The Social Media Landscape of China – What You Need To Know For Business
China is a unique case study for the internet. Until the 90’s, all media in the country was owned and run by the Government with practically zero audience and the content was directed by the Government. Naturally, there was no competition to win over the audience and hence no major trends and pulls seen in the market directed by the media. But after the 90’s, China opened up and saw both traditional and online media start the race from the same starting point.
This is perhaps very unique to China unlike any other country. Almost everywhere else, online media had to bite into the market of traditional media bit by bit and slowly work its way up to the top and in some countries, traditional media is still ruling the roost despite the stiff challenge posed by online media.
This is not the only thing unique to China. The major uniqueness about China is the creation of its own social media landscape shaped by a requirement for censorship.
Problems in Xinjiang during 2009 forced the Chinese government to ban Facebook, twitter and youtube and practically all major social media networks of the rest of the world. But an internet population of about 650 million, which is roughly twice the size of the entire US population), cannot be kept in silence for long and inevitably, China developed its own social networking sites.
These are ‘Made in China’, if one were to call them so, but against the general perception associated with this tag, they are by no means inferior to any world major social media giant.
The insanely high population of China, the absence of global competition and the dominance of native languages have combined to create a landscape entirely unique to China with the size and force of a parallel global social media. For example, Tencent Weibo boasts of half a billion accounts whereas Facebook has around 1.3 billion users worldwide put together.
This sheer mass of the Chinese population is too big a market to be ignored by the global businesses. Hence global businesses have followed suit and are developing China-specific strategies to mark their presence in this market.
This in depth article will be your guide to the social media landscape of China with insights and data on who the leaders are in the social media game, what the trends are, where the marketers should bet their money on and how to segment and analyze this unique market to identify their right target audiences.
A virtual comparison of activities online between US and China reveal that the Chinese internet is more used for entertainment and not for utility, as against US. Blogging, gaming, video, instant messaging and music fare a lot in China whereas it is email, search, shopping, booking, social networking and payments in US.
A reason for this could be the simultaneous evolution of the traditional and digital media in China post the 90’s whereas in US, internet and digital medium is still fighting with a robust traditional entertainment medium.
Also, Chinese people admit to relying heavily on social media for shopping recommendations and product information than those in the US. 23% of Chinese users say that social media is the first place where they would look up for product information and 75% of users are comfortable posting reviews and ratings for products at least once a month. These two activities feed each other.
If more and more people are posting ratings online, more and more people will consume social searches for products. This provides an opportunity for marketers to tap into a user’s network greatly and build a lot of leads as against the west where the cost per customer acquisition can be higher.
There are some challenges in Chinese internet too. Weibo, which burst into the scene with huge user base and great activity, is now on the decline. Baidu, the favourite search engine of China is struggling to be on par with the effectiveness of Google or Bing or other global search engines.
This is part due to the Chinese ecosystem where a majority of the sites are owned by a small number of top players for whom the focus is more on social activity and not search and efficiency.
In the west, there is a healthy competition going on between the biggies like Google and Facebook and it promotes a lot of ‘open source tools’ coming up. China is yet to latch on to the open source wagon and once that happens inevitably, we can see a next surge in Chinese internet.
Inspirations for Chinese social media
Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp are the three widely accepted social media models around the world. China, despite building its own social media, has not explored further to make new models of social media, but has successfully replicated the globally successful platforms with a unique Chinese interface. After all, isn’t this the essence of Chinese production style? They are remarkable as a country in replicating something great, no matter however complex or sophisticated it is. From watches to electronics, this same attitude has shaped their social media creation too.
Weibo is the Twitter of China. It is a micro blogging site and it is one of the early success stories in China. Tencent and Sina are two major players who have their own versions of Weibo respectively but the latter gets much attention in media.
QZone, Renren, Pengyou and Kaixin are all inspired by facebook. Social profiles, shared photo albums, building buddies and online games are the backbone of these platforms. QZone, by Tencent, is the leader of these lookalikes and boasts of the highest numbers in Chinese social media users. However in recent times, this facebook-like model is slowly going on a decline with the advent of instant messaging services. China is no exception.
Whatsapp is the global pioneer of the instant messaging revolution and WeChat is China’s Whatsapp. WeChat became so successful that it inspired a slew of lookalikes like Line, KakaoTalk etc. but WeChat evolved with time and understood the market correctly and stayed ahead in the race. It owns all the smart phones in China now.
Snapshot of the top two
A study of the Chinese social media should ideally begin with the snapshot of the top two in the country. Weibo and WeChat represent the past and present of Chinese social media and are the two major powerhouses to reckon.
Weibo and WeChat are two giants in China’s social media. Weibo was the champion and pioneer of Chinese social media with its Twitter-inspired design but recently it is fast losing its reputation and user base to WeChat, majorly because of the bad press about the proportion of fake accounts in the platform created to inflate the numbers artificially. In a country where number of people is the least of the worries for platforms, Weibo somehow got itself the bad name for adding more to the Chinese population with its fake accounts.
This is a transformation similar to the one that made Orkut obscure and established Facebook as the leading networking platform globally. Research shows that 94% of quality content in Weibo is created only by a fraction of the users in the platform and this is a clear sign of a social platform losing the edge.
Having seen the pioneer who is losing out, WeChat is the competitor who is gaining ground. WeChat launched primarily as an instant messaging platform for mobile. Voice exchanges were the USP of WeChat and it caught people’s imagination greatly. The platform emerged to let users share text, video, images and links in what they call as ‘Moments’. But WeChat is a closed network with access given only to users in a person’s contact list already. Egged on by the early success, WeChat is now very versatile allowing banking, e-commerce, payment, cab booking, gaming and even more happening in the platform. They now have 400 million active users and the numbers are fast growing day by day.
Let us take a look at the numbers that make China as an irresistible market for businesses worldwide. As we are talking China, be prepared to face staggering numbers in this section.
China has a population of over 1.3 billion, (1,382,189,052) out of which 668 million are active internet users with a reported 6% growth in numbers year on year. In 2014 alone, roughly 100,000 people in China started using the internet every day according to the statistics. This is a penetration of almost just half of the country and the rest of China in itself can be as big as a major continent’s online population. Moreover, 659 million of the active internet population are active social media users too. This is a number greater than the USA and Europe combined.
Despite the meteoric growth in these numbers, the urban-rural divide is still very big in China. By Aug 2015, internet penetration among China’s urban and rural population stood at 473 million and 186 million respectively. Nearly two-thirds of Chinese urban people use the internet every month but only 3 out of 10 rural Chinese people taste internet in a month. Connectivity is an issue with better connection speeds in urban areas, naturally driving up the numbers there.
Nobody wants to see the buffering wheel endlessly spinning while watching a video. That is why the numbers are yet to catch up in the rural block. The good news is that this impediment is also being cleared very quickly as the connection speeds are also on the rise across the country.
Mobile internet connections are faster than the fixed line connection speeds and this has helped a lot of people adopt mobile internet.
Almost 45% of web traffic in China came from mobiles and tablets last year, which is a 136% increase in the case of mobile alone.
Click Here to Get Access and download the additional 10 sections of this full Report FREE which cover:
- Market Size
- Share of Mobile
- Social Media Usage
- Demographic Segmentation of Social Media Users in China
- Business Analysis
- A Check List For Businesses: Who want to take advantage of Chinese social media for their brand product or service in China.
- Top ten trends to watch out for in the rest of 2016 in China
- The top ten Chinese social media platforms
- WeChat Special Analysis
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