Social media in China is huge. So huge that nobody wants to ignore it. And while lots of people think “Twitter” when they hear HootSuite, the folks at HootSuite are taking China seriously. We already know the company has recently added traditional characters and Sina Weibo support, but what else is in the cards? I got a chance to talk with Dave Olson, HootSuite’s community VP, who gave me the lowdown on the company’s China plans.
Why is HootSuite interested in China?
Since launching almost 4 years years ago, HootSuite’s goal was to make our social media management system available to as many people as possible.
With this in mind, we monitor conversations about HootSuite and reach out to markets in which we see rapid organic growth. Afterwards we work to localize these unique markets. We started with Japan, then Spanish speaking countries, around Europe and then onwards into other Asian markets like Indonesia.
We knew the Chinese market was important but wanted to make sure we avoided missteps that we observed from other companies. We also knew that HootSuite is blocked by association in China because our core product includes access to Twitter and Facebook.
HootSuite is very cognizant that Chinese social media users have different networks, different needs, habits and culture along with different language. In addition we know there is more than one Chinese market with different expectations around China’s provinces including communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan/Taipei, Singapore and the huge ex-pat community such as in our home city of Vancouver.
We also learned that despite the difference, people using Chinese social networks share some of the same needs as users in the West, which are: sharing content across networks, managing multiple online profiles, and help listening, responding to, and analyzing their online interactions.
We’ve learned a lot from localizing elsewhere, and are hoping to use these lessons in bringing HootSuite to Chinese users. We want to tread lightly, and listen attentively.
As such, we are taking a diplomatic and educational approach to build community, share knowledge and deliver on expectations. Eventually we can build a business case as well.
What are you doing to get into the China market already?
Along with adding Sina Weibo support, we translated HootSuite’s web and mobile social media dashboard into Traditional Chinese and released it on October 8th in order to start the conversation with social media enthusiasts in Hong Kong, Taiwan/Taipei, etc.
However, before starting the translation project, we held a Chinese Localization Symposium in which we invited a cross section of Chinese social media users to discuss the linguistic, cultural and logistical challenges. The event was a success and we followed it up with a fun translathon with Chinese themed decorations, music, food, tea and more!
Now, with the Traditional Chinese version launched, we’re underway with working on the Simplified Chinese version. We’ve also started developing a Chinese specific branding as well, to share our name and culture in Chinese characters.
We aim to keep things pretty grassroots, talking with people through our @HootSuite_CN and Sina Weibo accounts to see what is working, what isn’t, and what they want to see in the future.
Building relationships with users is our biggest priority.
What comes next and what are your long term plans?
Next up is getting our Simplified Chinese translation released by the end of the year. We will also increase Sina Weibo integration features, and are exploring integrations with other Chinese social networks like Renren and other Tencent properties. A lot of our next steps will be based on what we hear from conversations with our Chinese users.
We also hope to find quality social media industry events for our CEO Ryan Holmes to speak at and share our culture and story.
Long term plans are based on the feedback and reaction from these initial steps. Obviously, there are challenges facing foreign companies wanting to operate in Mainland China – especially technology companies like HootSuite – so we’ll stay focused on finding ways to get HootSuite in the hands of as many users as possible, perhaps with a China-specific version.
What are you finding the differences are between your Chinese and international users? Between weibo and twitter users?
First off, Chinese users can say a lot more in 140 characters!
Social media has broad appeal, regardless of which network you are using. The desire to connect with people, to broadcast, listen, and share, spans cultures.
Social media usage patterns and attitudes for Chinese specifically – and international in general – is a topic we spend lots of time researching. Getting a finger on the pulse of those differences is something we hope conversations with our users will produce.
For example: Weibo has a focus on media-rich content like photos and videos, as well as things like emoji. Comments and ‘likes’ on posts also helps keep the conversation going.
Overall, feature differences between networks reflect and/or inform usage patterns, so there are definitely some differences between Sina Weibo and Twitter users. We’ve embraced the differences in Twitter usage between North America and countries like Japan and Indonesia, so we’ll continue listening to the Chinese users for guidance.
Mr. Olson also shared some cool extras with us, like this Chinese pronunciation guide an enthusiastic employee made and an introduction video in Chinese (embedded below). I’m sure not everyone at the company is learning Chinese, but this is still a nice, friendly touch that shows the folks at HootSuite are really working to communicate with Chinese users on their terms. Here’s hoping that HootSuite can move even further into the Chinese market (and that that pronunciation video will stop people from pronouncing weibo like “way-bow”)!