WeChat or Weibo? Bananaworks’ James Shi on connecting with the Chinese community

To connect with the growing Chinese community in New Zealand, some major brands are delving into Chinese social media by starting accounts on Weibo or WeChat, which combined have 800 million active accounts. 

The opportunity that exists in this cannot be overstated. However, in the same way that simply starting a Facebook business page offers no guarantee of success, placing your brand onto a social Chinese social media channel isn’t necessarily going to result in instant stream of new revenue.  

So to better understand the role WeChat and Weibo play in Chinese social media, StopPress chatted to James Shi of Bananaworks, a cross-cultural communications agency specialising in helping kiwi companies to engage with the Chinese community in New Zealand and abroad.

StopPress: To those who aren’t familiar with Weibo and WeChat, can you explain what they are and how they differ?

Shi: “WeChat is a combination of Facebook and Whatsapp with lots of other added functions, such as location-based services and an online payment platform. It’s hard to find a similar platform to describe it. It only grows in the context of Chinese social media.

Weibo shares many similarities with Twitter but also has many added functions that differentiate it. Although, recently Weibo cancelled its 140-character limit so users can write longer posts like WeChat, but the users’ reading habits on Weibo is hard to change in such short time.

Weibo is more media focused and Wechat is more socially focused.

Weibo targets a wide range of Chinese people around the world, while WeChat focuses on concentrated Chinese groups within your friends, families, people shared common interests like the Chinese community in New Zealand.

Weibo has little barrier to entry, but is very hard to sustain. It is like twitter, in that every post is short and straight.

WeChat is difficult to enter in the first place. [As a] WeChat post is always a long story like Blog. It takes time to create and plan every post. But if you gain enough core fans, maintaining the VIP fans is easier and more cost-efficient than Weibo.”

So, what’s the current state of Weibo and WeChat like?

“The official figure in June 2015 shows that Weibo has 212 million monthly active users (MAUs), while WeChat has 600 million MAUs.

Weibo users have declined by 40 percent from 2013 to 2015, while WeChat users have increased to be the top social media platform in China.

Although Weibo is declining, there are lots of heavy Weibo users in China because of the big population base. People like me use Weibo as a news platform to see what is happening in China and what the hot topics are.

For example, the new comedy film called Mermaid by famous Chinese comedy director Stephen Chow drew 12.1 billion views and 670,000 discussions recently.

Weibo as a media [platform]itself also acknowledges the declining fact, so it’s in a process of changing its technology [at the moment].”

How strong is the presence of New Zealand Brands on Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo?

“And interesting fact is that almost every New Zealand Weibo account holder also owns a WeChat official account.

New Zealand businesses like Air New Zealand use Weibo to post news updates and their activities in China, while they also use WeChat to maintain loyal customers and interact with Chinese customers in New Zeakand.  So for Air New Zealand, keeping two platforms is necessary and reasonable.

(Credit: Camellia Yang, former social media specialist at Air NZ

But those who have a WeChat account don’t necessarily have a Weibo account. Examples of this would be automobile businesses: MINI NZ, McLaren Auckland and Toyota North shore. They are mainly focused on the local New Zealand market or even just Auckland business.”

So would it be fair to say that WeChat is best used to reach loyal customers, while Weibo allows a brand to break into the market?

“Yes, they are complements not substitutes. Weibo’s trend is media, while WeChat’s trend is social.

Businesses tend to use Weibo to post news and use WeChat to develop more functions for their customers to interact (for example, online shopping or payment). Some banks even create a login point for WeChat users to check bank account and pay utilities.

WeChat is the predominant social media [platform]within New Zealand. If Chinese immigrants in New Zealand would like to know what is happening in the local Chinese community they will check WeChat. There are more active New Zealand based KOLs and “We Media” on WeChat than on Weibo. So it is easy for them to grab first-hand information.”

Does this mean that for New Zealand businesses it is easier to try and create a WeChat following since the majority of Chinese social media users in NZ use WeChat?

“We can’t say it’s easy. But it is more suitable for most New Zealand businesses.

Many New Zealand businesses intend to test the water first before going into full production. It seems Weibo is easy to start at first. But the fact is if you do not have a big budget to keep investing, keep changing with its new technology, you are wasting your money. You will make a conclusion that Chinese community is not your target customers.

While it may take some time to understand the function at first and create an intimate interaction among your fans, WeChat will generate sales leads quickly.”

Any final thoughts or tips on something that you think would be useful for New Zealand businesses to understand?

“It would be for all New Zealand businesses, to analyse who their target customers are, [and]where are they located.

For SMEs, WeChat is a good start.

For large enterprises, I suggest combining Weibo and WeChat strategy together to optimise your efforts.

We believe the trend now is using Weibo to generate traffic to WeChat. Like stated earlier, Weibo is a media platform for mass communication and education, when customers searched and gained knowledge from your Weibo account. Next thing is using WeChat to stick loyal customers and do some personalised service.”

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