The Chinese Social Media Landscape

July 30

Effectively using social media as a recruitment vehicle in China is a hot topic among staffing leaders at many U.S.-based multinational corporations. Who is the audience, what media is being used, and what are the barriers to entry?

The Internet audience in China is astounding. Ad Age reports there are 513 million Internet users, including 355 million mobile Internet users. And because Chinese job seekers tend to be passive in their job search, communication with these professionals needs to be smart and strategic.

In the first study of its kind, the 2011 China Social Network Employer Branding and Recruitment Survey discovered that 51% of Chinese HR professionals are actively using social media in their communication strategies. 69% are using social media for employer branding purposes, and 75% are using social media to keep in touch and recruit active job seekers.

While the activity is strong, implementing an effective social media strategy in China has its challenges that are worth exploring from both a US as well as a Chinese perspective.

Frank Xu, Account Director at PinCN, TMP’s network partner agency in Shanghai, observes that one of the first challenges local recruiters face in China is how to integrate social media into recruitment campaigns. Where does one begin? It is not uncommon for multi-national companies based domestically or abroad to experience the same slow start. While there is much discussion, the call to action can be slow.

For starters, a social strategy begins with establishing a plan. What is the goal, who is the audience, and how does one use the media? We can assume the goal is to engage talented professionals in a virtual conversation about your employer brand. So, let’s focus on the audience.

The Chinese are keenly aware of their position as an emerging market, and much of their focus centers on their own socio-economic development, according to AdAge Global.

As such, understanding basic Chinese values is imperative. According to S. Y. Lau, Sr. Executive VP at Tencent, Chinese consumers do not tend to be highly brand loyal. At the same time, Lau asserts that eye-catching visuals tend to be intriguing among Chinese consumers, as noted in AdAge Digital. Imagery can be an excellent tool for adding a layer of interest to a recruitment campaign as well, but valuable content should be the focus in developing a relationship with your employer brand. And it’s the development of this type of relationship that should be at the forefront of an employee engagement plan, as companies cannot rely on brand loyalty when courting talent in China.

The next component is using the media, and there lies the next stumbling block. As Xu explains, there is a general lack of knowledge on how to use social media or the tools to manage the campaign. Couple this with a crippling lack of available best practices to guide recruiters, and oftentimes Chinese campaigns hit a false start.

While all the same challenges apply to Western recruiters, there are added barriers to entry for US-based multinationals. So much so, that Ad Age’s Adam Lehman refers to the Chinese online space as the “other Internet.”

As Lehman points out, not only do the Chinese language and characters render content inaccessible, but the double-byte encoding used causes challenges for software based on the Latin alphabet. Governmental regulations and license requirements by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology create further impediments for websites, both foreign and domestic.

Maintaining a positive social media image is very important to Chinese professionals, and along with that there is a strong desire for respect. “Chinese…seek respect, or ‘face,’ meaning a good reputation in front of one's peers,” writes AdAge Digital’s Laurel Wentz. At the same time, social media renders organizations vulnerable to negative feedback. In China, as in the US, some companies are more adept at responding to negative communications with openness, courage and the proverbial “reasons to believe,” according to Xu. All of these points can be addressed with a carefully planned social media strategy and a clear understanding of the audience.

So what are the social media sites in China? AdAge Global reports that Facebook and Twitter are often blocked by the government, but there are several Chinese media sites that have filled the gap, namely Tencent, Sina and RenRen.

How does this translate?

• Tencent Weibo: the Twitter equivalent and one of the hottest media in China.

• Sina Weibo: the most popular site among professionals, sometimes just referred to as “Weibo,” which is the Chinese word for microblog.

• Renren: the Facebook equivalent in China, which skews toward the young professional and undergraduate audience.

• Youku: the YouTube equivalent, which literally means "excellent (and) cool"; however, its utilization in recruitment is probably more on the horizon than useful now.

Strategic messaging about the employer brand coupled with valuable content and creative visuals are the cornerstones of a smart plan in any market. However, in China, multinational corporations who wish to be competitive for top tier talent will need to consider the many nuances of their messaging, respond appropriately to feedback, and keep their content engaging and appropriate to their target audience.

With such a large networked audience that is particularly sensitive to professional reputation, it is critical to get the social media strategy right the first time. It only takes one misstep to lose “face.” So, while your social media strategy in China make take some time to develop, making the right impression will be essential to its success.

Sources and References:

Wentz, Laurel. 2012. Understanding How the Internet Is Transforming Personal Connections in China. AdAge Digital (April 18).

Lehman, Adam. 2012. China: Can You Afford to Ignore the 'Other Internet'? AdAge Digital (April 30).

Madden, Normandy. 2012. Five Questions With Tom Doctoroff, JWT's Greater China CEO AdAge Global (June 27).

Ad Age Staff, 2012. WPP's Kantar Buys China Social-Media Intelligence Expert CIC. AdAge Global (January 17).

Wikipedia,; (accessed July 18, 2012).

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