We have witnessed a seismic shift in Hong Kong’s media landscape in just the last decade. For better or worse, these changes happen before our eyes, and they are happening fast. As marketers, we need to stay in the know regarding the future of social media in Hong Kong and always be one step ahead.
One example of the changing landscape was Hong Kong’s move last year to pass a bill that banned all films deemed a threat to national security law. We have also seen ‘RTHK,’ a local public broadcaster, pause several of its social media pages in a cautious move. Occurrences like these are happening all the time; in film, press, media, and culture and are not likely to stop soon.
Social Media Protectionism is happening all around the world.
Hong Kong isn’t alone in its social media suppression. We are witnessing ‘Social Media Protectionism’ phenomenon worldwide. For example,
Examples between 2019 and 2021:
- Vietnam – The Government has introduced restrictions, such as firewalls, list blocking, and legal compliance on social networks
- Indonesia – The Government partially restricted access to YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram
- Singapore – Parliament passed a new act to regulate the spread of fake news in Singapore
- Thailand – The Government, lodged complaints with police against Facebook and Twitter
Social media is one of the most influential media types in Hong Kong, with 6.44 million active social media users (85.6% of the total population). Compared to mainland China, where access is restricted, Hong Kong’s desirability to international enterprises is bolstered by the presence of key social media and search engines.
We have already seen TikTok, a globally popular social media platform, vanish from Hong Kong app stores following the new national security law. We will likely see many more changes in the coming future as tech firms navigate the political landscape. This ultimately puts many social media and communication platforms in a fragile position, with an uncertain future for their users. Just how will the future social media landscape be affected in Hong Kong, and just how far will governments go to regulate tech giants? We are yet to find out, but there is a lot of speculation and anticipation about what is to come.
Key Insights on anticipated behavior of Gen Z & millennials audience
As a Social Media specialists in the field, we are responsible for assessing and anticipating potential changes to maintain industry experts and close relationships between brands and their audiences. At the beginning of 2022, we conducted market research with Standard Insights to examine the city’s Gen Z & millennials audience.
To help you get one step ahead, we have blended our Insights & Recommendations from the market research we conducted to help brands anticipate their options. Discover the future of Social Media with some of our key learnings from the younger part of the local population:
- The majority of respondents (68%) expressed concern about possible limits on social media and communications in Hong Kong. This demonstrates the potentially significant impact of platform regulations on the daily lives of Hong Kongers.
- It shows a form of pessimism for users of social media and communication platforms and the impact on their utilization.
- The majority of respondents (60%) do not use a VPN to navigate online and social media platforms.
- Loyalty towards the existing apps: there is a gap between YouTube, Instagram & Whatsapp versus Facebook/Meta & Linkedin.
- A majority of the respondents would use a VPN if YouTube (60%) or Instagram (55%) were restricted in Hong Kong. It shows the importance and the lack of substitutes for these platforms in the mind of its users.
- If WhatsApp becomes restricted in Hong Kong, more than a third of the respondents are open to another app instead.
Top preferred Chinese social media replacement platforms
From our research report, we discovered that:
- YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp were the most popular social media and communication platforms. YouTube has the highest penetration rate in Hong Kong. We saw that Instagram was the highest multi-purpose app for sharing, following content, and learning about new things, and WhatsApp is the most popular app for communication and business.
- In addition, WeChat, Douyin & Xiaohongshu (RED) are the top 3 preferred replacement apps if YouTube & Instagram are restricted.
- Our results revealed that Hong Kong locals are concerned about data privacy on WhatsApp, with their main alternatives to the platform being Signal & Telegram.
What does this mean for Brands and Marketers?
What does this mean for brands? Here are some questions we can start asking ourselves before the potential restrictions.
Here are the 3 recommended options:
- Keep communicating with your audiences on the same social media channels with or without a VPN,
- Activate presence on other replacement apps, i.e., WeChat, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu.
Option 1: Keep communicating with your audiences on the same social media channels with or without a VPN.
Technically speaking, VPNs for enterprises in China is a grey area.
You will have to initiate a comprehensive legal check, such as eligibility to obtain a VPN license, source VPN operators, etc.
Your organization’s marketing plan is likely to restructure; to name a few:
- Do you want to operate Social Media marketing internally or externally?
- Do you still want to operate in Hong Kong?
- If the answer is no, do you want to operate in Singapore?
- Is the team in Singapore ready to take over the Asian campaign?
VPN Usage: How will it impact targeting & retargeting?
For our in-house research, we used Facebook Ads as a barometer to understand the impacts of targeting & retargeting. We used Facebook as it is the most popular social media (Instagram) and has the full scale of functions.
Here are the key findings based on Facebook Ad Manager:
- Geographical targeting will not be accurate due to inaccurate IP addresses
- Ads might also become irrelevant due to geographical impacts
- For example, ads in Dutch might be shown to users who have to switch their VPN location to the Netherlands but are physically browsing from Hong Kong
- As website visits become anonymous, cookies will not be saved properly
- Hence, it will be impossible to retarget VPN users through website data as a source
- Lookalike audience will likely be affected as well due to the anonymity
- Using social media-based or customer lists (e.g., email addresses) as sources will not be affected
So how can we accurately target audiences going forward?
Solution: Programmatic advertising technologies. Accelerate your marketing collaboration with your/our ad tech partners, focusing on audience identification! Approaches such as proximity marketing data or app data can provide highly accurate audiences & automated expansions. For instance, our ad tech partner Adsquare can tell us that “294K people in Hong Kong are using Payme”.
VPN Ban: How will it impact brands doing business in China?
Without VPN services available in China, popular social media sites used by many brands for global marketing campaigns, such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and WhatsApp, are not accessible in Mainland China (i.e., potentially Hong Kong in the future).
These platforms are not the predominant social media platforms brands use to target Chinese consumers. Many brands with an established fan base in China already have their well-developed “.cn” Chinese official websites. The majority of them also have Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
But the key question is, what about Hong Kong? Are we ready to shift our marketing activities from the major western social media channels to Chinese platforms? This leads us nicely onto Option 2.
Option 2: Activate presence on other replacement apps, i.e., WeChat, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu.
Choose to develop your global online presence by joining replacement apps such as WeChat and Douyin. The key consideration should be a marketing transition plan from western to Chinese channels. As a brand or marketer, you will have to start thinking about your transitional handover marketing plan and how you will convert your initial marketing plan to a China-app-friendly plan.
A good starting point would be to understand the local population’s current usage of the Chinese Apps. You can then prioritize the platform usage based on your marketing objectives. For example:
- Xiaohongshu would be a priority for lifestyle-related brands.
- If you seek brand development, use WeChat and Little Red Book first.
- If your marketing objectives are Sales focused, use Douyin (Taobao), Little Red Book (open red store), Weibo (Taobao), and WeChat (JD.com or WeChat e-commerce mini program).
In conclusion, ironically, the only thing we can be sure of is the unpredictability of the future social media landscape in Hong Kong in the coming years. While this can be unnerving for marketers, there are many solutions and potentially exciting opportunities for marketers and users. So, are you ready for the future?