Hong Kong tweet hub

As a PR professional who focuses on bridging the communication divide between China and the Western world, Carol Chan has advice for both Twitter and Chinese marketers concerning the social platform's new office in Hong Kong.

Carol Chan director, Comms8
Carol Chan director, Comms8

Many Chinese brands are hungry to engage with the global audience

For international brands to engage with an audience in China, the first thing they need to consider is WeChat. So equally, for a Chinese brand trying to raise its profile globally, Twitter, offering exposure to 288 million monthly active users, is the place they need to be.

While its reach is important, Twitter is also a platform where genuine interaction takes place and brand personality is revealed. As documented in a widly circulated infographic, 94% of users are open to hearing more from a brand on twitter, and 27% of customers follow a brand specially to give them feedback. Those numbers should make it attractive to any company.

Twitter is also essential in corporate communications because international journalists and politicians treat Twitter as one of their main sources of information.

No matter how big a brand is locally, a brand can never become a true global brand if it's not facing the global arena.  

However, it’s surprising to see many Chinese brands still have no presence on Twitter.  If we look at the Brandz‘s Top 10 most valuable brands in China, only four of the top 10 brands have a Twitter account, and only 1 of them – PetroChina - has a global account. The remaining three brands have some form of a local account but not all of them are in English.

1.       Tencent  - no official account

2.        Alibaba UK – 24.6K followers

3.       China Mobile HK – 116 followers (last post was in Sept 2010)

4.       ICBC Argentina – 23.9K  (non-English)

5.       Baidu – no official account

6.       China Construction Bank – no official account

7.       Sinopec – no official account

8.       Agricultural Bank of China – no official account

9.       PetroChina – 1,274 followers 

10.    Bank of China – no official account

A number of Chinese brands are already aggressive and active in building global profiles, e.g. Huawei and Xiaomi.

Last year, my firm helped Hainan Tourism Board raise its global profile in the US, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Russia, France and the UK.  Twitter was at the heart of that strategy as most travel bloggers and many Western travellers are active Twitter users. Therefore we helped the client establish its Twitter page and post interesting stories and useful information about Hainan to engage with target audiences.  

We even used the account to distribute the latest Hainan news.

For example, there was a huge typhoon hitting the island, which caused a large-scale electricity cut-off last year. As soon as it happened, we posted an update on Twitter to make sure visitors could prepare for the situation. Some international journalists only learned of the outage through our tweet because other news sources were only available in Chinese and on national channels.  Since then, the account has gathered over 11K followers. Plus, the analytical data we get from Twitter is incredibly useful for our ongoing communications strategy.

There are still obstacles for Chinese brands to use Twitter

From what we’ve seen, most of the Chinese marketers know that they need to use Twitter in their global communications strategy, but because they have no access to it in China, they find it challenging to understand how to use it and what to expect from the platform.

Chinese brands often rely on their overseas offices to manage Twitter accounts, but this can lead to multiple twitter accounts, which we normally don’t recommend, and inconsistent brand messages. 

Many Chinese marketers regard Twitter is just an English version of Weibo. But the truth is, user engagement on Weibo and Twitter is completely different.  Though both are micro-blogs, Twitter offers a simpler and neater engagement interface, while Weibo offers brands a richer media exposure.

Another key point to note is Twitter’s open API. This means there is much more marketers can do in terms of analytics and real-time targeting.

Challenges for Twitter

The key thing Twitter needs to do is provide a localized solution for Chinese brands. Firms need to know how to adapt their existing Chinese social media strategy to Twitter and how to integrate measurement with their existing digital and social media activity. Twitter could also help China’s marketers understand the vast capability of its API and real-time targeting, providing execution support for brands at the initial stage.  Without adding value for Chinese brands, Twitter’s Hong Kong office will merely be another sales team with a Chinese-speaking staff.

Good move for Twitter

Overall, I think it is a sensible move for Twitter, as it is leveraging the strategic location of Hong Kong.  It offers proximity in terms of location and shares a great culture familiarity with Mainland Chinese marketers and a great many industry practitioners speak the same language.

It’s also the only city in China where you can have access to both Chinese and international social media platforms and news sites without restriction.

With the opening of a Twitter office, the role of Hong Kong as the hub for bridging Chinese and international social media will become more significant. I would advise my clients to consider setting up their own social media hub (or ‘war room’) there for strategy and activation at both the greater China and global level. Perhaps this is something for Twitter’s team to advocate at a macro level too?

Carol Chan is the director for Comms8

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