The global outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is having an unprecedented impact on the world economy, ushering in a period of crisis and opportunity. While the countries that were hit first have already started upon the path to recovery, Europe has yet to fully release lockdown measures. For the first time in recent history, businesspeople are forbidden to exit their own respective countries, and banned from entering others, like China and the US.
Consequently, many European SMEs have realized the harsh reality that they face. Even though travel restrictions in Europe will be lifted very soon, there is no clear indication from China on the matter. So, what will happen to their China business?
If you cannot have a physical presence in China, then this would be the perfect opportunity to connect with your Chinese audience directly via social media. It begs the question though: can you register a social media account as a foreign company?
Let us look at some of China’s most popular social media platforms: WeChat, Weibo, Douyin and Zhihu.
The Chinese super APP (2020 Q1: MAU 1.2 billion) needs no introduction, it has been dominating the social media landscape for years and keeps on innovating new ways to keep users engaged. WeChat offers Official Accounts for businesses and plays an essential part in every organization’s marketing strategy. Contrary to a few years ago, foreign businesses can now apply for a WeChat Official Account without having to rely on a Chinese partner for the application or setting up a Chinese legal entity. It is important to note that accounts registered overseas do have some limitations and downsides:
- Only allowed to register a service account
- Registration process typically takes 1 – 2 months
- Verification cost: 99 USD / year (compared to 300 RMB for Chinese entities)
- Features are limited
However, your needs and strategy will eventually decide which option for registering an official account would be most relevant to your organization.
Weibo (2020 Q1: MAU 550 million), aka “Chinese Twitter”, is a platform that is mostly used to follow trends, celebrities (incl. KOLs) and news. Users tend to follow their favorite brands to keep up-to-date and be on the lookout for promotions. Foreign companies are welcome to join the platform but be aware that there is a one-time verification fee of 1000 USD.
It is also possible to set up a company page through a partner using their Chinese business license. Weibo will ask you to provide a letter to prove that you authorized the Chinese company to set up the account in your name. In this case a yearly verification fee of 300 RMB applies.
Douyin (2020.01: DAU: 400 million), the Chinese version of TikTok, is by far China’s most used short-form video APP, and has simply become one of the most popular social media platforms in the country. Douyin’s user base is fairly young and is widely used by brands to connect to this audience in a creative and fun way. Unfortunately, the platform does not currently support applications from non-Chinese organizations. But, as is the case with WeChat and Weibo, this may well change in the future. If your brand is merely looking for more exposure, you can consider creating a personal non-verified account. Don’t forget to inform your followers on WeChat or Weibo!
Zhihu (2019 Q3: MAU 220 million), the Chinese version of Quora, is a popular Q&A and social platform in China. The platform is known for its high quality, credibility, and professional Q&A content. Zhihu is the go-to platform for marketers to inform consumers and build brand reputation in China. Although not openly advertised on the website, it is possible for foreign companies to register and verify (300 RMB/year) an official account on Zhihu. The process is very straightforward but does require some Chinese language skills to navigate the platform and communicate with Zhihu staff.
Whether opting for the DIY approach, setting up your own legal entity in China or choosing to work with a partner in China for the setup of social media channels, make sure you can deliver high-quality content that is relevant to your target audience. MyChinaWeb can assist you with the setup and management of your social media accounts, and help you grow your brand in China. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to receive more information about this topic!