Sunday, September 15, 2013

Taking Your Guanxi / Relationship Building On-Line

Guanxi or personal relationships are one of the three cultural keys (Relationship, Face and Hierarchy) that will help us work effectively with Chinese colleagues - See this June 2013 post for more details.  I want to build on my June 2013 post to look at relationship building within the context of China's workplace today.  Today the workplace in China is increasing influenced by social technology tools. However, like many things about the Chinese market, China's social technology landscape is unique and largely unknown to non-Chinese consumers.  Honestly, how many people outside of China - myself included - have ever heard of any of the popular social technology brands listed in the image below?

 Source: Digital Strategy Consulting Post - November 28, 2012
Context: Social Technology in China is Growing
First, it is helpful to understand just how impactful social technology is in China today.  According to this post from the CEO of the internet marketing company there were 597 million active social networking users in China as of July 2013.  What is more, the volume of information these users have created increased by 60% in 2012 alone.  In addition social media usage is more common than in the U.S. as 91% of China's online population has an account on a social media site compared to only 67% in the U.S.  Much of this staggering growth has been fueled by smartphone penetration where where according to this video produced by the PR company GroupM there were over 360 million mobile internet users in 2011.  In addition, this number is expected to overtake PC netizens by 2015.  What is more, the same report indicates that smartphone users typically check their phones every 6 minutes and 38% of smartphone users spend more than 5 hours a day on their phones.  Clearly, if you are going to connect with Chinese colleagues today, you need to actively jump into social technology.  
The question is - how do you properly harness the value of external social technology activity to drive deeper connection to your Chinese colleagues?  
Connecting with Chinese Colleagues
First, pick a platform. A few years ago all the rage was about micro blogging on Sina's Weibo, which functions a lot like a mashup of Facebook and Twitter. However, in the last year WeChat has become the 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 great list from the CEO in this infograph.
Second, determine how much and with who you want to share.  As I learned from my "Facebook Fast", you don't need to share all of your thoughts or experiences on social media. Before you jump in take some time to think about the type of things you want to share. Personally, I am currently focusing on humorous or puzzling aspects of Chinese culture and actively asking my co-workers about their thoughts on what I post.  Also take time to think about your target audience.  Who are the key individuals or groups that you want to connect with.  One practical action I took was to lead the creation of a WeChat community for the colleagues with whom I frequently sit in the office.
Finally, connect your social media conversations to real life.  Don't passively view or merely comment on what your colleagues post, but ask them about it in person.  Also take your off-line activity and place it back on-line.  Your relationship with your colleagues will be strengthened even further if you share information and pictures from a shared experience like a team outing or trip to the local Karaoke Bar.  
Why This Matters: The greatest value from following the social media activities of your colleagues is to gain a deeper personal connection. While in the West this might be seen as intrusive or crowding into our personal space, in China it provides critical relational context that will directly benefit your working relationships.
What about you? 
How are you using social technology to connect with your Chinese colleagues?  Have you discovered any best practices for deepening that connection?
If you have an experience you would like to share, please post it below or send me an e-mail at

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