Social media

Digital marketing on Chinese social media: how-to guide Unlocking the World’s Largest E-market explains the unknowns

Ashley Galina Dudarenok’s clear, analytical guide to selling on Chinese social media explains in readable detail why not to project Western e-marketing onto the Chinese market and what to do instead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 8:32pm

Unlocking the World’s Largest e-market: A Guide to Selling on Chinese Social Media

by Ashley Galina Dudarenok

Alarice International

3.5/5 stars

There is an old saying about advertising that only half of it works, but you never know which half. Meanwhile, it appears that despite all the data gathered and statistics generated, online advertising remains more art than science.

To paraphrase former US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, digital marketing involves navigating a number of known unknowns: things that you know you do not know. For Westerner marketeers, however, China is largely a haze of unknown unknowns: things you don’t even know you don’t know.

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A new book from Hong Kong-based social media marketing expert Ashley Galina Dudarenok is a clear, analytical guide to digital marketing on Chinese social media.

As it becomes evident early in the book, merely projecting Western e-marketing onto the Chinese market and Chinese platforms is unlikely to work particularly well. Dudarenok explains in readable detail why not and what to do about it.

One of the book’s strengths is that it describes China both in the ways it is unique, and in how it contrasts with markets, platforms and procedures that the reader is likely to be familiar with. No book can cover everything, so the introductory sections with Chinese market overviews are by necessity a series of extended bullet points; these are, however, clear and to the point.

There are, of course, any number of cultural differences between Chinese consumers and those in the so-called West. Whether these have a substantive impact on the effectiveness of any given marketing strategy is a subject of considerable debate.

However, what is less debatable is that the Chinese digital landscape is structurally different that the one prevailing in the United States, and which has been exported to much of the world. Companies and channels that are essentially ubiquitous elsewhere are largely absent from the Chinese market; the Chinese digital environment doesn’t map well onto the familiar Facebook-Google-Amazon triumvirate that most businesses are used to.

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While WeChat, for example, superficially looks like a Chinese version of the WhatsApp messaging app, it has developed into its own ecosystem. It incorporates a widely used payment system (and hence e-commerce) and, more recently, an actual app store. “Inside China,” notes Dudarenok, “it’s used to do everything from ordering food and hailing taxis to paying for international flights.”

Although there has been integration and consolidation in the US digital industry as well, the combinations are different. Dudarenok calls WeChat, with only slight hyperbole, “China’s operating system”, and the description takes up almost half of the relatively brief book.

The book also covers Weibo, whose “basic function is to display short posts like Twitter”, but which, like WeChat (and rather unlike Twitter), also developed and expanded considerably beyond this relatively simple function. There are, indeed, “Weibo personalities” whose views can move markets; Dudarenok includes here a discussion of these “key opinion leaders”.

One of the problems faced by social media marketing professionals is that once you have adapted to what is going on, the situation changes. It could be because a company changes an algorithm or because a new feature captures the zeitgeist. China is, in this way, little different.

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The title, Unlocking the World’s Largest E-Market, perhaps promises somewhat more than a single publication can quite accomplish. But readers are likely to come away suspecting that whatever keys they may have to the US and Western markets probably won’t fit the Chinese lock. At least the unknown unknowns become known unknowns.

Asian Review of Books