BEIJING: A majority of the online population in China regularly use social media, but their individual preferences and activities remain highly diverse.

According to a survey of the Chinese social media audience by TNS, this channel is particularly popular in the country as it allows for freedom of expression and provides a “personal space” for consumers.

Over 60% of this group visited forums and bulletin boards every day, a figure that fell to around 50% for blogs and video-sharing portals like Youku and Tudou.

A similar number logged on to social networks such as Renren and Kaixin001 with the same degree of frequency.

More than four in ten respondents accessed photo-sharing services and user-generated information resources, operating on a model reminiscent of that pioneered by Wikipedia, on a daily basis.

“Question and answer” platforms, of which Baidu's Tieba is a prominent example, virtual worlds and microblogging properties like Zuosa also formed part of this category.

Elsewhere, a third of the Chinese social media user base viewed corporate websites at least once a day, TNS reported.

Regarding brands, 90% of this demographic had read a positive comment about goods and services while they were using social media, compared with 86% who had seen negative responses.

Factors that encouraged favourable word of mouth about specific products included high levels of satisfaction on 87%, attraction to a new brand on 55% and being “impressed by advertising” on 48%.

Some 43% of participants cited recommendations from friends, while 56% suggested “rewards” from marketers prompted this kind of activity, as did 42% when it came to being paid in cash.

The main trigger for posting negative comments was poor service, which was mentioned by 81% of the panel.

A further 78% referenced “high brand dissatisfaction”, 76% cited “misleading claims” and 72% reacted when companies did not effectively deal with problems that arose.

Products which were perceived as being “harmful” would move 68% of contributors to upload critical feedback, with 47% also likely to do so when manufacturers were falling short in terms of corporate social responsibility.

Recent “negative news” recorded a score of 27% on this measure, with a “boring” advertising campaign on just 9%.

Turning to the types of information people would like to receive from marketers via social media, a minimum of 70% pointed to news updates, promotions and content linked to the experiences of other consumers.

More than two-thirds were interested in the opinions of other customers or details about product features, and 60% wanted tips about how to get the most from their purchase.

A plurality also stated a preference for being kept up-to-date about advertising campaigns and developments in customer service.

However, only 34% stated that corporate social responsibility was a subject that would be of relevance in this arena.

Overall, 73% of consumers said social media could drive brand awareness, a total that stood at 66% for consideration and 55% for an actual trial.

However, only 27% agreed that engaging with a company in this way would lead them to “become loyal or even a brand advocate.”

Data sourced from TNS; additional content by Warc staff