Fast learners rule in China's wine communication network

Stand still in China and you'll get left behind, delegates at the Wine Media Conference 2019 were told. Jeni Port reports.

The Chinese wine communication landscape
The Chinese wine communication landscape

Social media is changing fast in China. Stand still for too long, linger over a cat video or a singing, dancing celebrity and chances are you will have missed your chance for success on social media. Playing in this busy technological sandpit requires your full attention, all the time, delegates at the Wine Media Conference 2019 were told.

“If you are not a fast learner you will get, you know, behind,” explained Jeson Chen, managing director of JOR Partners, a Melbourne-based wine exporter to China. “You will not be able to catch up with the development of society, so you will need to be very active.”

In China, there are 802m internet users and 1 billion active social media users, and usage is growing annually by up to 10%, according to statistics from mobile data provider GSMA Intelligence, Internet World Stats and others.

For wine media and influencers, that means getting on board with a whole suite of Chinese-orientated media starting with WeChat. In world terms, WeChat is the fifth most active social platform, but in China it is the largest social media platform, with more than 1bn monthly active users. Baidu Tieba is the largest Chinese communication platform, and Sina Weibo is a popular micro-blogging website. TikTok is the number one downloaded app for videos and online streaming.

With a population of more than 1.4bn, 71% of them active social media users (only India has more), it’s obvious that social media in China is very important. 
Combine that with the fact that anyone in China can sell wine – there are no licence restrictions – and the country can, as Jeson Chen said, be the right place for wine communicators to become major influencers and maybe even become wealthy. More than 300m Chinese have their bank accounts linked with WeChat, where they can see wine and buy it within minutes, which means the promotion and sale of wine can go hand-in-hand with being a social media influencer. “Key opinion leaders in China use WeChat as a platform to communicate with consumers and use that communication to drive sales,” he said. 

Chen gave the example of Lady Penguin, a top wine social media influencer who reportedly earns about $3.7m a year. “She will just compose an article and then you can insert a video on how you make fun of life, or how you drink the Moscato and make it into different sort of summer cocktail drinks, and then there’s a purchase link [you] just follow,” he said. “I think Lady Penguin is good. First of all she is good looking and she has a good sense of humour as well and then sufficient wine knowledge. I have heard that she has a lot of members as well as off-line groups.”  

Even a relatively minor player such as Chen has ten off-line wine groups of his own comprising “a few hundred” wine traders and wine lovers from all over the world.

Young market

But while the Chinese have a growing thirst for wine, this does not necessarily translate into immediate wine knowledge. Leos Tian, co-founder of Wine Business Observation (WBO), runs a wine trade, hospitality and media platform in China. He stressed that China remains a very young wine market.

“We can say more than 90% of the normal consumers love wine, but really don’t know what they want,” he said. “They really don’t know what they should buy, they don’t know which country, which grapes, or which type of wine – they just buy wine for some entertainment or some business purpose. Normal wine consumers, generally they can just remember two brands: one is [Australia’s] Penfolds and the other is from France, Lafite.”

Over the next two to three years, Tian predicted that Chinese wine consumers will become more educated and have more professional services to call upon, which would seem to be a space tailor-made for wine communicators to fill – if they can speak and write in the local language.

Jeni Port

This article formed part of a report on the Wine Media Conference 2019, held in the Hunter Valley, Australia in October 2019. It first appeared in Issue 6, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available in print or online by subscription.

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