Digital Marketing in China Part 1

Digital Marketing in China centres around a mobile first approach and the social media platforms often function as an all in one marketing system.


China presents a vast and growing market that is increasingly active online. Any business that is operating in this market needs to be aware of the significant differences between digital marketing in the West and in China. In addition to using different social networking sites, the Chinese market also experiences its own unique trends in social media that businesses need to adjust to.

This is part of a series of articles on China as we’ve previously looked at China’s Biggest Social Media Networks and The Online Shopping Sites that are Bigger than Amazon.


Social Media Usage in China

More than 800 million people in China are active online, making it the largest digital market in the world. Social media is one of the most popular online activities, with the two most popular sites WeChat and Qzone being visited by 87.3% and 64.4% of internet users in China.

Although it is already large, the digital market still has a lot of potential for growth in China. An estimated 57.7% of the population is currently active online, but this is growing quickly. Digital marketing has traditionally been targeted to younger age groups, but the over 60s in China present a growing market of more than 170 million people that are becoming increasingly technologically savvy.

What Makes Chinese Social Media Unique?

The size of the Chinese market is its most striking feature, but it is vital not to assume that this is the only difference or that China forms one undifferentiated market. Digital media in China has many unique features that mean a different approach is required to social media campaigns in the West. Businesses also need to be sensitive to cultural differences that can vary from region to region. Listening to local online trends is a key part of running a successful digital marketing campaign.

One of the key features that brands operating in China need to understand is that mobile browsing is even more important here than in other markets.

Approximately 98% of internet users in China favour mobile devices so it is essential to focus on mobile friendly websites and marketing.

Businesses must also appreciate how dynamic and interactive this mobile-based market can be, with users expecting frequent updates and online events.

Another significant feature is that China has a more diverse range of social media platforms, because it isn’t dominated by a few giant networks like the Western market. Marketers need to be aware of the platforms that their audience is using and to take note as their popularity grows and fades. Social media users in China are often quicker to switch to new networks, so marketing campaigns need to be ready to make that move with them.


Latest Trends in Digital Marketing in China

Digital marketing strategies cannot simply be transferred from Western social media sites like Facebook to the Chinese equivalents. A successful marketing strategy must always adapt to the language and culture of its audience. It must also be tailored to the unique features of each social network. Here are some of the key trends that you need to be aware of in 2019 and beyond.

WeChat Privacy Concerns

WeChat remains the biggest social network in China, but significant numbers of users have been abandoning the site after concerns were raised over privacy issues. If this trend continues, then marketers may need to shift their focus towards other platforms. Brands also need to be aware of how their customer data could be used when they’re operating on this and other networks. This is a common feature in Western social media networks as witnessed by the Cambridge Analytica debate on Facebook.


Fake Advertising Traffic

Researchers have revealed that almost a third of all ad traffic on Chinese sites could be faked, which means that brands are losing money by paying for ads that aren’t working for them. A certain amount of non-human traffic is to be expected with digital marketing, but this rate is high enough to warrant extra measures to avoid it. Fake traffic is an issue in Western social media too, with many automation tools generating instant likes before the individual would even have time to see the post!


Storytelling and Authenticity

The way that social media is being used changes quickly in China. Current trends show a desire for more personal, authentic and story driven content. Douyin (also known as TikTok) is a perfect example of this as its short video format is increasingly being used for episodic content. The shift presents new opportunities for digital marketing, but getting this right will require cultural sensitivity, particularly for brands based outside Asia.


Special Events in China

Chinese consumers remain keen on special sales and events, so it is important for brands to incorporate these into their marketing campaigns. Did you know there are 4 Valentine’s days in China? 14th February and three more. Another example is Queen’s day, one of the most significant online events, with many brands benefitting from marketing campaigns and offers centred around International Women’s Day on March 8th.

Global brands are increasingly taking advantage of these opportunities too, with greater awareness of Chinese culture enabling them to achieve better results in many cases.


Digital media in China remains a unique and ever-changing market that has great potential for any business that is operating in this region. Marketers need to be aware of everything that makes Chinese social media unique, while still preserving their own brand identities.