I am Arnaud, glad to be here. I've been in China for 5 years, and today I'm going to talk to you about social media marketing in China. Especially WeChat.
Why did you choose to go to China to start your career?
To be honest, for both personal and pragmatic reasons. First, personal reasons. Simply because I love the country, its people, its culture, its food. I felt comfortable living here. But also for pragmatic reasons. China and Shanghai specifically is a dream destination for everyone willing to start a career, in my opinion. If you work hard, you can quickly grow professionally. For example, I started as a copywriter, and in just 3 years, I moved to be an account manager, and now I'm a marketing manager for an international insurance broker based in Shanghai.
Why did you have this idea to go into marketing and social media?
To be honest, it came a bit out of nowhere. I graduated with a double master's degree in France, political science, and Asian study. Around this time, I was a cookie writer for a French newspaper, and it was my blog's posts that helped me join a first online marketing agency in September 2017. So it was only 3 months after I graduated.
How did you learn WeChat marketing?
I have learned almost everything about WeChat marketing from an online marketing agency named Francelysee, a French agency based in Shanghai. It was founded by 2 young French entrepreneurs. They started this company in 2015, which was first a blog about French culture on WeChat, and then they extended their activities and services to do online marketing on WeChat. Not a long time ago, they joined an agency Media Asia, and they're now working together. If you have the opportunity, just go check out what they're doing. They are very very good in terms of marketing and WeChat.
What's the main difference between China and France with regard to social media marketing?
This is a good question. To me, there are several differences. As a general trend, I would say that the social media ecosystem in China is much much more dynamic with new social media that are highly specialized coming out almost every month. Or even existing social media, just like WeChat and Douying are adding new features on a regular basis. So it's a very dynamic ecosystem. I would also add 3 main differences. The first one is the rise of social commerce in China, with e-commerce becoming social more like entertainment, which is very different from what we see in France and all the western countries. The second difference is the operation of super apps like WeChat, which integrate all kinds of services in just one application instead of having ten different applications and providing one service in each of them. The third one, I think, is the trend of short videos. It's booming, it's very trendy, and it originated from Douyin, which is a Chinese social media. And this trend, as you can see clearly, expanded to all the social media used in China, France, and all the western countries.
If you don't want to work with WeChat, what other social media would you recommend?
In terms of platform, it depends on many things. It always comes down to 3 things. First, your products and your brand message. I mean, if you, for example, are a fashion brand you would like, you would need to go on Douyin or Xiao Hong Shu, or Red as we call it in English.
It also depends on your budget because some social media are more expensive than others. And then finally, it depends on your audience. If you want to target young educated millennials in first-tier cities in China, then Douyin and Weibo are definitely a good choice. It always depends on those 3 factors: your product and brand message, your budget, and then your audience.
What did you learn from your Chinese team?
I think in one word I would say, respect. You know the concept of maintaining face is very important to me in a Chinese working environment. That's what I learned the most from the Chinese team. When you're managing a Chinese team, which requires a lot of respect. You can’t run over people in the open space, in front of everyone. Also, you can't explode in front of everyone. You need to be firm and strong. Sometimes that is what is expected from you from your Chinese employees. That's the key if you want to collaborate with Chinese people.
What would you do if you were a French company and you wanted to run social media campaigns in China?
French companies have a huge advantage in China. I think France is extremely popular among Chinese people. They really love French people, everything that is coming from France, the food, the perfume, the bags. I mean, they love everything, and maybe France is one of the western countries they are identified as the best. You know, the history, the culture, the food but also the love for life. I mean, Chinese people love life and French people as well. So for a French company trying to run social media marketing campaigns in China, I would recommend insisting on such aspects as culture, history, artists, and so on and try to link that back to China and Chinese people’s interests. But for any company, not only French companies, but my advice would also be this. The key to success is always the same. It's creativity at first, then it's an excellent understanding of your target audience of Chinese people. And third, linking it back to popular trends among Chinese consumers. For example, the country in itself had become something quite trendy for people. People are proud of their country, they love their country. If you show that in a marketing campaign with brilliance and creativity, it’s key to success. Just look at brands like [...]. They perfectly understood that they do that very well.
Could a Chinese company run something like this for a French company?
I think the figure of the flexpat will still be needed in a professional environment. I see that's at least in 2 categories of jobs that a flexpat can still occupy. The first one is creative jobs, and the second one would be the manager job. The creative would be, for example, a designer or cookie writer, and you would need him to produce content that he's faithful that he's good with the foreign brand identity and the creative team is also able to understand the foreign audience, in case that's your target. That same thing, we would need a Chinese creative if we want to target the Chinese audience. But the inputs of the foreign one will be useful if the brand is foreign. The second category is the manager. They would be in charge of executive strategy to develop the brand in China, leading the team and ensure that a high level of quality is delivered. Also acting as the bridge between the local team and the HQ abroad.
How can flexpats differentiate in China, both from Chinese professionals and other flaxpats and expats? What kind of skills do you need to stand out in China?
I think it is very true. I think we will need to flexpats in China. But in the coming years, it will be increasingly difficult for foreigners in China to differentiate themselves from local talents. Level of education or being able to speak Chinese, I mean or not, would be less and less relevant in finding a job in China. All the skills would be required. For example, in the marketing and branding industry, creativity will be key to differentiate yourself. Flexpats that wish to strive in these industries would need to be able to produce content that is relevant and engaging for their audience expectations. Also, I would say the second skill is critical thinking. It is extremely important and may help flexpats to differentiate themselves from local talents by critically thinking. I think things like average mindsets don't have their place in the marketing and creative industry. You need to be extremely careful when you create content, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the people that are going to receive, you need to find the best thing that resonates with them. And the third point, another skill that would allow flexpats to differentiate themselves from local talents is working hard. I mean, you have to work hard and to show strong resilience, because unlike the locals flexpats have to work and stay in China. And by that, I mean literally. Because if you don't work, you don't have a working visa. If you don't have a visa, you can’t stay. Simple! You need to work hard to stay in this country. And I think that this mindset has our backs against the wall. Being in this situation means that we have to work super hard and show resilience. Chinese people don't necessarily think they can often change employers. If they don't have a job, they just take the time to look for another one. They just don't get a salary. But they can go home to see families. Some of them don't even have to pay rent because they own a flat. So they don't have such pressure, and this is an advantage. So, creativity, critical thinking, and working hard are good skills to differentiate yourself.
Would you say you can train your team to reach the same level of what you expected from a flexpat?
Flexpats have advantages and strong points. The right thing is to balance all of that.
Do you have to speak Chinese for your job?
Speaking Chinese makes your life in China so much easier, you can interact with locals, with Chinese people in a very authentic way. It is also very useful in marketing because, as I explained, you need to think like your audience, you need to understand them to be able to produce good marketing. It allows you to understand the last trending topics on social media, to choose extremely relevant content with your audience. That's how you get the best chances to be viral on Chinese social media. But on the other hand, not being able to speak Chinese is not a problem either. I mean, it can be bypassed. I know some foreigners who run creative agencies, marketing agencies, and they don't even speak winning Chinese. And they're doing great. I mean, there are some very good agencies, performing very well. Even in 2020. It is not easy. But how do you do that? How do they bypass it? They rely on the highly skilled local teams, they surround themselves with local talents, very good talents, to carry out projects and strategies. They work on the strategy, but they rely on external people to carry on that strategy. They are also extremely creative people. If you remember, to me, it is also one of the critical skills you need to develop if you want to differentiate yourself and be a successful professional. That’s how they manage to stay competitive among foreigners and even locals.
Please leave us with a key piece of advice for flexpats off and be a bit aggressive here.
Okay, so to be straight to the point, three key pieces of advice I'm going to give are these. First, work hard. If you're young, especially if you don't have to care for your family, you don't have kids, you can go out to network, meet people, you can do extra hours, etc. This is the moment in your life where you can work hard work lots, and it's not a time waste if you make it fruitful and productive. The second would be to be patient. Not only professionally but in every aspect of your life in China, you need to be patient. You need to be patient with local people. You need to be patient with the speed of the project, etc. Have a strategy. People that don’t have a strategy spend like 5-7 years in China, then they come back home, and they do the same job. What's the point of going to China if you don't grow.
Is it okay for our audience to contact you and learn from you?
Yes, of course! They can contact me on WeChat. I would be happy to have a call with them. I am in Shanghai, so we could get a coffee someday. With pleasure.