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China’s unique platforms – an introduction to the Chinese social media landscape...

Mailman Sport, SportBusiness International's partner on this report, outlines the social media landscape in China, with a summary of the top platforms and user behaviour patterns.

Understanding the local social media environment is no longer a luxury for companies operating in China – it is an imperative. By some measures, usage of Chinese social media is the most intense in the world. There are vital differences in the use of social media in China relative to the West which are vital to understand for any organisation or brand looking to penetrate the market.

Social networking has evolved differently in the middle kingdom than in Western societies. Forget the classic Western sites such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. These established networks have not been able to successfully expand in China due to strict state censorship. Being protected by this powerful barrier and without the influence of Western firms, localised networks have developed for the Chinese market.

The dominant social networking sites are Sina Weibo and WeChat. We look in detail at these and provide an inventory of other popular sites below. It is wise to remember that this guidance could soon change in such a dynamic market, with top dogs fading and young pups emerging seemingly overnight.

China tends to lag a year to 18 months behind Western social media trends. There are, for example, several competing Instagram-style networks, none of which has gained dominance. One to watch is Nice, a photo- sharing platform with Instagram-like features, which at the moment is untested by Western sports brands.

China’s social media platforms and online behaviours vary in important ways from what may be considered their international equivalents. Differences that need understanding include language, culture, user behaviours, and SEO techniques. Companies entering the market must adapt their strategies to be successful.

Strategies and tips for engaging Chinese sports fans in the social media environment.

Strategies and tips for engaging Chinese sports fans in the social media environment.

Strategies and tips for engaging Chinese sports fans in the social media environment.

How to measure ROI for a social media strategy has become a perennial question for business.

Basketball is often thought of as China’s most popular sport, and the NBA, with more than 70m Chinese social media followers, as the best-loved sports brand. But football is growing, and comparisons with the NBA are somewhat unfair. The NBA’s brand is a unified, massive presence on Weibos, whereas European football leagues and clubs compete with each other more directly for audience share. Indeed, there are around 70m followers across the 35 active European football teams on Chinese social media.

According to Mailman, European football has become “an obsession” in China. Chinese fans with no inherent connections to European clubs are becoming ‘super fans’ willing to invest more time, money, and emotion following their chosen sides than their European counterparts.

China’s interest and investment in football is growing. Current president Xi Jinping has said he wants the country to host a Fifa World Cup in the near future.

 Tennis has seen a surge in popularity in China in recent years, especially after Li Na’s second Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open 2014. Thrilling matches between top players in tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai have also expanded the fan base. Novak Djokovic has been successful on the court – this year winning the Shanghai Rolex Masters and the China Open – and a fan favourite during these tournaments.