It is not uncommon for companies and brands to develop their businesses across national borders and open up new markets. The development of information technology and the emergence of Web 2.0 result in a flatter and connected world, and the most success example is the rise of social network sits (SNSs), in which people can construct their networks as well as communicate with their friends interactively.
As suggested in , the increasing interactivity in communication result in the increasing value for marketing purpose, the social network sites have attracted many companies to choose it as an alternative platform to promote their products and services. However, it is still quiet challenging for companies to promote their brands to audiences from different culture groups. Many countries have their own version of current mainstream social network sites (e.g. Sina Weibo and Twitter, Kakaotalk and Whatsapp). Users consume the contents on these sites differently despite the similar framework and functionalities offered between the mainstream and the cultural-specific platform. Therefore it is important to investigate the behaviour of audiences across different countries, in order to establish the brand on their social media platforms and engage with these audiences. This article takes Chinese market as an example to demonstrates the difference of social network sites and their users, as well as the impacts on social media marketing.
Social Network Sites as Marketing Tools
There are many definitions of social network sites in literatures, among which the most accurate one is given in , which defines social network sites as “web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system”. Social networks sites provide interface for people to engage with social media and the internet, by which people can create, share, communicate and connect with each other. 
Because of the interactive feature, many organisations now choose social network sites to communicate with their customers. A study conducted in  shows that more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 organisations use Twitter account, and 56 percent use Facebook account to reach their marketing purpose, such as conducting surveys, products promotions and customer services. This fact clearly shows the growing importance of social network sites in business.
Social Network Sites in China
With the rapid development of economy, China today has the biggest internet user base, 513 million people, more than twice of the internet users in the United States . The huge number of internet users makes China the most active environment for social media, and more than 300 million people in china use social media platforms including blogs, microblogs and varieties of social networking sites. In addition to that, Chinese users are very active, who spend more than 40 percent of their time on using social media platforms.
Social media in China exhibits very different characteristics compared with western countries in many aspects. The first difference is the consumer behaviours. In China, it is pretty common to have multiple social network sites accounts, and they tend to use them simultaneously . In addition to that, because of the lack of trust of formal institutions and authority, social media users in China highly value the advice of opinion leaders online, for example, the verified Sina Weibo account could attract hundreds of thousands of followers, and the opinions published on that account can make much impact on many persons opinions.
Secondly, the competition of companies and organisation on social media platform is fierce. Many companies hire the so-called “network navy”, or “artificial writers” to attack their competitors by posting negative news or even create rumours. On the other hand, the best way to defence these attacks seems to hire “artificial writers” as well. This phenomena brings new challenges for companies to manage their public crisis, as they need to carefully identify the source of attacks.
Finally, since the most popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and twitter are not accessible in Chinese mainland due to the government restrictions, China’s social media sector is very local and fragmented. For example, Sina Weibo is the most popular social network sites in China, which is hybrid of Tweeter and Facebook. On the mean time, there are many smaller social network sites that focus on specific topics and interests such as Douban for people who passionate about books, music and culture, RenRen for university students and Kaixin001 for young professionals. This highly fragmented environment result in many difficulties for companies to choose the best platform to reach their audiences.
Sina Weibo and Twitter
To provide more insights on the characteristics of social network sites and their users in China, I compare Sina Weibo with its western counterpart, Twitter. Sina Weibo is a Chinese microblogging website who provides similar functionality as Twitter. Users on WeiBo can post, view, comment repost and following other people to construct their networks. Once the Sina Weibo was launched on 2009, it quickly become the most popular social media platform in China. By the end of 2012, it has 503 millions registered users and about 100 million messages are posted per day .
However, due to the differences in culture and language, Sina Weibo functions very differently even though it has similar functionality with Tweeter. One significant difference is the expressive of the content. Same as Twitter, Sina Weibo follow the 140-character philosophy. This philosophy might be an obstacles for Twitter users especially when they want to include a URL within their post as 140 characters is quite short in English. For example, an online promotional posting need to be carefully phrased to fulfil the 140 characters requirement. The content result in like this “Today’s Deal: Get FREE Eco-Lite Sleeve with the purchase of any Dell Outlet Insprion Mini 10 or 10v Netbook! http://bit.ly/77fUFG.”, which has 136 characters.
On the other hand, in Chinese, each character represent a word, the same content above were re-expressed in Chinese with only 114 characters, but the equivalently English version reads like this “Dell’s National Day Sale runs from Sept. 11 to Oct. 8. To celebrate the 60th anniversary with the motherland, Dell Home Computers is offering 6 cool gifts and deals on 10 computer models. These exciting offers will run non-stop for 4 weeks. Also, get a free upgrade to color casing and a 512MB independent graphics card, as well as other service upgrades. All offers are on a first-come, first-served basis. What are you waiting for? Act now!”.
This difference shows that post and message of Weibo in China could be much more expressive than Tweeter due to the high language efficiency of Chinese. Therefore, when companies are promoting their products to Chinese audience by using Weibo, they can take the language advantage to create content with rich information to achieve better promotional results. In addition to that, Weibo users can also post videos and photos, which further improve the expressive of post.
Since China has been the world’s second-biggest economy, it has attracted more and more attentions of international company who want to promote their products and service into Chinese market. Because of the interactive feature of social media platform, many of them choose social network sites to achieve their marketing purpose. However, the differences between Chinese and western social network sites require companies to adjust their strategies to be suitable for the context of Chinese market. As suggested above, most of difference between Chinese and western social network sites are rooted in culture and language, therefore truth and principle does not hold true in China anymore. Ignoring these difference might result in useless works or even risk on business.
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