Monday, March 2, 2015

How to use Chinese social media to effectively engage Chinese people in elephant conservation

By Li Jiayu

“Hello, guys. Do you have Weibo and WeChat?” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder and CEO of Save The Elephants the first time he met us. It really surprised me to meet a foreigner so familiar with Chinese social media.

However, after communicating with the staff and many similar conservation groups, I have gradually discovered that, despite the strong interest, these organizations knew little about using Weibo and WeChat (the most popular Chinese social media platforms) effectively. “I don’t understand what our translated Weibo account name means,” Resson, the project officer of Save The Elephants, explained when I pointed out that Save The Elephant’s account name was too long and confusing for Chinese people to understand.

According to the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC), the population of Internet users in China is 632 million as of June 2014. Among this group, Weibo users account for 249 million people, which means that it is a very important platform for Chinese people. In order to raise Chinese awareness regarding elephant conservation, organizations must successfully utilize Weibo. So if elephant protection organizations can successfully utilize Weibo, that would be a powerful tool in raising Chinese awareness.

International Conservation Organizations
Save The Elephants

Chinese Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
壹基金(One Foundation

Two popular Weibo accounts that shares animal stories every day

The tables show notable animal conservation/environmental organizations and their Weibo followers. Compared with other Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international NGOs have much less followers. If they want to better engage the Chinese public, there is a lot of room to improve.

Based on my research and personal experience managing the official Weibo account of Save The Elephants during my stay in Samburu research base, I have concluded that international NGOs’ Weibo accounts are more "official" and having less interaction with their followers than their Chinese counterparts. Save The Elephants unfortunately has a very low follower count of 1872, and I think that is because the account is not verified and it is too long to remember.

Verification is necessary for an official Weibo because verification can increase the accounts’ authority and reliability. Besides, the name of the official Weibo should be clear and short. For Save The Elephants, It is better to use the name “Save The Elephants” rather than “Africa STE elephants protection organization”, which is the translation.

Make it cute

In addition, I have learned what any communication professional can tell you: more people liked the cute and funny photos and stories involving elephants compared with regular official news. This is not a coincidence.

There are some very amusing Weibo accounts that share cute animals moments: “回忆专用小马甲” (Special Memory for Mr. Ma) and “我和宠物的日常”(My Daily Life with Pets). They are managed very successfully and, as the above table demonstrated, are very popular. The first account owner has two pets: Duanwu the cat and Niuniu the dog. He shares his funny moments with his pets every day. The latter account “My Daily Life with Pets” posts pet funny moments and, more importantly, the user posts great comments with the pictures. In addition, both account owners respond to user comments.

For example, there is a story posted on February 24 2015 by Mr. Ma: Niuniu, the dog, was playing with Duanwu, the cat. Dianwu tried to cover Niuniu’s eyes. Mr. Ma’s caption read “You! Stop posing! And you, close your dog eyes, stop looking at the camera, go to sleep!” A commentator retorted: “… Duanwu is just like an emperor.”

If an official Weibo can put more interesting and cute stories or photos of elephants’ daily life, it will attract more people.

Furthermore, in China GIF’s are extremely popular and easy to share on Weibo. Resson once suggested we upload video on the official STE Weibo. However, because of the data traffic and the load time, Chinese people usually will not open videos, especially without wifi.

For example, a very popular GIF on Weibo has two giraffes are fighting with each other using their necks, which has been reposted by lots of people. According to the comments under the gif, lots of people have said that “wow, it’s my first time to see the giraffes fighting. It’s so impressive!” If the GIF had been a video, though, it would not have been nearly as popular. These sort of user considerations must be taken into account.

Weibo also needs full-time mainland Chinese people to manage the accounts on a regular basis. Weibo is not just a place to share with a passive audience: Weibo, is “user-operated media” and an important platform for the organization to attract people’s attention and raise the organization’s profile.

However, as far as I know, not only STE but other famous organizations have their Weibo accounts managed by part-time volunteers. As Weibo is an important way to raise Chinese awareness, it should be managed more carefully. Usually, the official Weibo of Chinese organizations or companies have a full-time Weibo editor even a team.

Interaction is key

Weibo accounts should interact with other famous Weibo accounts in order to attract more followers. For example, STE can try to connect with Li Bingbing (who has over 32 million followers alone and is working with WildAid in elephant conservation), who is an elephant conservation ambassador. Beyond Li Bingbing, Wang Shi and Jack Ma are people who are very influential and care deeply about environmental issues. They founded “Alashan see”, an organization aimed at combating desertification. These wealthy individuals can set a good example in combatting ivory and their Weibo accounts can change hearts and minds. However, it is necessary to negotiate with them offline in advance to any sort of Weibo interaction.

Interaction with the audience is equally important in a strong Weibo account. Weibo allows people to have their say in the comments section, and Weibo accounts would do well to pay attention to audience feedback. Feedback is a good way to gauge Chinese reaction, and it is important to reply to the audience let them know they matter. During my management of the STE account, I tried to reply everyone’s questions, which I felt allowed the audience to learn more about elephants.

Li Jiayu is a student from China Agricultural Univeristy and a social media aficionado. She is a China Africa Seed Research Fellow of China House, the first Chinese social enterprise in Africa focusing on studying and improving China-Africa engagement.

1 comment:

  1. chinese social media marketing sites like Facebook have drastically changed the way we use the Internet. Online advertising is no exception, as social networks and social media have altered online marketing strategy. This article explores the power of social media marketing (SMM) as well as various ways to connect with Facebook users through this revolutionary advertising medium. The rule of thumb in social media marketing: Connect through content.