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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondMany people nowadays see social media as an important tool in terms of marketing and business. Though much interest may come from the desire within business itself to find ways to use social media for these purposes. In fact, in some of our field sites, we find that actually, social media has very limited impact. But we also confronted deeper issues about how doing business fits within different societies. And in this video, we're going to discuss together about how ordinary Chinese people are using social media to do business with each other, which again, will challenge some of our preconceived ideas of what social media is supposed to be. Actually, doing business on social media is something that is booming in China.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsAnd in our own research, we found that people were not only willing to spend and transfer money on social media in China, but increasingly they were actually turning to it as a way to make money. Really? Because in my field site people do shop online. But then it's not through the social media platforms themselves. And then in some of our fields sites, that's a gentle ground for scepticism as well. Bigger English field site, for example, people hate targeted advertisements on social media platforms. But then in China, you say people spend money on social media platforms, and then they transfer funds through social media. How does it work? Let me give you an example, Shriram.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 secondsFor over 2000 years in China, people have traditionally given red envelopes filled with money at celebrations like Chinese New Year, and at weddings. But in 2014, WeChat actually introduced a virtual red envelope function on that platform that allowed people to gift real money to their contacts electronically. Now, what's really interesting, is in 2015, during Chinese New Year celebrations, over 160 million US dollars were actually transferred online on the platform in the spring. Also, by registering your bank card with WeChat, you can actually use the platform to purchase goods, to pay your utility bills, to book hotels or taxis or to transfer money between people. That's fascinating, because WeChat started off as a social media platform.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsAnd now, it's actually become a shopping channel. Or, it can be the other way around. That is, shopping is becoming more social. But there may actually be a far deeper reason behind all of this, which is related to how we understand what constitutes appropriate economic behaviour in any particular place. So for example, in Europe, transactions involving money are often considered to be quite opposed to things like love or the family. But by contrast in somewhere like China, or in other places, actually what we see is money is seen as a far more appropriate way to express care for each other. And those examples of giving red envelopes at weddings are a really good case.

Skip to 3 minutes and 0 secondsSo in this context, we can actually see that it makes much more sense that social media in China would be far more monetised in nature and it seems far more natural to Chinese people that it should be that way. And the next video we're going to see is a really good example of this. WeChat and Small Business Taobao is the biggest Chinese online shopping website This is the home page of Taobao where holds millions of online shops However, WeChat shops are based on individual social media profiles

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 secondsI mainly buy makeup on WeChat.

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 secondsFrom this contact, for example: she sells makeup through her personal profile page. She posts updates on her goods very often, but it's not too annoying since I like what she sells. Having said that, I did once block her, because I don't want to spend too much money on makeup. That person sells accessories that she buys in South Korea. For me, it looks more real, because next to the pictures of her goods there are pictures of her buying them in South Korea. Those kinds of 'live' pictures make you believe that what she sells on WeChat really does come from South Korea, rather than being fake stuff. Taobao's reputation is not very good nowadays, especially for goods like makeup.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsThere are too many fake goods on it, so you can't really trust Taobao; but WeChat is better. Also, on Taobao, which is China's biggest online shopping platform, before making any purchase, people often actually communicate with the seller online via a thing called Aliwangwang, which is the platform's in-built social media platform. And this actually makes the experience much more like offline shopping, where people will discuss details about the products, or even try and barter for a better price. That's fascinating. It seems like the most obvious contrast is with Amazon, which is the most common place for online shopping outside of China. But then the shopping experience on Amazon is a lot more anonymous.

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 secondsFor example, in my field site in India, you have a lot of young men from low social economic classes shopping online on sites like Amazon, because they're discriminated against when they actually go into high end stores and larger malls. So in India, the internet helps people to remove social identity in daily shopping. While in China, social media is used to make economic activity more personal. OK. Great. Well, in conclusion, I think our discussion is really highlighted a really key anthropological observation, that if we want to know and understand the role of social media within economic life, first of all, we've got to understand that actually in different societies, people have completely different understandings of what economic life actually is.

The business of Chinese social media

In this video, Tom, Xinyuan, and Shriram discuss social media for social commerce in China.

This video suggests that our Chinese fieldsites are distinctive because traditionally the personal was not divided from the commercial. Money was used to express care and commerce had to be conducted socially.

Do you think that in some sense social media is making the rest of us just a bit more ‘Chinese’ by making business more social and social networks more used for business?

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Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

UCL (University College London)

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