Facebook? Big deal. Are you on Weibo?

How to better reach ethnic targets through social media

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How to better reach ethnic targets through social media

While Facebook has seemingly reached every corner of the world, there remains one huge untapped market it likely won’t breach anytime soon: China.

Weibo's landing page

The social network that Mark built is banned in the world’s most populous country, but that doesn’t mean the Chinese are social network-less. Weibo, meaning “micro-blog,” is the social media site of choice that reportedly has north of 500 million users. Owned by Chinese company Sina, Weibo is like a cross between Twitter and Facebook and it’s pretty common to find major multinational brands like Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola on it as China is a quickly growing market for them. But Canadian fashion retailer Holt Renfrew?

Turns out Weibo is also becoming a way for Western brands to connect with Chinese populations in their very own backyards.

Roxanne Tsui, founder and managing partner, strategy and insights at Sensu Communications, the multicultural agency that created the Weibo page for Holt Renfrew, explains that Chinese immigrants to Canada “connect with their friends on Weibo since their social circle can’t go on Facebook in China.”

And even immigrants from China who have lived in Canada for several years and have built up a social circle are unlikely to drop Weibo if they also sign up for Facebook, says Tsui. “The Chinese are very closely tied with their home country culture. They can be here in Canada for 20 to 30 years and still read the Chinese newspaper,” she points out.

Holt Renfrew is one of a number of companies that have recently turned to social media in their ethnic marketing. The numbers support such a move; Environics Analytics finds social media use among ethnically diverse segments to be slightly above the national average, according to 2012 data gleaned from its Social Media PRIZM Link database powered by online surveyor AskingCanadians.
Many of these segments (which Environics has assigned names like “South Asian Society” and “Asian Up-and-Comers”) are much more likely to interact with brands: 52% of the “South Asian Society” segment, for instance, has liked a brand on Facebook compared to 43% nationally.

“Many multicultural clusters are more open to receiving marketing messages and sharing personal information on social media,” says Rupen Seoni, VP, practice leader at Environics Analytics.

Immigrants to Canada are also coming from countries where social media adoption is more prevalent than in North America. In the Philippines, comScore reports that 96% of the country’s internet users visited a social networking site (with Facebook leading the way) in April 2012, making its online population the most socially connected in the world. In 2010, the Philippines became the largest source of immigration to Canada. Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, was also the fastest-growing language in Canada in 2011 compared to 2006.

In China, 95% of internet users in its fastest-growing cities were registered on a social media site, according to an April 2012 report from McKinsey.

Holt Renfrew first created a Weibo page last year in an effort to drive sales among Chinese shoppers at its Vancouver and three Toronto stores. The page was created around the retailer’s 175th anniversary celebrations and featured culturally relevant messages and images. A contest encouraged Weibo users to become a follower of the event page, share with two friends, and repost for the chance to win a Holt Renfrew gift card.

The integrated campaign also included online display advertising and ads in Chinese restaurants, karaoke bars, hair salons and other establishments through Medialogy.

Within 20 days, the Holt Renfrew 175th anniversary event page had 692 followers and generated more than a thousand reposts and hundreds of comments. More importantly, during the campaign period, Sensu estimated 45.3% of all in-store shoppers of the Vancouver and three Toronto stores were from Chinese-heavy neighbourhoods. The agency came up with the figure by taking the first three characters of the shoppers’ postal code and crossed them with Census data identifying neighbourhoods densely populated with Chinese households.

Shoppers from those areas also drove 51% of gross sales.

Given the success of the campaign, Holt Renfrew recently converted the 175th anniversary Weibo page into a brand page with ongoing sales promotions and other updates. From 2010 to 2013, Tsui says conversations about Holt Renfrew on Weibo have increased by 148% year over year.

Western Union Company is another marketer in Canada experimenting with in-language community pages.

“The opportunity to provide multi-lingual conversations with customers is a huge opportunity because everyone feels most comfortable in their mother tongue whether it’s Punjabi, Tagalog, Mandarin or French,” says Joycelyn David, director of marketing at Western Union Company. “In Canada, we service 19 languages from our call centre, and I would love to see that translate to social media.

“If we could even service three or four languages on social media in the next year I would say that’s a success,” David adds.

On behalf of Western Union, multicultural agency AV Communications created a Facebook page called Ang Galing ng Pinoy on which content is posted in Taglish (a mix of Tagalog and English). The page, which celebrates Filipino people, has more than 1,100 friends so far.

“A brand can’t speak to all of the country’s main language groups (like English, French, Chinese and Punjabi) on, say, a single Facebook page—you’re going to alienate people,” says Anna Maramba, partner and media director at AV Communications. “Language is a challenge, but whoever goes in first has an advantage because they’d be among the only ones.”

Still, as much opportunity as there may be, the challenges marketers face in implementing a general marketing strategy for social media are heightened when it becomes about a cultural or language group. Creating relevant, sharable content on an ongoing basis for a general audience is one thing—but for a specific culture and potentially in a language other than English or French?

“A brand that wants an in-language Facebook page for their Chinese consumers needs to have in-language capability. Or they have to give enough authority to their agency partner to engage and respond on their behalf in a timely manner,” says Johnson Chang, general manager at Balmoral Marketing. “We have been proposing social media strategies to our clients, but the issue has been the ability to dedicate resources to make sure they have language and cultural understanding.”

At this point, most big brands targeting ethnic groups on social media are only using display ads, says Stanley Furtado, senior manager at Dyversity Communications. On Facebook, display ads can be targeted based on filters like interests (“likes” of cricket or Bollywood, for instance) and biographical fields (Canadian residents with a hometown from outside Canada). Dyversity has used those filters for clients like Rogers Sportsnet to promote the broadcaster’s increased coverage of cricket, the most popular sport in India.

Still, some are at least testing out the waters of a two-way dialogue on social media.

To promote its annual Rogers Cup tournament last August, Tennis Canada marketed the world’s top-ranked male tennis player, Serbian Novak Djokovic, on Toronto-based Serbian Café. The portal features news articles about Serbia and Montenegro, and also offers chat forums, recipes and classifieds.

“People in the Serbian community told us that Serbian Café was the place to reach the Serbian community on social media,” says Donna Wittmann, chief marketing officer at Tennis Canada. “We worked with Serbian Café to design a plan that included large banners promoting the event, some blogs and notifications when Novak was scheduled to play a match.”

According to the 2011 Census, more than 13,420 residents of Toronto speak Serbian as their preferred language at home. While Wittmann acknowledges it may seem like a relatively small subset in a massive market, she says the outreach was at a minimal cost and spoke specifically to an audience that may not have been reached through its general advertising of the tournament. And while she admits they’re still figuring out how to best measure social media efforts, Djokovic did quip in his winner’s speech that the support of Serbian-Canadians was so ardent that he should get dual citizenship.

“Tennis is truly an international sport, with top players coming from across the globe. This fact should open doors into different groups and will only boost the value of social media,” concludes Wittmann.

Social media is also being leveraged as a marketing tool by content producers, including SB (Suhrwardy Brothers) Productions, a Vancouver-based TV and video production company operated by Adeel Suhrwardy and his brother Khurram.

The two produced and starred in the drama series Mangoes, about life for recent immigrants in Toronto that broadcast on ATN and a dedicated YouTube channel. The presenting sponsor of the series is Toronto-based wireless provider Mobilicity, which is also integrated into the show content. Some scenes unfold in front of Mobility stores.

SB Productions' Mangoes

To promote the launch of the show, SB Productions created a music video featuring acoustic soul singer/songwriter Kristie Yung from Vancouver and Alamgir, a Pakistani playback singer considered to be one of the pioneers of Urdu pop music and now living in Atlanta.

Positioned as a tribute to Alamgir, the video was seeded on YouTube and syndicated on web portals, blogs and websites.

In the first five days on YouTube, the music video generated more than 100,000 views. And since being launched in October 2011, it has been viewed more than 561,000 times. It has also generated more than 768 comments and almost 3,000 likes.

And with all six of the 22-minute episodes garnering more than a million views on YouTube, the second season is now in production.

“We had a small meagre budget, but our social media effort ended up generating so much interest that mainstream media picked up on it. Omni did entertainment reports on Mangoes and publications ran stories explaining the series,” says Suhrwardy.

“Social media was really the driving force behind our marketing of the program.”

For more on Canada’s growing multicultural marketing industry, pick up the April 4 issue of Marketing and subscribe to our print and iPad magazine for ongoing coverage.

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