Social media competition in China is beginning to heat up. Facebook and Groupon are looking at engaging the Chinese market as soon as possible and it looks like 2011 will be the pivotal year for Chinese social media.

As Chinese networks emerge and develop, it’s crucial to protect your brand and develop your presence among Chinese ‘netizens’*:

1. Develop your brand strategy

Think about how you want your brand to be perceived online in China. It’s possible that when you take your brand to China, or develop an extant brand image in that market space, you’ll want to be perceived somewhat differently than in European or American markets.

Capitalise on your similarities, differences and novelties. Look at what other brands have been doing and are currently doing and see what lessons can be learned from successes and mistakes.

  • Baidu, which holds about 76% of the Chinese search market, looks set to aggressively expand its social services profile  (and has made a start with its Baidu Beat English service).
  • ChinaSmack is  great for monitoring Chinese Internet vocabulary, Internet memes and viral videos – one recent meme involves punning on the word ‘GeiLi’ (‘Gives power’). Something that is ‘Geilivable’ is cool or great.

3. Protect your brand’s trademarks

If somebody is posting as your brand on social networking sites, you want it to be you. Protect your trademarks by registering now on the most popular networks:

  • Tencent WeiBo – China’s leading microblogging service with over 100 million registered members.
  • Sina WeiBo – China’s second microblogging service with an official reach of over  50 million members.
  • Ren Ren – Positioning itself as China’s answer to Facebook with over 22 million active users.
  • TuDou – China’s leading video service ranked 11th in China’s traffic rankings according to Alexa.

4. Create a brand persona to engage on Chinese forums and blogs

Like online communities in Europe and the US, Chinese ‘netizens’ love to engage. Find ways to make your brand fun and interesting. Create interesting pictures, videos and interactive content and present it to Chinese communities.

5. Assess the content you use to engage

Don’t be afraid to engage. At the same time, be wary of the risks of some forms of content. Avoid politics, overt sexuality and extreme violence. These are themes that can put you on a wrong footing with the Chinese authorities and Chinese ‘netizens’. Instead, look for ways to associate your brand with fun, happiness, good-living and either China or the West depending on the brand image you’re aiming for.

6. Use the offline world to help engage online

Thousands of Internet-savvy Chinese students flock to the UK, the rest of Europe and the US each year. Find ways to engage with them offline and you’ll reap the benefits online as they engage with online Chinese communities.

*A ‘netizen’ is a commonly used translation of ‘网民’ (lit. ‘Net People’)