How to build research communities in China
In the past months we already elaborated on how to conduct successful communities in Brazil, Russia and India. Today we discuss the last BRIC country: China. Last, but definitely not least. Find out more about the most important elements that should be taken into account when conducting communities in China and get answers to the following questions:
- How to cope with the reserved nature that Chinese participants seem to have?
- How to handle competitive Chinese participants?
- How can we engage sceptical and distant participants?
- What are the main recruitment issues?
The Chinese Mindset
When thinking about China, I think about the one-child policy, the Chinese wall and huge cities like Beijing and Hong Kong. China is a country with an ancient tradition and with lots of contradictions. Other characteristics are:
- Diverse: Since China is such a huge country, it must be diverse. Other words mentioned in this context were ‘heritage’, ‘language’ and ‘ancient’. China has the largest population in the world and counts no less than 56 distinct ethnical groups.
- Reserved: They are said to be ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’. They were taught to have a deep respect for traditions and authority.
- Competitive: Striving to be the best is part of their culture. This is also clear from their descriptions of their culture: ‘wisdom’, ‘great’. Their history of occupations and wars has taught them to be proud of their 4000 year old culture.
We can already see some first cultural challenges popping up:
- 56 ethnical groups… does this have implications on recruitment?
- A reserved nature… how will we deal with social desirable answers?
- A competitive nature… how can we use this to get better results?
Understanding these issues helps us in customizing online communities to the Chinese consumer. In-depth interviews with experts and an online discussion group with Chinese participants helped us to understand these challenges more in depth. This is how we would tackle each issue.
- China represents 25% of the world’s total of Internet users. Chinese people spend more time online than Americans and especially like instant messaging, social networking and entertainment. Besides having the largest Internet population in the world, China also has the highest number of mobile Internet users. Finding participants online will not be a problem.
- We believe that a community should be conducted in the local language. Not only will participants feel more at ease, they will also be able to express themselves better. This is a must, but one must keep in mind which target group is aimed for and which language barriers could arise. Our special moderator network enables us to provide tailor-made solutions for each separate project. Depending on the target group, a community can be conducted in traditional or simplified Chinese.
Socially desirable answers Chinese participants are rather reserved and aim at not offending anyone. We, as researchers, are of course aiming for honest answers, so we want our Chinese participants to speak up honestly. When conducting the Sleep Well community (a community focused on sleeping) for Philips in China, we noticed that our participants didn’t tell the whole truth. When asking them about the importance of sleep in their lives, we were told that sleeping played a central role in their daily lives. However, seeing their competitive and hard-working nature, we discovered that sleep was not as important as they said. Similar to India, we believe that involving co-researchers is the solution to cope with this issue. Co-researchers are participants who are invited to give a critical view on the posts of the others. They can flag posts that aren’t reliable and actually provide us with even more qualitative insights. Together with the moderator, the co-researchers are an important asset in making participants feel at ease and probe on those answers that are seen as socially desirable.
Competitive nature Our recent study Social Media around the world shows that the willingness to join a brand-related community is the highest in China. In other words: Chinese participants want to be a part of this experience together with others, but we should also take into account their competitive nature. Two factors are important here:
- A professional approach in recruitment and moderation will make them feel more valued. For Chinese participants it is all about being part of an exclusive experience.
- Gamified elements will motivate them to post even more: by granting badges for posting in a specific topic, they will be triggered to collect all badges. A level system keeps track of the amount of posts they have made and exclusive content is unlocked every time they reach a higher level.
Let’s meet Li, our Chinese participant and learn from his experiences: Li is a single account manager.
Do it mobile…
Li is playing with his smartphone all the time. Especially when he’s bored, he’s looking for entertainment via social networks or other fun websites. The mobile community app would be a must for Li! He would enjoy being able to upload pictures via the app and to add comments. The online community should be designed in a user-friendly way: professional and simple and with a clear link to their online social network.
Gain his trust…
Li is rather sceptical towards the entire concept. He wants to be a part of it, but has already heard of some fraudulent situations. Win their trust by already giving them part of the monetary incentive during the community. The moderator should also act like a professional and be available for all questions. The moderator is the expert of the community. Li wants to co-create something exclusive and he wants to do this well. Receiving feedback will certainly motivate him to go the extra mile.
And let them play!
Chinese consumers are very competitive. Let them play each other and gather more insights while doing so:
- Let them earn badges: why not reward those who give valuable contributions or make you think one step further? Participants are given the possibility to collect badges, for example for the most striking picture or the most interesting quote.
- Unlock exclusive content: the more the participant posts, the higher level he will reach. For each level something exclusive is shown: a film made by the client, a look behind the scenes at a headquarter, an interesting brand fact that only few people know…. Chinese participants love to be part of exclusive experiences!
So what should you remember?
- Appeal to co-researchers in order to avoid socially desirable answers.
- Main motivations will be exclusivity, establishment and receiving confirmation from peers.
- No ‘big brother’ in the community: be careful with involving the company too much.
- Share exclusive content: it will boost their ego.
- Act as a smart professional: Chinese participants expect you to be the expert.