Guest post written by Jens H. Nielsen, IT Entrepreneur. After being involved in the collaboration between the IT University of Copenhagen and Peking University, he has been living and working in Beijing for the last couple of years. Currently, he is working on education software for international schools in Asia.
Facebook is a “one size fits all social network” for much of the world. It does not matter what age or social background you have, you are on Facebook. The networks in China are much more fragmented. The users of the top social networks that I will present here, are more divided. This blog post is the second part of two, on the state of social media in China.
Web-based social networks
Qzone, with its 560 million users, is by far the largest web-based social network in China. It is integrated with QQ, the most popular instant messaging service, and the other services offered by Tencent, the company behind QQ and Qzone. It is highly popular amongst the Grassroots audience.
Renren is the Facebook copy. Its users are mainly university students, though there are a growing group of users who keep using Renren after graduation to keep in contact with their university friends.
Kaixin001’s users are mainly young urban professionals (Baifumei), living in the big cities. Its usage and functionality is very much like Facebook. Though, the network is under pressure since many of the users have migrated to Weibo.
Besides the 3 listed here, there is a huge group of more specialized social networks. Some examples could be: Douban, with its 80 million members, is a forum-like site for mainly intellectuals, discussing anything cultural or social related. Zhisland.com is a social network for CEOs, founders or presidents of companies with more than 50 million RMB in revenue. There is a network for pretty much any group of people in China.
Sina Weibo, with over 400 million users, is the most popular micro blogging platform in China. Weibo functions in some way like Twitter, but it has many more advantages than Twitter. The users can like and share posts, comment on them and embed images, videos, emoticons etc. Sina Weibo has become quite a sensation amongst Chinese, though the service, like the rest of the Internet in China, is partly censored. Posts or accounts you saw an hour ago might be removed now. The Chinese still managed to beat the censors though, so not much can be kept secret. Of all the social networks in China, Weibo is probably the most important network at the moment.
The other Weibo competitor to Sina Weibo is Tencent Weibo. Functionality wise, it’s pretty much the same as Sina Weibo. The main difference is the user demographics. Sina Weibo is used mainly in the big cites, whereas Tencent Weibo is more popular in the smaller cities.
It’s my impression that the traditional social networks are moving into the background replaced by mobile social networks. Indeed, in 2012, more than half of the hits to Chinese websites came from a mobile device. A service like Weibo fits the mobile perfectly, which is one of the reasons for its success.
The hottest mobile app currently is without question Weixin (WeChat in English). In only 6 months in 2012, it has doubled its user-base from 100 million to currently over 200 million users. WeChat is an instant messaging, video/voice chat, social network and location based service – all rolled into one. Each user has a profile where they can post pictures that can be liked or commented on by friends. The user can also create a group of users that will multicast voice or text messages to everyone in the group. At the same time, it’s extendible so other services can plug into its network. Ex. QQ Music, a free music service, is integrated so users can send songs to one another.
The main usage of WeChat is two folded: One is to connect with friends you already have in your address book, the other is to connect with people around you. The user can shake the phone and connect with other people shaking their phone at the same time. Another way is the “look around” feature, where it lists WeChat users closest to you. An unusual thing about WeChat is that it seems to be the first social platform to reach beyond China. This is a clear strategy as the app has Facebook integration, and it is being heavily promoted in south-east Asia. It already has millions of users outside of China, and I recommend all readers of this blog post to download and try it.
Other location-based services such as Jiepang, a FourSquare-like app or Momo, a dating app, are also popular, though none of them have reached the same popularity level as WeChat.
After this very short and limited presentation of some of the Chinese social networks, it is my hope that it’s clear that businesses wanting to utilize social networks in China, need to know their target group very well. As I wrote previously, experiences from Facebook (one size fits all) can be hard to transfer to the fragmented market of China. It is vital to focus your message in the right way and on the right social network to get in contact with the right target group.