BEIJING: Advertisers in China are taking a more nuanced approach to using social media as a tool to connect with consumers.

During Chinese New Year, Unilever, the FMCG giant, forged a partnership with QQ, the instant messaging service, in support of its Lipton tea brand.

This tie-up allowed netizens to send video greetings cards to their friends, with participants receiving credits each time they did so, which could then be reclaimed against physical or virtual goods.

Gong Yu, brand manager for Lipton in China, said this strategy can "create a domino effect and spreads to many more people by itself" than is the case via mediums like TV and magazines.

Some 50 million consumers engaged in this activity in the first two months of the campaign alone, driving considerable word of mouth about Lipton.

This followed on from a similar previous effort with Renren, the social network, enabling internet users to send each other "hugs", again being awarded credits as a result.

As part of this process, Unilever added "lucky numbers" to Lipton packaging in grocery stores, which gave shoppers extra credits when they entered these codes online.

A total of 50,000 people took part in this programme, and a survey by Unilever found that 46% of this group went on to buy at least one box of its milk tea as a consequence.

Gong added that Lipton's awareness levels climbed by between 1% and 2% in the key Tier 1 cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

In broader evidence of the rising interest in social networks among marketers, Renren has hosted more than 100 individual competitions and events on behalf of advertisers since September 2009.

These have included everything from sending product samples to consumers to a contest encouraging entrepreneurship in the country.

"We have been seeing an obvious increase in different kinds of interactive advertisements over the past two years," said Jiang Zhiqiang, chief marketing officer of Oak Pacific, the owner of Renren, said.

The China Oil & Foodstuffs Corporation, a major food group, also recently established an alliance with MSN in an attempt to promote its 11 brands to a younger audience via social networks.

To achieve this goal, it developed an online farming game which secured 300,000 players in its first month, and has gone on to reach five million users.

People taking part in this game were given real goods by the company if they managed to "make" its various products digitally.

"If you ask the users who 'produced' COFCO goods about the company's product lines, they can certainly tell you a lot, and this is more effective than traditional advertising," He Dan, from the firm's innovation and brand department, said.

Data sourced from China Daily; additional content by Warc staff