Chinese internet users are sharing their perceptions and viewpoints on businesses, including foreign businesses, on social media. If your job involves keep tabs on what is being said about your own company or its competitors, or if you need to periodically obtain competitive intelligence on businesses operating in China, knowing your way around Chinese social media apps could save you a lot of time and effort and help you flag information more quickly relative to collecting the information via traditional methods.
Beyond the well-known duo of WeChat (微信), the multi-purpose instant messaging and social-networking app and Weibo (新浪微博), the dominant micro-blogging platform, there are at least four other social media related apps that are useful for US companies conducting competitive intelligence in China.
While it could be expected that US companies that operate in a B2C environment in China would be noticed by Chinese social media users, it is interesting to note that there is also a lot of social media content on the Chinese internet about US companies that operate in B2B environments. We've used the example of IBM as a prominent US company to illustrate the kind of competitive intelligence potential out there.
1. Sougou (搜狗): a 'Google' for WeChat public accounts
Sougou is the only search engine capable of searching content published on WeChat's public accounts (~3.5 million active accounts as of end-2017). With more than 1 billion registered users, WeChat launched its public account feature as a marketing platform for both business and personal users. IBM's China operation has an official public account on WeChat that publishes over 40 articles per month in order to raise brand awareness and control messaging about the company. The account is also used to push out information about upcoming products, marketing promotions, job postings, etc targeting an audience in China. A number of other US businesses with presence in China also maintain active WeChat public accounts. Sougou makes it possible to search this content with ease.
2. Kanzhun (看准): a 'Glassdoor' for China
While Glassdoor itself is also available in China, Kanzhun is the popular local version powered by employee reviews. Similar to Glassdoor, employers and employees can both post information on the platform. The platform contains background information and jobs posted by employers - including foreign businesses operating in China. It also contains public ratings of employers' overall performance. For example, IBM's overall rating on Kanzhun is 4.1/5, taking into account reviews about employment benefits, training programs, management styles, company culture, etc. Kanzhun was founded in 2013 by the former CEO of Zhaopin, China's largest job posting platform.
3. Zhihu (知乎): a 'Quora' for China
Zhihu is currently the best Chinese-language Q&A platform where a community of professionals from various industries shares expert knowledge on all kinds of topics generated by internet users. It is roughly equivalent to Quora. Some of Zhihu’s active experts are high-profile entrepreneurs and intellectuals in China. They engage in online conversations over fairly specific topics - the screenshot above is a thread about IBM's potential collaboration with Chinese state-owned businesses. Identifying and joining discussions involving key experts can be particularly useful in gaining vital, real-time competitive intelligence. Zhihu was founded in 2011.
4. Douban (豆瓣): a 'Facebook Groups' for China
Douban is one of the most influential Chinese-language social media sites that allow internet users with similar interests to create groups and discuss current events and social issues. The screenshot above is a discussion thread about IBM within a group of over 41,000 people who have experience working for foreign companies in China. The group members are largely from 1st Tier and 2nd Tier cities. They have keen insights and often react sharply to actions taken by foreign companies. Both Zhihu and Douban are useful in understanding employee narratives about the China business operations of your competitors. Douban was founded in 2005.
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