Marketing with social media in online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese. Part 1

7th July


Written by Long Chen

How important is it for Chinese online purchasing agencies to market their services with social media and what factors should be considered?



This paper is aiming to give a basic understanding of the business field of online purchasing service provided to the overseas Chinese who are studying, working or living abroad and a basic analysis of how companies in this business field can better market their services with social media. The online purchasing services introduced in this paper refer to (but are not limited to) food, seasoning, kitchen wares, books, and other Chinese products that cannot be purchased in foreign countries, or can be purchased at a more competitive price or in a more convenient way using online purchasing services for the overseas Chinese.

Being a member of more than fifty million overseas Chinese (Xinhua News, 2012), I know how important such a purchasing service is in our daily lives not only from my personal experiences but also from the comments and opinions that the other overseas Chinese have given. Under such huge potential need for this relatively new market, online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese is playing a more and more important role. However, unlike other types of business, the target customer groups of this business field are the overseas Chinese who are living outside China. Therefore, traditional market channels seem not to work in this specific field, thus, online marketing seems to be the most important (if not only) method to consider when online purchasing agencies market their services to their overseas potential customers. Nowadays, social media is playing a dominant role in online marketing; this is also the reason why companies in this specific business field should know what factors to consider when marketing their service to their target customer groups with social media.

I believe this business field, as a rapidly developing market, will become an important business area of online purchasing industry in the future of China and marketing with social media is one of the most important components in this field.

Purpose of the paper

The main purpose of this paper is, by using, discussing and analyzing different literatures on marketing with social media, to apply existing knowledge of marketing with social media to this specific and new business market. By the help of different theories and a small case analysis of one social media, this paper is aiming to provide some guidelines on what factors companies in this business field should consider when marketing their service to their overseas customers with social media.

Theory review and analysis

How important is it?

The industry of online purchasing service for overseas Chinese is a relatively new business field, its target customer groups are overseas Chinese who are studying, working or living outside China. Therefore, compared with traditional marketing channels such as local newspapers and TV commercials in a foreign country which are almost impossible for a Chinese company to do, online marketing plays a much more important role in this business field. Akar & Topcu (2011) have argued that social media can be seen as a subset of online marketing activities such as email newsletters and online advertising campaigns. It has also been argued that the use of traditional media has been declining since the widespread use of social media such as blogs, Facebook, SinaWeibo (Akar & Topcu (2011).

In addition, as argued by Sandes & Urdan (2013), an e-marketer consulting study has shown that the marketing investment on social media has increased about 740% from 2006 to 2010. The percentage of companies using social media for marketing is expected to reach 88% by 2012, up from 42% in 2008 (Williamson, 2010), more than 50% of social media users follow brands on social media (Gensler, Leeflang & Veris, 2012). Social media have become what we use every day to get updated information and to interact with our friends. Companies should take advantages of social media and make the best use of them to market their products and services.

Moreover, As Hoffman & Novak (2012) have argued that “brands with proactive social media strategies are in the best position to reap rewards from user-generated content”. This argument may be better applied to this specific business field of online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese since it is a relatively new market, companies do not have many lessons learned from the past especially when it comes to how to market their service to its overseas potential customers. Therefore, companies in this business field may not only consider using social media to market their services, but also consider trying to be proactive and a bit aggressive when doing marketing in order to gain a larger share of market at this stage of this business field (Hoffman & Novak, 2012).

What factors should be considered?

Firstly, there are a lot of different social media and each of them has its unique effect that needs to be taken into consideration by companies marketing with them (Akar & Topcu, 2011). For instance, some social media may be good for companies to post updated information so that customers can know what new products are coming soon, some may be good to establish a platform for customers to interact and exchange opinions and information with each other. Therefore, companies need to make sure that they are marketing in the best way using the unique feature of every certain social media. However, as Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden (2011) have argued, although each social media has its own unique feature and function, companies should also keep in mind that different social media should be treated as an integrated system. By doing so, customers will not feel annoyed by getting the same information everywhere and companies can optimize the outcome of its social media marketing activities. In addition, as to the specific business field of online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese, companies should understand their customers are distributed everywhere around the world. Therefore, marketing strategies should also be made based on the popularity of different social media used in different countries or regions.

Secondly, since the target customer groups of this business field are overseas Chinese and social media used in China are completely different from the western world, thus, consideration should also be given to changing marketing strategies accordingly when marketing with Chinese social media tools such as SinaWeibo and QQSpace and social media widely used outside China such as Facebook and Twitter. In addition, in this business field of online purchasing service for overseas Chinese, time difference should also be considered when marketing with social media in different countries in order to make sure that customers are getting what they want to see when they are most likely to see it.

Furthermore, except for the fact that the potential customers of this business field are all Chinese but are distributed all around the world, they are also varied in terms of age, profession, sub-culture (depending on where they live), additional language, preference, etc. As stated by Aljukhadar & Senecal (2011), companies should consider the “distinctive characteristics of online market segments for an optimal allocation of marketing expenditure”; therefore, marketing strategies and approaches should be tailored accordingly based on different customer segmentations. Moreover, according to Breuer & Brettel (2012), “online advertising should be target group specific in order to achieve the highest impact”. As to the business field of online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese, what this means could be making marketing strategies on different social media platforms or even different specific groups in those social media according to its customer segmentations in terms of age, profession, etc. For instance, if a company in this business field of online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese wants to market its service to one certain online forum, and they have found that most visitors of this online forum are aged between 18-26, in this case, they may consider putting advertisement of Chinese fashion clothes, electronic products or textbooks in Chinese instead of Chinese kitchen wares.

Moreover, unlike traditional media or Web 1.0, when marketing with social media, the focus should be on conversations and interactions with the audience (Atkinson, 2013). On one hand, freedom should be given to the audience so that they can talk and share information with their friends and thus make online marketing activities more effective, companies can also gain rich and first-hand consumer insight faster and more reliably (Barwise & Meehan, 2009). However, on the other hand, moderate control and monitoring should also be given into consideration. It is necessary and essential for companies to establish systematic procedures to monitor and reply any consumer’s opinions about their services (Sandes & Urdan, 2013). Data gathering should also be done throughout the whole monitoring process in order to get complete and more reliable customer insights.

At last, since online purchasing service for the overseas Chinese is a relatively new market, therefore, tracking and identifying key performance indicators of marketing activities is an essential part of the whole online marketing strategy in the long run. Companies may not have many lessons and experience learned from the past in this business field due to its short history, however, by tracking and identifying key performance indicators, companies will be able to know where they should focus more on and invest more on in order to optimize the outcome of their marketing activities in the future (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011). In addition, according to Breuer & Brettel (2012), online advertising also has short- and long-term effects. “Social networks take time to show their value and, thus, companies need to remain committed to it in order to reap these benefits” (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). Therefore, when online purchasing agencies for the overseas Chinese are marketing their service with social media, time lags and long-term effects should also be taken into consideration in order to know what marketing strategy in which social media has given them the best outcome.

The second part of this blog post and the bibliography will be published on 10th of July.