It was sad news for Durex when they found out that only less than 10% of
sexually active Chinese people were regular condom users. Moreover,
inefficient distribution systems increased costs; counterfeits worked
against their premium pricing strategy; and expensive television
advertising brought them little increase in market share. As is often
the case, things that worked elsewhere, may not work in China. However,
Durex’s sales have tripled in the last a few years, driven largely by
gaining and engaging with millions of followers on social media. This in
a country where the topic of sex is still in some sense taboo even among
young people and hundreds of sex related “sensitive words” are censored
online by Chinese government.
The benefits of effective social media management are no secret to many
businesses and their customers worldwide. Even for “old-school” formerly
state owned postal services, as a customer you can often get better
service and satisfaction via Twitter than more traditional methods such
as hotline or email. In China, however, there are additional
complexities when it comes to engaging with your target market. In China
there is no Facebook, no Twitter, and no YouTube, which makes you
wonder, how did Durex engineer this change in fortunes using Chinese
Social Media when facing such obstacles? How was the above written with
not one double entendre?
Aza Raskin from the Centre for Humane Technology said social media
companies deliberately use addictive technology in their apps in order
to lure us in to spending as much time on their platforms as possible.
Before addressing the more pertinent of these question and attempting to
identify and replicate the success of Durex when building your product
or service to China, there are two more fundamental questions to
人文技术中心（Centre for Humane
• What does China’s social media landscape look like?
Aza Raskin invented the endless scroll – the app feature that means
you don’t have to click to get to the next page and can keep scrolling
for far longer than maybe necessary or healthy.
• What are Chinese netizens fond of?
Aza says he did not intend to hook users with it but says the
business model of many social media companies is designed to maximise
user time online. He says this encourages designers to come up with
technological tricks that hook users.
How Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest Hook Users
China’s Social Media Landscape
The tactics that the best digital brands use to stay relevant in users’
minds and lives.
In China, most Western mainstream social media platforms are blocked
through government control. Nevertheless, the growth of China’s
indigenous social networks has been staggering, particularly from 2009
onwards. China is now home to roughly 700 million netizens, with social
media household names such as QQ, Renren, Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku.
Sandy Parakilas, who was a platform operations manager at Facebook
in 2011 and 2012, said there was definitely an awareness that Facebook
was habit-forming when he worked at the company.
Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your
search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try
“Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict,” and
you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers
deriding the narcotic-like properties of these sites. How is it that
these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a
screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so
addictive, and what does their power mean for the future of the web?
So what do these social network services provide and how are they used?
Some people would offer this simple answer:
We’re on the precipice of a new digital era. As infinite distractions
compete for our attention, companies are learning to master new tactics
to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing
millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find
that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits
they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new
reality, others are already cashing in.
Renren is the Chinese Facebook; Weibo is the Chinese Twitter; Youku is
the Chinese YouTube and so on.
Facebook and Instagram have told the BBC that their apps are
designed to bring people together and that they never set out to create
The social media ecosystem in China is, however, more than just the
carbon copy of the West, and in many ways is far more diverse and
evolving more rapidly. Take Tencent’s WeChat as an example. The WeChat
app has about 600 million daily active users, 93% saturation rate in
first-tier cities, over 600 million users subscribing to official
accounts, and more than 3 billion daily page views. With a strong focus
on user experience and usability, WeChat has successfully attracted
users aged from 10+ to 60+ by integrating a host of features including
chatting, friend finding, sharing of photos, videos, status, exercising
monitoring, charitable donations, payments, and many more. In China this
feature rich and accessible medium has led to so called “WeChat
lifestyle”, also known as “WeChat addiction”:
A company that forms strong user habits enjoys several benefits to its
bottom line. For one, it creates associations with “internal triggers”
in users’ minds. That is to say, users come to the site without any
external prompting. Instead of relying on expensive marketing or
worrying about differentiation, habit-forming companies get users to cue
themselves to action by attaching their services to the users’ daily
routines and emotions. A cemented habit is when users unconsciously
think, I’m bored, and Facebook instantly comes to mind. They think, I
wonder what’s going on in the world? and before rational thought kicks
in, Twitter is the answer. The first-to-mind solution wins.
– In the morning people wake up and check chats and Moments (posting
– Read articles on Moments on the way to work;
But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed
to form habits? They manufacture desire. While fans of Mad Men are
familiar with how the ad industry once created consumer desire during
Madison Avenue’s golden era, those days are long gone. A multiscreen
world, with ad-wary consumers and a lack of ROI metrics, has rendered
Don Draper’s big-budget brainwashing useless to all but the biggest
brands. Instead, startups manufacture desire by guiding users through a
series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these
experiences Hooks, and the more often users run through them, the more
likely they are to self-trigger.
– Buy breakfast with WeChat Wallet;
I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products to help others
understand what is at the heart of habit-forming technology. The book
highlights common patterns I observed in my career in the video gaming
and online advertising industries. While my model is generic enough for
a broad explanation of habit formation, I’ll focus on applications in
consumer internet here.
– Check chats from time to time at work;