While Georgia’s top economic developers log thousands of airline miles each year to land face time with Chinese clients, that doesn’t mean the state is standing on the sidelines in the ongoing war for digital attention in the world’s largest Internet market.
U.S. companies and organizations have been scrambling to understand how to best reach more than 730 million Internet users behind the so-called “Great Firewall of China” in a market where mobile rules and penetration is deep in cities.
With heavy censorship blocking their usual social and online marketing tools — Facebook, Twitter and Google among them — companies have had to acquaint themselves with China’s homegrown alternatives.
Georgia Department of Economic Development has been navigating this challenging landscape for awhile, setting up an account on Sina Weibo — a Twitter-like messaging service — a few years back to help promote tourism and trade. The department recently began providing business updates on WeChat, the social platform with 700 million users (mostly in China) that has become an all-encompassing interface with Chinese netizens. It’s used for peer-to-peer payments, sharing photos, ordering cabs and other things.
Alexandra Tirado, CEO of Atlanta-based Fortuna Technology Group, helps American companies extend their digital presence in the Chinese market.
“Everyone from the city provincial mayor to the taxi cab driver, and even the seat on the train have a WeChat account. China has literally painted itself in tiny WeChat scan codes,” Ms. Tirado told Global Atlanta. “Beyond social media outreach, global companies must also form strategic partnerships with leading digital e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, which directly sells products to over 600 million Chinese netizens. These two additions to a company’s digital outreach strategy are seemingly small, but translate to millions of additional revenue and a massive influx of new Chinese customers.”
Such efforts seem to be paying off for Georgia. Web traffic from China to Georgia.org is up 49 percent in the fiscal year that ended last June 30, mainly thanks to organic traffic rather than paid marketing, according to the department.
During that year, six new pages were added to a Chinese-language “microsite” within the Georgia.org domain, which was shown to users via geofencing when they logged on the site from mainland China.
“The new content is translated in the native Chinese language, and pertains to workforce, lifestyle, infrastructure and logistics in Georgia. It has generated an increase in organic search traffic in China,” said spokeswoman Stefanie Paupeck in an email.
This year, the state further plans aim to capitalize off the momentum generated by the announcement last year that Sentury Tire will put a $500 million factory in LaGrange.
“We have produced and published a Chinese investment video, which also has 15- and 30-second video commercials for use in digital media campaigns and on social platforms,” said Ms. Paupeck.
The slick video has been viewed by about 400 people in four months on YouTube, but that’s probably not the target platform: Owned by Google, the site is also unavailable in China. Still, the video seems clearly designed to appeal to Chinese executives looking for a place to raise a family and build a business.
It features heavily existing Chinese investors like Sany America, Linhai Powersports USA , Hisense and Self Electronics, with executives providing testimonials on how the state melds opportunity with pleasure.
Some execs interviewed highlight the state’s infrastructure and business connectivity. Others showcase the availability of authentic Chinese cuisine near their offices along with opportunities for sports, gardening and enjoying the outdoors. All in Chinese with English subtitles, the video concludes with the protagonists praising Georgia in English, the bottom subtitles switching to Chinese.
Until the Sentury Tire announcement, Georgia had lagged other Southern rivals in Chinese manufacturing investment, particularly neighboring South Carolina.
In 2014, the state hired away John Ling from the South Carolina Department of Commerce to be its top investment recruiter in China. He makes periodic trips to the country.
New Commissioner Pat Wilson was recently in China on a prospect visit; he also stopped by Sentury Tire’s headquarters in Qingdao, the site of one of Georgia’s Chinese offices, to thank the company for its planned investment in the state, according to Ms. Paupeck.
Its other office in Shanghai is managed by Paul Swenson, who has helped Georgia companies navigate the complexities of the Chinese e-commerce environment.
Mr. Swenson and Mr. Ling will likely be in Atlanta for the visit of the state’s international representatives March 14. Learn more here.
Scan Georgia’s QR code to follow the state’s economic development agency on WeChat: