the U.S.

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Here are five key things to know about Chinese social media:

There is fierce competition for the consumer’s attention in Chinese social media. The environment is fierce in other ways, too."
  • The first thing you must take into account is that Chinese social media is entirely in the Chinese language and within China’s own unique social milieu. This is no surprise, but it does mean that you should proceed only if you have fluent and mature Chinese-language speakers on your team.
  • China has its own universe of social media platforms. They are largely unknown in the West, just as the brands American real estate agents rely on — Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — are equally unknown in China. Most Western networks are actually blocked in China, so that they cannot be reliably accessed.
  • Social media has a bigger impact in China, the world’s second-largest economy, than in other countries. Even the United States, generally considered the biggest adopter of social media, is behind China in both penetration and use. At 300 million, China also has more social media addicts than any other country. Chinese spend more than 40 percent of their online time with social media, and that share is still rising rapidly. Americans spend only about 20 percent of their online time using social media. This comparison suggests that a successfully executed social media marketing effort in China can significantly boost your lead generation efforts.
  • Chinese put greater faith in the recommendations of friends and family. Chinese can be skeptical of official sources of authority — that means they place much greater value in the advice of their friends and family, and of opinion leaders. One independent survey of consumers, for example, found that 66 percent of Chinese relied on friends’ and family’s recommendations. In the U.S., only 38 percent did. You can turn this to your advantage by wooing social media influencers and by encouraging your own social network to share your information with their contacts.
  • There is fierce competition for the consumer’s attention in Chinese social media. The environment is fierce in other ways, too. It is not uncommon, for example, for Chinese companies to hire “artificial writers.” These pose as average consumers, but they bring the term “swift boat” to mind. Their role is to post content that undermines competitors. This phenomenon has not yet infected the international real estate space. Even so, it again highlights the need to make allies of social media influencers who can help defend you in a crisis.

Four ways to succeed with Chinese social media

Despite all the differences between social media in China and the U.S., Chinese property buyers are in general influenced in the same way as their American equivalents on social networks. The way you engage them via is also similar.

Here are four key tactics:

  • Be real — Engage with an authentic voice that accurately portrays your skills, values, and corporate or individual personality. Like people everywhere, Chinese respond better to real people.
  • Focus on the buyer’s needs – Rather than posting a stream of posts touting your own qualities, focus on content that will be of use to your target buyer. Gotham Corporate Group created 10 videos. They are a brief two minutes long and perfectly on target, each focusing on one of the 10 most frequent questions asked by Chinese property buyers in the U.S.
  • Learn as you go — Constantly evaluate the results you are getting and examine which variables can improve them, whether it is the time of day that you post, the type of content you share or the social networks you use.
  • Stick to your brand identity — The basic qualities that your brand stands for should not change just because you are now marketing in China. If you focus on middle-market properties, don’t try to put yourself over in China as a premium property specialist. If you are geographically limited, don’t claim to be state- or nationwide in scope.

Sure, your positioning will need a little adjustment for a Chinese audience, which has different needs, expectations and levels of knowledge than your local customers. However, you must at all times be honest and true to yourself.

If your team has the cultural and linguistic fluency to engage with buyers on Chinese social media, the information in this article will help you make the most of it.

Andrew Taylor is co-CEO of Juwai.com, a real estate portal linking Chinese buyers with property in the U.S., Canada and a total of 54 countries.

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