The social media scene is exploding in China. In addition to having the world’s biggest Internet user base—513 million people (more than double that of the United States)—China also has the world’s most active environment for social media. More than 300 million people in the country actively engage with blogs, social-networking sites, microblogs, and other online communities.

To put this into perspective: the number of people using social media in China is roughly equivalent to the combined population of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. China’s online users spend more than 40 percent of their time online on social media, a figure that continues to rise rapidly.

The Chinese market is unique in many ways.  From a consumer perspective, people in the region have a higher propensity to rely on recommendations from friends and family, and social media consumption is geared towards mobile.

Adding to this complexity is the fact that China’s social media landscape is very fragmented with each type of platform having at least two major local players. 4 of the world’s top 12 social networks are based in China, but many of the players in this market are not well known.

Internet censorship has blocked websites in China such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, making domestic social media sites so popular. For example, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are the main outlets for microblogging and Renren and Kaixin are the two predominant social networking sites.

Sina Weibo resembles a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook; posts are limited to 140 characters in Chinese, the equivalent of about 70-80 characters in English. Sina Weibo offers flexibility in content types, allowing users to attach images, music, and videos to posts or insert emoticons, and features other bundled services such as Weilingdi and Tuding, similar to Foursquare and Instagram respectively. Tencent Weibo is also a microblog that fits within the stack of Tencent’s other offerings including instant messaging service QQ and social networking site Qzone.

As brands shape their social media strategy in China, it’s important to fully understand the nuances of the country’s consumers, content, and platforms. Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Make content authentic and consumer-oriented in both messaging and targeting
  • Take a test and learn approach – many brands have found that marketing messages that may work in western countries do not resonate as well in China
  • Uphold brand goals with sustained messaging through social media efforts
  • Create a plan for appropriate response times – the vast number of social media users in China means more consumer engagement that can be challenging to keep up with without a procedure in place
  • Track brand exposures and sentiments on social media platforms– lack of analytical tools in Chinese social media platforms creates another challenge, forcing brands to use unconventional ways to measure performance