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Broadening the link

Multinationals in China are integrating media to engage more with employees and jobseekers

China’s social media giants are attempting to influence not only the online activities of consumers, professionals and employers, but their previously offline lives as well.

Industry insiders say this ambitious approach offers opportunities for employer branding and business openings on the mainland for foreign and Hong Kong companies that were previously overlooked.

Yang Weidong, president of Tudou, China’s largest video-sharing site, says foreign multinationals are now integrating their social media platforms to compete for young talents. He explains that Microsoft and other foreign multinationals have seen the potential of using Tudou as their own television channel to reach out to younger generations of young mainland job candidates. According to Yang, over 80 per cent of Tudou users are between the age of 15 and 35.

Yang was in town recently to speak at the ROI Festival Business Creativity Summit Hong Kong. The event, a collaboration between ROI Festival – which promotes the maximising of return on investment in marketing and advertising – and the Hong Kong Advertisers Association, brought together the brains behind several successful social media platforms in China to talk about their brand strategies.

Multinationals, Yang says, are linking up their social media platforms – such as Sina Weibo, WeChat and Tudou – in order to behave like integrated media companies. “It’s as if a company has its own newspaper, radio and TV station,” he says. “This is a departure from the old days, when candidates could only read the job description to learn about the company and the work. Today, by the time they go to an interview, candidates already know a lot about the company’s culture and what it’s like to work there.”

Tudou means “potato” in Chinese, from the American expression “couch potato”. Since its inception in 2005 and its 2012 merger with former competitor Youku, Tudou has developed into much more than China’s answer to YouTube. Today, Tudou is part of the Chinese social media online-to-offline (o2o) phenomenon. For example, Yang says, the company is now looking to enter the music production business and plans to sign artists under its brand name.

It is also moving into the fashion industry. “When you view a fashion channel on Tudou, you will see a link where you can buy the outfit,” Yang says. “We are able to track the tastes of consumers, and eventually it is possible that we will design and produce our own clothing line.”

Apart from video-sharing sites, mobile chat apps are also booming. In China, the largest player is WeChat, a mobile text and voice messaging communication service developed by internet company Tencent.

Major employers and job advertising sites in China have set up public WeChat accounts, which anyone interested in the company can follow. In this way, the recruitment process becomes much more interactive as vacancies are posted and followers – known as “fans” – can ask detailed questions about the job.

Employers that are more sophisticated with their public WeChat accounts also share the microblog posts of existing employees. Photos and videos of company activities and social gatherings illustrate the corporate culture.

The hype around social media in the mainland can sometimes leave foreign and Hong Kong companies disorientated. Grace Zhao, chief executive of Grand Media, which specialises in branding using WeChat, says social media is now much more than a marketing tool or a communication platform between people. Consumers are now using WeChat to control their home appliances, transfer money from their bank accounts, pay their credit card bills, and check in for flights.

“Companies use [social media] to solve practical problems in the lives of consumers,” says Zhao, who also spoke at the ROI Festival event. She adds that it would be a mistake for foreign companies to think WeChat is a direct replica of other major mobile chat apps.

Many Chinese social media platforms are becoming international, meaning companies using WeChat, for example, will be targeting users beyond the China market. “WeChat has over 100 million users outside mainland China. It is a force to be reckoned with, Zhao says.

However, Onicek He, founder and chairman of ROI Festival, cautioned companies against jumping on the social media bandwagon without due diligence. He says foreign and Chinese firms have different approaches to the amount of risk that they take in constructing their social media strategies.

“Chinese firms are more comfortable with a trial-and-error approach, and are willing to adjust their tactics along the way. This can be good because this is exactly how technology products work,” he says. “In comparison, foreign firms tend to be risk-averse. Their corporate structures are more complex and their tendency is to do a lot of research before making a decision. So they tend to move more slowly.”

Speaking about hiring for China’s social media industry, He and Tudou’s Yang both have favourable opinions on the younger generation. Born in 1980 himself, He says employers need to understand the generation born in the 1990s in order to anticipate future consumer behaviour.

“It is often said [this group is] materialistic and self-interested, but they are also a knowledge-driven generation because of what they can learn on the internet,” He says.

At the same time, Tudou’s workforce is mostly from the generation born after 1980 and increasingly those born in the 1990s, matching the demographic of its users. However, Yang says, there are some difficulties in recruiting young talents with more analytical minds.

“First, they need to be heavy users [of social media], and I mean heavy, heavy users. Second, they need to be able to step back from their individual interests, look at the big picture, and draw insights about what kind of content can appeal to everyone. Plenty of young people meet the first criterion, but few meet the second.”