Will China’s ‘Singles Day’ direct the future of social media in Australia?

In China, there's one day of the year that provides retailers with a bigger payday than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, and, Suzie Shaw explains in this guest post, the way brands use apps is redefining the customer journey.

November 11 is ‘Singles Day’ in China. It’s the day on which, last year, a record $14 billion worth of goods was sold in 24 hours.


And this year is expected to be even bigger, with promotional activities including an eight-hour live-streamed fashion show and a concert by Katy Perry. Yet it’s entirely possible you may never have heard of it.

Singles Day (Guanggun Jie in Chinese) is a fairly recent phenomenon, which began with bachelors celebrating their single status every 11th of November.

This date was chosen because 11.11 visually expresses ‘four lonely sticks’.

In a culture where marriage is prized and singledom is considered shameful by many of the older generation, this was a pretty revolutionary celebration.

So marketers took note.

E-commerce giant Alibaba jumped on board by organising a sale to coincide with the celebrations in 2009 and it’s grown like crazy ever since.

The lead-up to the celebration involves painstaking preparation for brands, where advance notice of Singles Day specials begins around October.

And a huge driver of sales is Chinese social media, especially WeChat.

According to We Are Social’s State of Digital Report in 2016, WeChat has 650 million monthly active users. (There are an estimated 1.5 million WeChat users in Australia). WeChat has become the de facto social platform of China… it certainly doesn’t hurt that Facebook is blocked there.


Like Facebook, WeChat offers messaging and a ‘wall’ functionality. But unlike Facebook, it has cracked e-commerce. Some of its success stems from WeChat finding a way to be culturally appropriate for its audience.

The platform was a very early adopter of emojis. These work brilliantly for the Chinese, since traditional Chinese characters are pictographs, which means the Chinese are accustomed to ideograms.

In fact a study found that emojis are so integral now in Asian culture to the point that “when there are texts without [emoji or stickers], people start to worry their friends may be angry with them; or they become angry… because of a perceived lack of thoughtfulness by the sender.”

WeChat has also understood how to help Chinese with the vital concept of ‘face’ (mianzi in Chinese).guanggu-jie-singles-day-china-shopping-photo-from-queens-university-belfast-library-on-facebook

‘Face’ is simultaneously your reputation and your place in your network. It requires making constant adjustments to your social interactions, to ensure your “face” to the world is optimal.

Obviously that’s what social media is all about, even in the west.

But WeChat has taken it to the next level, by allowing brands themselves to enter and interact with friendship circles – users can add official accounts in the same manner as ‘friends’.

With the modern Chinese middle class penchant for luxury and foreign brands, management of face has become a branded social experience. In China, sharing what you bought is important.

There’s another key difference in terms of how brands behave on WeChat versus western social media. In the West, brands seek to drive social conversation, in order to build awareness and brand equity. But on WeChat, things are much more direct.

The business approach of the Chinese could be summed up in one sentence: “Talk is cheap, show me the money.”guanggu-jie-shopping-dollars-queens-university-belfast-library-on-facebook

To give an example, say an Australian wine brand wished to promote its new bubbly. On Facebook, they might sell ‘implicitly’ via creating content. Perhaps this would be a seasonal flatlay, or a video.

On WeChat, you would link users to their nearest liquor provider, where they’d receive a promotional coupon based on their previous purchase history. WeChat focuses on driving the transaction.

Western social media lags WeChat by some margin, in terms of its e-commerce potency.

For example, through a partnership with WeChat, Alibaba competitor JD.com was able to grow its sales by 110% last year, from 14 million orders to over 30 million orders on Singles Day (70% of them on mobile).

According to Internet Retailer, 52% of first-time customers coming to JD.com on Singles Day arrived there clutching a coupon from the social networks WeChat or Mobile QQ.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have all experimented with ‘buy now’ ads, but no retailer has reported such a huge impact from the technology.

Our platforms still need to crack the integration of social and e-commerce. The rise of social selling groups, and Instagram’s new purchase tagging system, are interesting developments… but we’re not there yet.

WeChat’s features and functions aren’t actually that different to any other social platform, but it’s the way they’ve been integrated – in a manner that’s appropriate to the Chinese cultural context – that have fuelled its rapid adoption.

Given the scale of commissions on offer for successful referrals, you can bet that Mark Zuckerberg is studying the WeChat phenomenon very, very closely. Watch this newsfeed…

Suzie Shaw is the managing director at We Are Social.


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