Marketing in China’s digital environment is wrought with cultural, linguistic and regulatory challenges. Several companies are cropping up to tackle the pain points involved in navigating China’s social marketing jungle.

One of those companies is Robin8, a social marketing startup founded by Miranda Tan, whose 15 years of PR experience left her feeling that the process was painfully inefficient.

“You have all these lists of journalists and have to constantly contact them to ask them to write about your client companies. Reporters almost never write about random companies because they have their own kind of field they are interested in,” CEO of Robin8, Ms. Tan says.

Leveraging big data and social networks, Robin8 provides an algorithm which allows people to monetize their influence based on a data-driven predictions. Robin8’s secret is monetizing everyone as an influencer, not just professionals or social media aficionados with thousands of followers.

“Everyone is KOL. We have significant influences among the group we are in, since we all have friends. For example, even a student can influence the 50 friends they know.”

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Robin8 takes any content from the public data, like Weibo, Wechat official account, Douban, and Quora-like Zhihu. Then maps influence and extracts the valuable information, including influencer profiles, relevant points, and sentiment.

“We found out that 60% of the KOLs are women and mostly in the age group of 21-25, they are ‘post 90s’,” Ms. Tan says.

Robin8 then sends out campaigns to KOLs, and analyzes how they reacted, including whether they liked the campaign and produced content on it, or whether they chose to ignore it. Influencers can monetize 15 yuan from the clicks, including downloads and new acquisitions, while Robin8 takes a 30% cut.

By analyzing the response patterns and learning from people’s reactions, Robin8’s engine gets smarter as it goes. This way advertisers know who to target based on data-driven prediction.

Based in Shanghai and New York, the company launched their U.S. product last year, and a China-facing product at the end of December 2015.

Content Management Is Not Easy In China

While content marketing works for some brands, it’s not a one-size fits all solution in China’s challenging marketing ecosystem. Mingbo CEO Kenny Koo tells TechNode that companies have to be strategic about finding the right fit between product and marketing.

“If it’s a game or a new app, it is more effective on a banner advertisement. Most users can try it out for free,” Mr. Koo says. “However, if it’s a brand product, content marketing is more effective, especially if it’s written by KOLs. There’s a trust issue, and influencers can lead opinion on it to encourage purchases.”

Shanghai-based Mingbo provides an end-to-end marketing solutions for mobile social networks, one of the toughest feats for companies new to China’s marketing ecosystem. This including setting up a sales system on Wechat, promoting the brand, and finding new users.

In China, online advertisements are also subject to platform and government approval.”Our clients must have their advertisement approved before it can be uploaded. As GuangDianTong, Tencent’s marketing arm, is Mingbo’s distribution partner, we help brands fine-tune their advertisement messaging to pass approval, increase exposure and improve results.” Mr. Koo says.

There are other players in the market including OMP, a digital marketing agency and Beijing-based, who focus particularly on online companies.

“Ad tech market is big enough for these companies to co-exist,” says Mr. Koo.

The BAT tech giant triad of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have their own channels to embrace small companies and brands. Alibaba’s online marketing platform, Alimama focuses mainly on their clients and brands, targeting ads to Alibaba’s e-commerce sites including Taobao and Tmall.

Tencent’s GuangDianTong pushes ads on its vast network including QQ, QQ Music, Wechat official accounts as well as partner sites like, leveraging its network of 800 million users, while Baidu monetizes on their search business through search engine optimization and search engine marketing.

Image Credit: Robin8, Mingbo, 1000 Words /

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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