Social Media in China (Part 3)

Tips for Using Social Tools to Connect with Chinese Colleagues

The first two parts of this series outlined the importance social media tools in China and drilled down into what makes the WeChat messaging platform so innovative.  This post will focus on practical tips for using any social tool to drive deeper connections and more effective interactions with your Chinese colleagues.  The good news is that even if you don’t yet have opportunities to interact with Chinese colleagues, these principles can also be applied outside China.

Three Building Blocks: Purpose, Platform and People

Block One - Purpose: Identify Your Social Media “Who” and “What”

Don’t jump blindly into social media.  Instead articulate the key purpose for your social media activity.  After you have identified your personal and/or professional purpose, the who and the what of social media will flow naturally.

  • Who: Select the specific group of people with whom you want to share. For example, while working in China, I led the creation of a WeChat community for the colleagues I frequently sat near in the office. We could freely share information within our group without sending it to all of people we were connected with on WeChat. Now that I am no longer living in China this community is a helpful way to see what’s happening with these same colleagues.
  • What: Identify the general type of content you want to share. You don't need to share all of your thoughts or experiences on social media, as I personally learned from my "Facebook Fast” several years ago.  Before you jump in, take time to think about the type of things you want to share. Currently my WeChat activity is focused on sharing with my Chinese colleagues and friends the ups and downs of our re-integration to life in America after living in China for seven years.

I know my "who" and "what" are on-track because even though I have physically left China, my purpose remains the same - staying connected with my Chinese colleagues and friends.

Block Two - Platform: Wisely Choose Where You Want Your Voice to Be Heard

A few years ago all the rage in China was micro blogging on Sina's Weibo, which functions a lot like Twitter. However, in the last year more and more Chinese users have made WeChat their tool of choice due to its simple mobile interface and the ability to limit the information you share to a specific group of followers. Personally, I think WeChat is the best choice unless you aim to become a serious Chinese blogger or follow the Chinese language news closely.

For a full list of social media platforms popular in China, see the great list from the ByReputation.com CEO in this info graph.  For social networks outside of China there are also a number of helpful introductions to social media - both this chart from Boundless Marketing outlining types of social media and this detailed introduction from HubSpot on the seven key types of social networks for business.

The key is to be selective about the social platforms you use as one person can only be effective on fewer than five platforms.  If you are having trouble selecting a limited number of platforms, go back to Block 1 and evaluate how each platform supports your overall purpose. It is likely that different platforms will have different purposes. For example, your activity on LinkedIn should support your professional goals while your activities on WeChat or Facebook will likely be more focused on staying connected with your personal network of friends and family.

Block Three - People: Love People and Use Technology

In this July 2014 New York Times Op-Ed, Arthur C. Brooks suggests the key to a fulfilling social media experience is to "Love people, use things."  The point is that social media should be used as a tool to connect with people - inside and outside your company - not an end in itself.  This means we shouldn't simply passively view our colleagues' posts, but ask them about it in person.  I've found this especially helpful in my interactions with my colleagues in China now that I don’t see them in person very often.  While I can’t pass them in the hallway, I can take the first few minutes of a conference call to learn additional details about photos or articles they have recently posted on WeChat.

In addition, it is important to take your off-line activity and place it back on-line.  My relationship with my colleagues was strengthened even further when I shared information and pictures from a shared experience like a team outing or trip to the local karaoke bar.  When these experiences are captured on-line it provides a tangible way to remember the value of the team, which is especially important if that team is geographically dispersed and seldom interact in-person.

Why This Matters - China is Different

In the end, the greatest value found in following the social media activities of your colleagues is gaining a deeper personal connection. While in the West this might traditionally be seen as intrusive or crowding into our personal space, China is different.  The information you can learn about Chinese colleagues from their social media activities provides critical relational context that will directly benefit your working relationships.

China is a high context culture, which means that it isn’t merely what is said, but who says it.  If you have built up a rapport with your Chinese colleagues through consistently asking about their lives outside of work and connecting with them, both on-line and off-line, you not only have the opportunity to enjoy working with them more, but you also put yourself in a better position for more engagement from them on work projects.

Image Credit: After Dinner by Jens Schott Knudsen, on Flickr