China Social and Content Marketing Trends 2019


The social/content field may seem to mature but innovation and progress have never stopped. Quite on the contrary, the battlefield is just as intense and energetic as it was 7 years ago. In addition, content is becoming increasingly important. Content without social is just as lifeless and unsound as social without content.

In the past year, short video social app Douyin (TikTok internationally) had as many as 500 million monthly active users. Content social media e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu had over 50 million. Three different social apps — undaunted by the colossal WeChat ecosystem — launched on the same day only a few weeks into 2019. CHAO, a social e-commerce platform developed by Zhihu that targets men, also launched early this year.


As social and content consumption becomes a part of life on the internet, so has social and content marketing flourished and become the predominant marketing model for brands to reach users. What trends will the ever-changing social and content field of China see in 2019? AI-Driven social and insight solution provider AdMaster aims to answer this question in its new report, China Social and Content Marketing Trends 2019. The report, based upon years of data and observing the industry, summarizes 9 crucial trends in the social and content marketing field of 2019.


Trend #1

Conversion through customized content

60% of brands to mainly use KOLs for social marketing

 AdMaster’s “China Digital Marketing Trends 2019” (released late 2018) shows that 81% of advertisers said they intended to increase their social marketing spending in 2019, increasing by 21% on average. KOL endorsement pulled ahead of other forms as the most popular form of social marketing among advertisers.


KOLs are valued by brands for their power to act as brand communicators, reaching and spreading information from brands to fans. Content that matches the personal style of the KOL is highly effective at influencing purchasing decisions of consumers. Twitter and Annalect conducted a study of consumer receptivity to KOL endorsements on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and Youtube and found that nearly 40% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of a KOL post. In addition, data from Chinese influencer marketing platform PARKLU shows that 1.5% of consumers immediately make a purchase after a KOL Weibo post. AdMaster Social Master analyzed data from the past two years and found that influencer marketing has become increasingly popular across various industries and brands. In 2018, F&B, beauty, auto, and baby & mom industries increased their KOL marketing by 92%, 81%, 29%, and 27% respectively compared to 2017.

Trend #2

Meteoric rise of Xiaohongshu and Bilibili

Authentic word-of-mouth and youth culture the best points of entry for marketing

In 2018, Xiaohongshu — sporting the tagline “Tag my life” — evolved from content e-commerce to a platform for young people to share their lifestyles. Astounding growth followed for the social media platform: within a year, monthly active users (MAU) grew by 258% compared to the same period last year.


The tremendous amount of authentic word-of-mouth testimonies made Xiaohongshu beloved by users and brands alike. In addition to traditionally predominant beauty and skincare content,AdMaster Social Master shows that outfit styling, weight loss/fitness, travel, and food have also become hot topics. Mentions of Xiaohongshu in product reviews on e-commerce sites have skyrocketed by 719% between the start and end of 2018. Xiaohongshu has become a significant source of information for users as well as an impactful force on their purchasing decisions.


Aside from Xiaohongshu, Bilibili, a video sharing platform focusing on ACG (Animation, Comic, and Game), is also one of Gen Z users’ favorite apps. It has seen strong development as well, boasting 90 million MAU as of Q3 2018. The ecosystem built around ACG culture motivates users to spend time on Bilibili. Its unique youth culture makes it a crucial point of entry for brands to reach young consumers.


Trend #3

Make the most of the home stretch

Social communication will aim more for conversion

Connecting content and e-commerce has pulled brand/product exposure and conversion drastically closer. For brands, communication goals across various mediums and channels have begun to move down the funnel as conversion becomes a more prominent marketing goal. An increasing number of content media platforms are embedding purchase channels, allowing users to buy with one click and making the most of the best conversion opportunity.


To create conversion, content and e-commerce platforms are working together more closely than ever. For instance, JD Plus memberships and annual iQiyi VIP subscriptions include benefits from each other, and Taobao’s 88 VIP membership includes VIP benefits for, Youku, Taopiaopiao, and Xiami — high-quality membership programs connecting in order to drive sales.


Trend #4

Precise marketing strategies tailored to the community

In contrast to traditional mass marketing approaches, social marketing is increasingly focusing on precise communication tailored to different communities, based on abundant segmentation metrics from social media. Celebrity/KOL spokesperson combinations should be chosen to optimize coverage across different segment communities and maximize quality after removing inflated numbers and noise. In addition, they must be able to communicate content tailored to the needs of different market segments.


Skincare brand HomeFacialPro divided its target audience into three segments by age, purchasing power, and interests: students, the “feel-good” audience, and TV series fans. HomeFacialPro created communication strategies targeted to the segments’ respective needs (best cost-benefit ratio; self-improvement; and following shows/actors), using different materials to impact different consumers, and successfully increased sales.

Trend #5

Rise to stardom or fall from grace

More cautious spokesperson choices in the age of idols

The popularity of idols from hit Chinese reality competition shows “Idol Producer” and “Produce 101” has made idols the hottest topic of 2018. Such idol reality programs are no less popular in 2019. According to the latest data from AdMaster SEI, the first 3 episodes of season 2 of iQiyi’s “Idol Producer” earned a 27% mean rating, equal to the ratings the first season finale received, and far higher than the average show rating of 17%.


The so-called “idol production show” model has been a testament to how willing fans are to pay to help their favorite idols launch their careers. To say that some idols have skyrocketed to stardom is no exaggeration. Musician and “Idol Producer” alumnus Cai Xukun’s AdMaster CSI ranking shot up 187 places from Q1 to year end 2018, placing him #2 on AdMaster’s “100 Celebrities With Highest CSI Commercial Value” list. Actor and brand favorite Zhu Yilong, who came in at #9 in 2018 CSI rankings and #2 on power to increase brand value, has enjoyed a similarly rapid rise to fame. However, other celebrities have fallen just as quickly due to personal issues. For instance, actor Zhai Tianlin’s CSI ranking fell to #418 following his involvement in an academic fraud scandal. The overnight rise and fall of celebrities means brands must exercise caution when choosing the right spokespersons. Only effective risk evaluation can comprehensively measure the value of a star.


Trend #6

Fame in a flash

Vlogging to be the new darling of video formats


 The vlog (video blog) format was born on YouTube as early as 2012. Today the platform is home to a multitude of vloggers, who collectively produce over a thousand vlogs per hour. Vlogs started gaining ground in China in H2 2018. As a result, various Chinese video platforms have been investing in vlogging, attempting to foster this new format and mine its potential market. Weibo, Tencent’s video platform Yoo, and Bilibili have all started recruiting vloggers and Douyin (TikTok) is testing out longer, 5-minute videos.


Vlogging is already relatively mature overseas, where brand-vlogger partnerships are common. “Father of the vlog” Casey Neistat has attracted deals from Emirates, Samsung, and Nike, among others. In China, brands are testing the waters following video platforms investing in vlogging. OPPO partnered with popular vloggers in April 2018 to produce vlog advertisements for the OPPO R15 smartphone. Today, brand-vlogger partnerships generally take one of five forms: customized themed narratives, brand exhibitions, product reviews, product launches, and immersive experiences.


Trend #7

Paid content increases

Consumers will pay for quality content of interest

The paid content trend of 2017 and 2018 continues this year, where China’s paid content market will continue to both increase in value and diversify in format. As of November 2018, Youku, iQiyi, and Tencent Video have a total of over 200 million paid members. Paid membership in the latter two platforms grew as much as 89% and 79% respectively compared to the previous year. Paid memberships are also being offered by more diverse platforms, no longer confined to video sites: audio/podcast platform Ximalaya FM had over 3.5 million paid users by July 2018.


Consumer psychology is also transitioning from purchasing due to anxiety to purchasing due to interest. AdMaster finds that in Gen Z individuals, entertainment/culture purchases (mainly video game in-game purchases and animation/comics) make up nearly 40% of their total purchases. 68% of young people say they will recommend to others products with animation/comic elements and 22% say they will buy products with animation/comic elements they like. Evidently, quality content has a huge impact on consumers’ purchase intent.

Trend #8

The power of AI in social marketing

BI visualization empowers brands to make marketing decisions

The 42nd “Statistical Report on Internet Development in China” shows that over 94% of Chinese internet users are on social media. Vast amounts of mineable social data are being produced every second. Burgeoning AI technologies can turn it into an important resource enterprises can use to optimize brand strategy and fully utilize market opportunities.


AI will have wide-ranging social marketing applications, including natural language processing, image recognition, emotion recognition, content creation, virtual assistants, and more, that will drastically cut down on tedious analysis tasks for brands. AdMaster offers an enterprise-level AI-based data visualization tool, the Social BI system. It is the data intelligence solution chosen by P&G, L’Oreal China, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and other world-famous brands. 


Trend #9

Guarding the line

Data security and anti-fraud are paramount

Data security became a key issue of 2018 after a series of data breaches and cyberattacks worldwide on platforms such as Facebook, which came under fire for leaks of user information, and Chinese video website AcFun, hit by a cyberattack that compromised data from nearly 10 million users. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May 2018 in an effort to protect the privacy of its citizens. China has also enacted various cybersecurity laws (including the China Internet Security Law, the 9th Amendment to China’s Criminal Law, and the Information Security Technology — Personal Information Security Specification) in order to regulate enterprise use of data and ensure cybersecurity.


In addition to data security, anti-fraud will also be crucial in 2019. Invalid traffic (IVT) has long been a persistent disease in the digital marketing sector. Data fraud has been just as rampant in social marketing. Artificially inflating views, likes, and/or comments has almost become the new normal. However, brands have taken a stand in refusing to partner with influencers or media that engage in such behavior. AdMaster’s Mingjian system measured data from one WeChat post with 100K+ views and found that its read count and like count suddenly ballooned at certain times. The read count increase peaked at 5 AM, an obvious departure from the norm, marking the post as an egregious case of fraud.


AdMaster President Maggie Wang says: “Content born out of the fertile ground of social media is vibrant, full of life. The two are inseparable. They are the most important mediums for brands to connect to users. Faced with China’s social and content market in 2019, full of change yet full of opportunity, brands must learn to both embrace and predict changes in the winds. Social data is an invaluable resource that every brand needs to master in order to decipher the market and optimize its marketing strategy.”

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