Social Media in China

When we think of China we might think of soy sauce, chopsticks, dim sum, Great Wall of China, cheap goods and much much more…but social media? Many foreigners when they visit China for the first time almost get a heart attack when they realise that their favorite social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed anywhere in mainland China. After the initial shock passes they might start to question – how do people survive here? Very well actually, because there is a different social world in China which most foreigners never knew even existed.

China has the largest Internet population on the planet with over 500 million registered users (as in 2012 according to McKinsey report). This presents huge opportunities for advertisers as well as software developers. With the main international social networks banned local developers stepped in introducing new platforms such as Qzone (the largest Chinese social network), RenRen, Sina Weibo and WeChat. The majority of platforms are fairly similar to their Western counterparts and usually like a mix of microblogs, social networks and instant chats features.

Some social platforms however posses very interesting and unique features. For instance, WeChat, which in essence is a combination of Twitter and Whatsapp, has extra functions which help finding people to socialise with. ‘Look around’ allows people to find other WeChat users in the immediate proximity, a 21st century solution for people who feel shy to approach others in person. Be prepared to be creeped out sometimes though. It is not always fun to realise some random guy is waving at you from across the cafe and to see him writing to you on WeChat. The opportunities to talk to new people do not stop here. If you get bored you can just ‘Shake’ your phone and it will find other people around the globe who are shaking their phones at the same time. How cool is that? At least you know that these people are already prepared for a chat. Another social feature is ‘Drift bottle’ which allows you to put a voice or text message in a ‘bottle’ and throw it into the ‘ocean’ for other people to randomly pick out. Of course, people you befriend can also check out your profile and read your ‘Moments’, like your pictures and comment.

China is essentially a collectivistic society, therefore social communities and opinions of others appear to be very important. Social media takes these communities on a new digital level and enables young people to manage their ‘guanxi’ (relationships/connections which are beneficial for both parties) much more effectively. This culture and the use of digital tools presents massive opportunities for advertisers, exploiting both social media marketing and Word of Mouth promotion. Tight regulations enforced upon media in China, however, pose significant obstacles for advertisers as well as opinion leaders. Lack of transparency limits social web users, restricting what they can get out of it and what messages they can get across. Yet, today, social media in China is still considered to be the least controlled media form.

What will happen to social media in China in the future we cannot know, though the potential is enormous. Lack of social media analytical tools undermines its performance however, so this is one aspect which would have to improve in order to facilitate growth. In the meanwhile, advertisers are left to enjoy the freedom they have been allowed, developers are left to exploit the opportunities presented by high consumer demand and users…well…are just left to ‘Shake’ it.

Content Creator: Maria Kalagova (Snob Monkey Content Creator)