The Chinese social web is a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, we can’t stop hearing about how big and popular it is. On the other hand, separated by language and rather intimidating looking interfaces, we know so little about this alternate universe.
But with an Internet population of 618M and counting, larger than that of the US and Western Europe combined, it’s becoming perilous not to become familiar with the platforms and technologies that drive this avalanche of upwardly mobile middle-class consumers that increasingly like to open their wallets both at home, and abroad.
Here's a quick primer about the Chinese social web.
Mobile + Social media = World Wide Web
For a lot of Chinese netizens, social media is the Internet. And the mobile device is their gateway to the world wide web. Just like how most countries leap-frogged the landline and went straight to mobile, most Chinese Internet users bypassed desk tops and laptops, and joined the global digerati straight from their mobile phones. In China, 81% of Internet users have mobile Internet access, versus 70% that have desktop access. To put this into perspective, over 58% of videos are viewed through mobile devices.
Right around the time mobile Internet and smart phones took off, social media exploded in China. For the first time, Chinese netizens felt connected and empowered to both seek and give information online. Many experienced their first taste of connectivity through QQ and BBS, Qzone, Renren, and later on, Weibo and WeChat.
It has become pretty blurry what’s social and what’s not on the Chinese web. You can really make the argument that most of the Chinese web is in essence, social. With group buying taking over e-commerce, Alibaba taking a stake in Weibo, the social element is built into almost every aspect of the Chinese web experience.
What this means for you: Chinese presence around the world is now hard to miss. If you have a business that cross paths with Chinese customers - i.e. retail establishments, hotels and restaurants, tourist attractions, entertainment businesses, schools and educational services, it makes a lot of sense to make yourself seen and heard on Chinese social media.
The majority can be found on just a few networks
The Chinese web is more or less controlled by a few Internet giants that have been around for a while. Unlike the western model of startups, followed by acquisitions, most of the new innovations and products within the Chinese Internet space are incubated within existing technology conglomerates. Two recent success stories, Sina Weibo and WeChat, emerged out of existing technology behemoths Sina and Tencent respectively.
While acquisitions in the west (Facebook of Instagram and WhatsApp, Twitter of Vine) mean that applications still function somewhat independently of its masters, the Chinese platforms tend to follow the Swiss-knife model, where one platform tries to add more, more, and even more features, in an attempt to keep users engaged and starve off competitors.
As a results, even though Chinese netizens are active on a handful of social media networks, most belong to either Weibo and WeChat, if not both.
What this means for you: This concentration of users makes it easier for most businesses to find success on social media. Instead of worrying about being present on half a dozen channels, most can focus their efforts on only a couple of the major platforms to have maximum reach.
Your customers WILL write about you
Chinese Internet users are voracious consumers, and creators of content. A whopping 76% of Chinese users are creators of content, versus just 24% of those in the US.
And what kind of content are they creating?
Everything from participating on social networks, to private messaging amongst friends and families, to reviewing purchases, writing about travel experiences, to participating in one of the many BBS online on a topic of their interest.
Research has shows that the biggest reason that Chinese consumers follow brands online is to obtain information, and over 80% of them do so on a regular basis.
What this means for you: Word of mouth is even more important amongst your Chinese customers than any other group. They have the capacity to influence their network a lot more than what you’d normally expect, and you can bet those pictures they snap will end up online somewhere. Whether the caption is a recommendation or a thumbs-down is up to you!
(social web in China / shutterstock)