Chinese Social Networks - Intercultural Insights
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Chinese Social Networks
June 18, 2015

Gaining a cultural understanding of the way the Chinese use the social networks is vital for any company selling their products in China.

The Chinese digital industry

The Chinese social networks (particularly Wechat and Weibo) and e-commerce platforms are more interconnected in China than in any country in the world. The digital sector has brought Chinese clients closer to the brands, who communicate intensively with them and know them well.

There is a cultural reason for this: the Chinese digital sector meets the need for an interpersonal connection and for “face” expressed by Chinese consumers. Wechat and Weibo make it possible to create a form of engagement between the Chinese supplier and the end consumer, and to meet the latter’s need for personal contact.

The issue of trust in China

In China, trust and confidence are personal and consequently the only form of commitment is personal.

What this means in practice is that when a supplier operates on a B2B basis, he knows his client personally and can establish an affective and reciprocal relationship with him (guanxi) guaranteeing the quality of the product or service. This is not the case with B2C business models, in which the end consumer is an “unknown”, to whom the supplier has no formal commitment and who could be cheated by him with little risk, at least until the rise of the surfer-consumer.

The Chinese have no confidence in the “system” (the courts, the public services, the ISO or BIO certification bodies, etc.). Apart from the protective guanxi, mistrust and deceit prevail in an environment in which legal security is absent. Many Chinese consumers have paid for this with their health and even their lives.

The social networks: a formidable counterbalance

The social networks provide a formidable counterbalance, putting power back in the hands of Chinese consumers. It’s likely that the food safety scandals will become less frequent in China is now as surfers have the means to discredit and boycott a product. The safety and security of anonymous consumers is growing, not thanks to the law, which remains weak in China, but to the social networks which compensate for the insufficient quality and health checks and which are radically shifting the balance of power in favour of the Chinese consumer.

A particular characteristic of the Chinese e-commerce scene

We should note another cultural characteristic of the Chinese e-commerce scene: more and more purchases are being made via smartphones, BUT, the consumer only pays on delivery after having checked that the product:

  • Is not counterfeit
  • Is not damaged.

For his part, the trusting westerner pays in advance, because he expects to receive the genuine item rather than a forgery, he “believes” in the ” Bio” label and he knows that he will receive a refund if he’s disappointed. It’s very comforting to be able to have trust and confidence in the “system”!

The need for “face”

Finally, the social networks also meet the need for “face” expressed by Chinese consumers. Firstly, through their role in the portrayal of an individual’s personal life, in the form of photos and selfies of all kinds, combining private life with business. But also in triangular interactions between the brand, the Chinese client and the Wechat or Weibo communities, which are intense: information, flash promotions and above all the tips and advice exchanged play an extremely important role as a “social eye” and “influencer”, confirming the good standing of a company, thereby generating “face”, while condemning products or services which fail to live up to their promises.


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About author

Chloé Ascensio

Chloé Ascensio

Chloe Ascencio is a trainer and coach specialising in Chinese management and business culture. She has lived in Shanghai and Guangzhou and has led research on the subject since 2005. Chloe designs and delivers training on indirect communication, remote cooperation, managing Chinese teams, and effective negotiation with the Chinese. She also trains Chinese on the subtleties of French culture and coaches of Chinese managers in France. She has published several books on these topics including: "Manager in China: French Managers as Seen by Their Chinese Team", "Being Efficient in China", and "Working Successfully with the Chinese". Working languages: French, English, Chinese.

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