Alarm bells ring gently for foreign companies on Asia’s giant social platforms Weibo and Wechat, because interaction there is subtle. The inquiring mind wishes to engage, but not to lose face or cause offence. Even when the government trips over an issue, there is seldom aggressive protest of the western kind. The Asian giant is there to learn, and it is catching fast.
The Chinese Alarm Bells to Heed
- Social participation is massive, although only half the population are netizens. These are primarily the younger, upward moving one-child generation. They live on their phones because their connections are their extended family. Get it wrong on social media, and the alarm bells start ringing on many phones.
- The Chinese pick through the news on state dominated newspapers, radio and television with long chopsticks because they suspect filtering. Censorship may slow critical news down too. The savvy generation gets their latest on social media sites. If there is something wrong with your product, soon everybody will know.
- Asia’s internet population is an undemocratic hierarchy. Large communities gather around influential opinion leaders in the way westerners hang onto every word from some blogs. These key opinion leaders (KOLs) can become your powerful emissary. If they rebuff you, hear those alarm bells because they can turn on you.
- The Chinese are ‘mobile on the hop’, and their phones demand their attention in every photograph. When they have an unfortunate commercial experience, they do not wait to get home to caution their friends. If your Asian customers leave your store frowning and texting, be worried. Take these alarm bells seriously.
- China is not a homogeneous culture, but a conglomerate gathered by warlords centuries ago. Some of the smaller social sites have ethnic, religious and geographic bias. Know what you about. Understand what they are about. The Chinese may be inscrutable, but they do not like to be seen in a bad light.
Tread carefully through what can sometimes be a minefield. Listen to the soft alarm bells chime as different cultures bump and grind together. Both sides are still learning to understand and respect. A local idiom says, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”