Is social media in China the same as anywhere else?

Towards the end of 2010 we had the opportunity to present our 2-day social media workshop in Shanghai, one of the most exciting cities in the world!

Chinese marketing and PR managers joined us for our 2-day workshop in Shanghai

We really enjoyed our time with the marketers who attended and the folks from Innodecision who brought us across. We also saw a rare snow in Shanghai, a special first for Simon, who’d never seen snow at Christmas before!

Social media is huge in Asia Pacific generally, and in especially in China.

Chinese internet users (all 450 million of them) are more connected to each other than anywhere else. But the specific sites are radically different on mainland China.

China’s government blocks Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other popular social media sites, which means home-made social networks have taken off.

It’s easy to write off these “made in China” social networks as copycats, but here’s some food for thought:

  • China’s newest social network, pengyou.com, is owned by Tencent, the company that introduced the highly successful QQ instant messaging system in 1999. That’s a long time before Facebook or Twitter were ever heard of.
  • One of China’s top video sharing sites, Tudou.com, was launched in July 2004. YouTube launched in February 2005.
  • Even the more obvious copycat sites like Renren, Kaixin001 and Sina Weibo have innovated the user experience. Sina Weibo, in particular, offers a lot of improvements on Twitter’s user experience such as threaded conversations and topic-based groups.
  • Convergence is happening quickly. Sina Weibo (aka the Chinese Twitter) is becoming more like a social network. Meanwhile, QQ has microblogging, taking Weibo on directly.

As a consumer, there’s a wealth of choices to share your opinion. For businesses, the choices are a little more limited – there is no equivalent to the free Facebook fan page, for example.

The government policy of blocking popular social media sites is also a barrier (over and above the existing language barrier) for businesses that want to reach customers around the world.

What’s the same?

Those are the differences; what are the similarities? Here’s what we saw that was the same as in our workshops in New Zealand and Australia.

  • Marketing and PR are still dominated by women. 85% of our Shanghai workshop attendees were female, similar to our experience in the west.
  • Although the technical issues were vastly different, the key questions remain the same:
    • Where do we start?
    • How do we resource social media?
    • How do we measure success?
  • There’s also an increasing awareness that social media affects all areas of a company, from customer service to marketing to PR, and especially to innovation and new product development.

China left a lasting impression on us. We’ve come away thinking bigger. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see some exciting, authentic brands coming out of China, with a fresh new take on corporate social responsibility in the way they market.

4 thoughts on “Is social media in China the same as anywhere else?

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  • Michael A. Robson

    @”China’s newest social network, pengyou.com, is owned by Tencent, the company that introduced the highly successful QQ instant messaging system in 1999. That’s a long time before Facebook or Twitter were ever heard of.”

    And around the same time as ICQ debuted. Your point?

    I’m a little bitter that I’ve had about 4 QQ accounts crap out on me, my friends say its because I might have typed English characters on there (oops). And my ?? account was taken down/banned/deleted for some reason. I tried getting a Sina Blog, but found the login process alone migraine inducing (since sina has several email servers, its tough to remember your own email address. after all, they don’t send you any confirmation email). Nevermind the Firewall, Social Media in China seems to be a handful of very broken systems. One big huge compromise.

    Reply
    • Simon Young

      Hi Michael!

      My point … it’s not all about copying, some of what’s going on is original. Okay, well perhaps Tencent is not the best example to use there.

      And wow, 4 QQ accounts fail? Wow. My experience has been different (admittedly in a short time) in that I’ve been able to use English characters, and I’m finding the integration with Pengyou.com relatively smooth, even for a Google-translate-using-Laowai like myself.

      Same with Sina Weibo, it sent a confirmation to my Gmail address with no problems.

      So maybe I’m still a newbie and have only seen the good side, maybe you’re extremely unlucky, or maybe the answer is somewhere in between…

      Reply
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