You have a product or service potentially interesting to the Chinese market but no real cases to ensure that the project would “fly”. What do you do? You have to try.
The Chinese web space is huge and completely alien to the Western Internet user. We know about WeChat, the most popular (and terrific in terms of usability, from the Western user's point of view) messenger in China; we also know that this is not just a messenger but an entire ecosystem with integrated applications and own payment service. We know that the Baidu search engine is an equivalent of Google banned in China. We even have an idea about the Douyin short video service (aka TikTok) that has launched the degradation of our teenagers, but we often confuse it with the Douyu streaming platform, where the Chinese eat noodles on camera. But even that shallow knowledge may be enough to turn a Chinese into a consumer of your products (in fact, you will also need someone speaking Chinese).
Regardless of your strategic plans to capture the Chinese clients, the ad campaign should be reasonably divided into two parts:
Launch of the campaign with first leads
Infrastructure preparation means adapting your business to the Chinese audience. First of all, this is about your website – and you will not need red-and-gold dragons and pandas. Proper localization and translation into Chinese would suffice. Dialects do not matter, as long as we use Chinese characters, either simplified or traditional. The simplified writing system dominates the entire mainland China and will be understandable to those living in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even Tibet, regardless of your targeting.
If your website has a video content with a link to YouTube, the Chinese users will merely not be able to play it because of the firewall. The source videos should be uploaded on Chinese video hosting sites like Youku or Tudou with frame tags copied. Then visitors to your website will have unhindered access to see it.
Adaptation is not only about linguistics. Chinese social media are the essential channel for communication with your target audience – and here comes WeChat. WeChat enables us to deal with at least two matters: 1) support service and 2) broadcasting news content.
In spite of all the WeChat interface diversity, the most optimal way to process incoming requests from users is to create a group or a service account. The generated QR codes are placed on the Chinese version of your website.
The main difference between groups and service accounts in WeChat lies in their functionality.
A group is created by a number of registered users with an appointed administrator who can process all messages in the group and make content seedings. Each week, a new QR code is generated for the group, and that code must be re-uploaded to the website (Tencent developer's requirement). Otherwise, a user will not be able to join your group.
The situation with a service account is somewhat different: accounts may be registered with both Chinese and foreign legal entities. For registration, you have to submit the company's charter documents and basic details about the business owner. A service account may take benefit from advanced administration options resembling Telegram channels. Having scanned the QR code, a visitor goes to your project's page in WeChat and can subscribe to the newsletters, send a message to the administrator or comment on a post. The service account can be administered via desktop only and allows you to configure the targeting settings for newsletters. Each post in the account is a separate WeChat page, which is easily indexed in search results and looks like a full-fledged article with a graphic image, subject, title, and text.
Unlike the group, QR codes for subscription accounts are static and do not require updating.
The WeiBo microblogging service - is an equivalent of Twitter or Instagram, which are banned in China, and has a similar functionality. Any news updates, images, and videos can be directed to your official WeiBo account. Your Chinese followers can comment, like, and repost your content. Moreover, Weibo offers a number of integrated tools to promote your posts through extensive coverage of relevant audience and recommendations.
As against the practicality of WeChat, WeiBo is more of an image story aimed at popularizing the brand, where the user who has found you can go to your website, subscribe to WeChat updates and ask any questions.
This is the very minimum you would need to adapt your project to Chinese clients.
At the testing stage, you do not need to involve top publishers, pay for selling articles, or wait for a flow of clients. Instead, you may resort to a number of resources where you can find your target audience and post for free.
In China, one can find forums and blogs to fit every fancy: healthy lifestyle, tourism, cryptocurrencies, baby food and more – all that open to create your own threads to describe your product or service, and the key point here is to avoid a ban.
The easiest way to find the right resource is to search in Baidu for keywords. As a rule, the first page of the search results will include thematic websites you need. Baidu can also index its own internal forums, where you can log in, create a thread, and start seeding. Perhaps someone has a personal blog relevant to your topic, and you can flood the thread with an active link to your website, your WeChat QR code, your Weibo page, or even your own blog on the same resource.
Giants like Sohu.com and Toutiao.com enjoy a huge traffic and offer creating a personal page where you can start posting your own articles. With Toutiao.com that ranges the recommendations feed with the use of neural network algorithms, the maximum target audience can be covered.
Even if you are not a bookmaker, online casino, or crowdfunding, your material can be classified as “advertising” or “propaganda” and banned by the administration of the resource. Hidden advertising articles, neutral at a glance, may remain invisible to the moderator. If you find yourself banned immediately after the first posting, you need to replace the active links with non-clickable ones. In case of a repeated ban, you should make an angry letter to the administrator and demand explanations. Often you may be treated with a courtesy: they clarify why your post was banned and approve it after necessary corrections are made. We have repeatedly encountered similar problems and solved all of them through the resource administration.
Another two free-registration services that would improve the indexing of your website in the Baidu search results are Baidu Zhidao and Baidu Tieba.
Baidu Zhidao is a Q&A service. You can ask a question and then answer it, giving full detailed explanation. It doesn’t look so stupid: people start to comment on your answer, ask additional questions, and become interested in your product or service.
Baidu Tieba is a personal blogging service where you can create your own corporate page and broadcast news of your company, track comments, and answer questions from users of the service.
Zhidao и Tieba are the services integrated into the largest Chinese search engine, Baidu, so with a good frequency of references, you will anyway find yourself in the search results.
The cheapest way to promote in WeChat is through thematic groups. You can find groups relevant to your subject and do regular content seedings containing a link to your website or a QR code to your group or subscription account. Each WeChat group has a limit on the number of users to 500 people; but there can be dozens and hundreds of such groups, so you will have enough time to check Chinese users' interest in your services before the group administrator bans you. If there is a feedback, your group in WeChat begins to enlarge, and you see the first questions: this is a sure sign that you need to urgently come to terms with the administrator on posting in his/her group on a commercial basis. Often, several groups of similar subjects share the same administrator, therefore it is most beneficial to agree on posting in all the groups.
For example, when we launched a campaign for travel service, we made a list of a dozen groups dedicated to tourism in the customer' country and city – it was about showplaces, routes, accommodation, and so on. All the groups had the same administrator, who also offered ads on his blog and on the travel forum for reasonable money and with a total coverage of tens of thousands.
Promoting through Chinese bloggers and Internet celebrities is not something anyone can afford. However, the market is saturated, so you can demand and come to good terms with microbloggers (up to 50 thousand followers) and a very involved audience. Internet streamers can be a striking example. Advertising integration with a streamer having an audience of up to 100 thousand people can be more effective than with another streamer with a similar subject and a half a million audience. Such streamers strive harder to sell and are more flexible on additional conditions.
Contextual advertising is available to both Chinese and foreign residents. Baidu or Tencent advertising networks (equivalents of Google Ads) require company's charter documents and business owner's personal information to be submitted for registration. You can run as many ad campaigns with unique ads as you like, but all of them must contain a link to the same website.
You can negotiate with local Trading Desks that also interact with Chinese RTB systems; however, here your entering will require too high deposits, which are simply not needed at the testing stage of your ad campaign in China – after all, we are discussing cost-saving marketing options.
The above-said tools can be useful at the stage of studying the Chinese consumer market and testing interest to your product or service.
Your major expenses:
Website adaptation to Chinese (translation and localization)
Chinese-speaking community manager
Time (the most valuable resource)
With a campaign period of 1 to 3 months, you will be able to determine for sure the potential of your business and Chinese clients' interest in it.
Urgent entering the Chinese market is a bad strategy – this should be done step-by-step.