Social Media and Viral Marketing in China

Social Media and Viral Marketing in China

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4578-3.ch002
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Abstract

Social media, a range of various new communication applications based on Internet and wireless telecommunication technology, provide a new media environment for marketing. This chapter first reviews literature about social media and social media marketing, specifically viral marketing. It then provides an overview on the development of social media in China, followed by a detailed description of a popular form of social media – microblogs. In the last section, some Chinese characteristics of social media marketing are briefly summarized.
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Social Media

Social media, a range of various new communication applications based on Internet and wireless telecommunication technology, provide a new media environment for marketing. This chapter first reviews literature about social media and social media marketing, specifically viral marketing. It then provides an overview on the development of social media in China, followed by a detailed description of a popular form of social media – microblogs. In the last section, some Chinese characteristics of social media marketing are briefly summarized.

The term “social media,” as its name implies, refers to any of the number of online communication channels that incorporate social interaction by the use of highly accessible and scalable communication technology. Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward definition is provided by Safko (2010) when he states that “social media is the media we use to be social” (p. 3). The reader might find this definition simplistic, but Safko cautions that although social media is defined in simple terms, it is much more complicated than it appears on the surface. He states that with the many technologies that are available to the users, be they prospects or customers, the key is to use these technologies in the most effective way possible (Ibid. p. 3). Technologies that include, but are not limited to, email, mobile phones, short message service (SMS), websites, and media are the technologies that individuals and companies can use “to reach out and connect with other humans, create a relationship, build trust, and be there when the people in those relationships are ready to purchase our product offering” (Safko, 2010, p.4).

Comm (2010) notes that it is the individual user who creates the content of social media, i.e. it is a personal form of communication. In contrast to the traditional media where the content is created by an individual (or a group of individuals) for the purpose of obtaining a large readership (for example an online newspaper) from a passive audience, in social media the writer is both the creator of the text as well as its audience. In that sense, and this is where the main difference lies, social media is both active and interactive. The novelty of social media lies in the fact that it does not rely on a passive audience, but rather it highlights the interactivity of the communication process, and thus changes our understanding of how people communicate online.

Web-based platforms are very well suited for collaborative activities in the realm of social media. These activities include, but are not limited to, blogs (and micro-blogs), social networking sites, chat lines, virtual game worlds and virtual communities, content communities, etc. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2011). They form a new type of communication, which is rapidly becoming ubiquitous as millions of people from every part the world participate online on a daily basis. A simple example of the evolution of this new social media will suffice. In the beginning, and before the popularity and ease of ownership of the cell phone (aka mobile phone), one would exchange a home phone number with another person so that one could keep in touch. Then with the advent of email, it was common to provide an email address and keep in touch online. As technology developed further, the cell phone liberated the user from the home-based phone and the desktop computer (both of which were located in a specific place). The era of Web 2.0, combined with the invention of Android-based systems that enabled the cell phone to connect to the Internet, brought more and more people, especially the youth, to ask for the user’s Facebook, QQ, Twitter, Myspace, Renren, and Sina Weibo1 account (although one would still give out a mobile phone number). Not only has social media changed the way of contacting others, but it has also changed the way participants communicate with the outside world. By the use of a mobile device connected to the Internet (the smart phone), a user can access any of the social media platforms anywhere and at anytime. Communication becomes instant, interactive and personal. The user is no longer tethered to a particular place and device (i.e. the home phone and desktop computer).

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