China: The State of Social Media

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. 

As you may know, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and to some degree Google are blocked in China. This does not leave China in the dark ages, quite the opposite. A survey done in 2012 by McKinsey, showed that 95 percent of those living in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities are registered on a social media site and proves at the same time to be the most active users. The Chinese social media landscape is vast and bubbling with innovation. This blog post is the first part of two on the state of social media in China.


A diversity of Internet users
China has over 160 cities with more than a million citizens. Its population is so massive and diverse that thinking about it as one country does not really make sense. A better way is to think of it as a continent with many countries and different customs. There are modern mega cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guanzhou, and there are poor farmers who basically live the same type of life as they did 50 years ago. This means that the Internet usage in China diverse quite much.


The two groups of users – Baifumei and Grassroots
The terms “Baifumei” (literally, “good-looking and rich”) and “Grassroots” are terms used by IDG Capital Partners to describe the divergent groups of Chinese Internet users.

Baifumei have a university degree. Some speak English or another language. They have a good income. They access the Internet through their computer at work and at home. During their daily commute, they use their high-end smartphone. They prefer services that have a good mobile interface, services like Sina Weibo & Weixin (WeChat). This group represents 50-75 million of China’s Internet users.

Grassroots have a lower education level, live outside of the big cities unless they work there as migrant workers. They only speak Chinese. They mainly access the Internet through their mobile phone, either a local branded phone or a low-end Android smartphone. Sometimes, they will go to an Internet-cafe. They don’t mind slow speeds or ads. They are very loyal to a given services once they know it. Their preferred services are, and Qzone. They will often buy virtual goods and services. This group represents about 300 million of China’s Internet users.

The two groups are of course stereotypes with a large grey-area between them. For more information about these two groups, I recommend “The Story of W&L: China’s Great Internet Divide”, a translated article posted on Techrice.


Web-based social networks
Traditional web-based social networks in China are in many ways copies of Facebook. In the case of Renren, it’s a shameless copy of Facebook, even down to the main colors used. However, the networks are changed to better fit the Chinese user and market in several ways.


Many users of social networks in China have a different attitude towards privacy than in the West. Facebook has gone through great lengths to secure privacy for its users. On Chinese social networks though, it is not uncommon to accept friend request from strangers. On your profile, you even have a list of the latest visitors to your profile. This gives users the option to have a low-cost way of communicating to strangers.


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. 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.


> Read second part of the post here, where Jens lists the most popular social networks in China.