The industry of the social networking services (SNS) is now well established in Western countries (US and Europe mainly). But it arose more recently in China. In this country, our usual social platforms are not available and Chinese create and develop their own, following the same model but also showing significant differences. For any brand willing to develop its business in China, it is crucial to understand how Chinese use SNS and how to develop the best strategy on these platforms, accordingly.
The first social network established in China is Qzone, and its messenger QQ, in 2005. Then, 51.com and renren (also known as the “Chinese Facebook”) followed. Since then, there is a multitude of new social websites launched on the China’s Internet. According to a study of Global Web Index, the number of users of social networks in China reached 430 million in 2013. Previews show that the number of users will be more than half a billion by the end of 2014.
66 % of the Chinese Internet users visit Qzone regularly (so more than 250 million users). This platform is the most suited to reach a young target, mainly adolescent, with content focusing on entertainment and sharing pictures, music, videos and daily life stories. This service saw an increase of the number of users of 21 % between 2012 and 2013.
On the other hand, 61 % of the users are active on Sina Weibo, the system of micro-blogging referred to as the “Chinese Twitter “. Generally speaking, it fits to a target group made of middle class young adults and fashion city dwellers and it focuses on more serious topics. Its success is based on, for the largest part, its idea to let celebrities create topic. It attracts in the discussion a lot of new participants and let the website be highlighted in the national Medias. Sina Weibo experienced the same growth as Qzone with a growth of 21 % in 2013.
If these two platforms, and to a lesser extend the other network of Weibo Tecent, show a great growth, it does not necessarily mean that the whole market is growing steadily. Some brands do not take advantage of the rise of the Chinese Internet. RenRen (160 million users), and 51.com (85 million users) experienced a drop of 7.5 % and 35 % respectively in their number of active users in 2013.
How to use SNS in your branding strategy in China?
According to Daxue Consulting, 80 % of the Chinese networks business models are supported by advertising. Indeed, Chinese are culturally opposed to the advertising and appreciate to get information about products in a customized way, according to their personal profile. Thus social networks can be excellent tools for foreign companies to reach very efficiently a specific target in China, while Westerner do not accept any advertisement on this service, which must stay free and “cool”. Commercials implemented in on-line gaming, very popular on the Chinese social networks, can be a great opportunity to develop visibility, awareness and popularity.