Reaching Overseas Chinese Customers through Social Media

Accurately targeting groups of expats through online channels can be difficult. Marketers are given limited options and often do not have access to precision tools needed to reach small groups within larger populations. Knowing the online activities and habits of the intended group is even more important when marketing to expats than marketing to larger audiences, it’s easier to hit a large target with a scatter-gun content strategy than it is to hit a small target.

Reaching members of the 50 million Chinese living, working and studying internationally is no exception to the issues marketers face when reaching expats of other nationalities. Knowing the online habits of Chinese internet users living abroad is essential to reaching these potential customers.

Image credit

User behaviour

While overseas, Chinese are able to access websites and social media unavailable to internet users in China. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that Facebook, Twitter and other social media will take the place of WeChat or Weibo in their lives. Platforms popular in China have tipping-point sized user numbers. New social media platforms are less sticky than platforms that one has an existing friend group on. While overseas, many expats continue to use Chinese platforms to keep in contact with friends, and family and keep up with news from back home.

Comprehensive social media strategies to reach overseas Chinese speakers should involve Weibo and WeChat. WeChat now has over 70 million monthly active users outside of China, many of these users are the 50 million overseas Chinese. These 70 million users make up less than 10% of the total monthly active users on the platform. A blanket approach in an attempt to reach this group will likely not be an effective or efficient marketing strategy.

Targeting capabilities of adverts

WeChat and Weibo both have limited capabilities for geographical targeting outside of China — limited when compared with the platforms’ advanced targeting tools within China. Even without precise targeting, adverts on these platforms can be effective at reaching an overseas Chinese audience. I’ve personally seen WeChat official account banner adverts for services such as moving companies and postal companies aiming help international students return to China following graduation. These adverts were on messages from accounts that write on news stories from the UK in Chinese (and have a mostly UK-based following).

There are various requirements for companies looking to advertise on Chinese social media. Different companies varyingly require licenses, a Chinese-language website and Chinese-language creative assets. However, the barriers to entry are easing, and many international marketing agencies are now offering Chinese social advertising as part of their services.

KOLs, influencers and digital PR

Working directly with the right KOLs, influencers and bloggers can be one of the most effective ways to get a brand’s message out to an expat community. WeChat and Weibo both have a number of bloggers and small publications set up to provide information to students and young professionals about living in the UK. Other countries with sizeable Chinese populations have similar media and blogger accounts. Content partnerships, product reviews, and affiliate links are all effective ways to work digital PR into an expat strategy.

Groups and forums

Social media is a direct descendent of the forum/message board of the early days online. While not as popular as the mass-market social media platforms, many forums have managed to keep users by focusing on a specific vertical.

Overseas student forums still exist and are a somewhat effective way to reach students (and to a lesser extent, young professional expats). These sites have varying quality and readership however content placement or advertising spend will put a company’s message in front of its desired audience.

As you can see from the second two sites above, adverts and content would struggle to stand out in the wall of text and banners. These sites are examples of an older style of Chinese webpage design which favoured a density of information. Despite the aesthetic issues of the sites, they do have audiences made up of overseas Chinese readers.

Designing your strategy

A good strategy to reach overseas Chinese needs to be tailored to the brand and product. A strategy to market mattresses will probably differ from a strategy to sell cars. Knowing and understanding the user behaviour of the key channels should be at the core of any strategy.


This story was first published at Half A World, visit us to keep up with the latest developments in digital in the Asia-Pacific

If you enjoyed this article, help others discover us by hitting the little green heart below.