Social Media in China… We’re Definitely Not in Kansas Anymore!

Jessica Lee AsiaPac, China, Jessica Lee, Recruiting, Social Media, Social Media and Talent, Social Networking, Social Recruiting

Things don’t work the same in China.

For example, there’s this thing called the Great Fire Wall. No, not the Great Wall. The Great Fire Wall. As in… you can’t access Facebook, Twitter and Youtube in China. You all know this already though – I hope. And let me tell you – that Great Fire Wall is kinda cramping my style. Or rather, my social media strategy.

It’s an awesome learning experience nonetheless, getting a social media strategy for recruiting and employer brand up and running for China. How fun, right? It’s like the jumping into things all over again… like four or so years ago in the US. Not too many folks out there to pave the way. Limited thought leadership on the topic (this has got to be one of the few and only FOT posts on recruiting in China, never mind social media…). That means a ton of upside and exploration to do though. And just think about the amazing growth in that market. Think about the sheer size of that population and the number of people to potentially bring into your digital talent communities. Hundreds of millions of eyeballs – in just one country.

Social media is not social media in China though. Here’s just a glimpse into what you’ve gotta deal with if you’re doing biz in China. There are channels upon channels. Qzone, Renren, Weibo, Kaixin, Pengyou. Those are just a few. To illustrate how complex it is, let’s say you want a Twitter equivalent. Well, there are about 20 to choose from. TWENTY. And it’s not as if one dominates over another in some obvious way. Several have 300 million + users. EACH. Some are declining though, while others are growing. You have to pay close attention and be willing to turn on a dime because the pace of change there is dizzying. And that’s just looking at channels that are Twitter-esque. Looking across the entire landscape, some have social gaming platforms – important for Marriott, play our MyMarriottHotel game if you haven’t already – and others do not. So, it’s not like you can just get in there and play and experiment and see what happens…

Then there’s the challenge that I don’t speak or read Mandarin. I’ve got folks on the ground with local language expertise but not social media chops. I’ve got friends on the ground with social media chops but they are expats and haven’t done employer brand work, let alone digital employer brand work. And then there’s me. Put all that aside though, and you start digging into the Chinese social media landscape and you find that… things don’t work the same in China. All bets are off!

Take for example how the Chinese government ordered a shut down of the ability to make comments on status updates for their largest Twitter equivalents – Sina Weibo and Tencent.  Wait – what? You’re thinking, “Huh?” Sure. That can happen. It did happen. Right after I completed some basic community management and conversation building training with my local team there! So for a few days, you could post and forward “tweets” but you couldn’t comment on anyone’s updates. So much for using social media to build conversation. Again, all bets are off.

But even getting up and running on any platform as a brand is not straight forward. To do an enterprise wide, fully branded splash, you can expect lots of back and forth. And even if you thought your brand pulled some weight… it likely means nothing. They make the call on every detail. They don’t like your look, feel, strategy… they make that call. But! Then you learn that advertising money talks. Spend $10K on ads, spend $150K on ads, no problem! You can do what you want on their channel. And by the way, this is with all the big social networks now – China or not. Want to get verified on Twitter? Want to do promoted Tweets or promoted trending topics? Want a brand page on Twitter? Be prepared to spend. Big time. Or be BFF’s with Biz and Ev Stone. Maybe that will work for ya. Sigh.

So things aren’t the same in China. And actually, at this point in time, with the evolution of social media in the biz space generally, nothing’s the same. It’s not a… let’s play and experiment and see what happens kind of space any more. I saw a Tweet that came through during the ERE Expo last week that said social media for recruiting is cheap and easy. I beg to differ. Social media channels are looking to monetize and can – big time. So at this point? You’ve got to pay to play. And it’s complicated. And the bigger a company you are, the more complicated. So you’ve got to have a strategy.

Fear not though. It’s complicated… but it’s not impossible. It’s worth it still. And trust me – it’s fun. A ton of fun. You just have to be willing to be flexible. And dwell in the ambiguity. And be resilient. And patient. Welcome to generation flux.

Get ready for the ride!