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What We Think

26 Feb 2014
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The Social Element

Welcome to part three of our fast facts series, where we examine social networks, local influencers and popular brands around the world. Part one looked at social media in Western Europe. In part two we looked at Eastern Europe and Russia. In this month’s installment, we’ll be looking at the social media scene in China.

 

Social networks: what’s popular in China?

China has around 591 million internet users. There’s a strong drive towards mobile internet, with desktop internet traffic dropping by 15% in the first nine months of 2013.

57% of Chinese social media users are male, 70% under 35. 91% of the online population of China has a social media account, compared  to 67% of people in the US. When given the choice, just 38% of users reveal their real names on social networking sites.

It’s reported that 91% of Chinese internet users have a social media account, compared to 67 per cent of the online population of the United States. Chinese internet users spend an average of 46 minutes on social networks every day. They are more likely to buy items recommended by other social media users.

However, the Chinese government exerts significant control over social networks, blocking global networks like Facebook and Twitter, and censoring home-grown networks like Sina Weibo and RenRen. The Government insist on a real name policy, and allow censors to delete posts as they see fit. It has also passed a law stating that people who post “inaccurate” statements that have more than 500 shares, could be sent to prison.

 

Facebook and its local language competitors

Facebook

Facebook is blocked by the “great firewall of China”, although people can still access it via Virtual Private Networks. Facebook has reported that its market share in China is “almost zero”.

 

Pengyou

Owned by Tencent, it means friend in Chinese. Pengyou has more than 259 million users. A Facebook like social network, users can friend people and follow brands. The site has less active users than RenRen and the Weibos (microblogs), but as part of the Tencent QQ network (which has more than 784 million active accounts) it has a much bigger user base.

 

RenRen

RenRen, originally called Xiaonei (which means campus), was set up in 2005 and tends to be used by students and teens. It had around 178 million users in 2012, when monthly unique logins were growing by 47% a month.

More of a Facebook-like social network, RenRen was starting to lose out to more mobile-friendly social networks, as it lacked a suitable mobile version. In late 2013, RenRen launched a new mobile app targeting people born in the 90s. It has increased its registered users to 194 million and reached 54 million monthly active users.

 

Kaixin 001

Kaixin is a Facebook-like social network with 113 million users. Unlike RenRen, Kaixin’s target market tends towards the older generations, and white-collar workers.

 

Twitter and its local language competitors

Microblogs, or Weibos, are a very popular communication format in China. People tend to place more trust in the information they find there. They also use Weibos to write Wei Xiao Shuo – micro novels.

 

Twitter

Twitter is one of the social networks that is blocked in China, but it says that it has around 50,000 users in China (who access via VPNs).

 

Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo is the most popular social network in China, with around 280 million active users and 500 million registered users. Its multimedia functions – displaying video and photos in timelines, predated Twitter’s rollout of these services.

Users used to be quite outspoken on the network, but increasing censorship has curbed this. It’s reported to have lost around nine per cent of users in 2013.

 

Tencent Weibo

Sina Weibo’s main competitor is Tencent Weibo, which is the third most popular social network in China with more than 230 million active users. It has a user base of 507 million users, thanks to Tencent’s instant messaging service, QQ, and its users are generally from smaller cities.

 

YouTube and its local language competitors

YouTube is one of the sites blocked by China, but there are several local versions. The most popular Chinese video site is YouKu, which had 100 million visitor views in January 2013, rising to 400 million by August. It racked up 1.3 billion minutes of viewing in June 2013 alone.

Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, owns a rival video service (iqiyi) and was looking at purchasing another online video service, PPS.tv, which would have made it the largest video service provider in China.

The Chinese Government is currently trying to enforce a real name policy on its domestic online video sites.

 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has just announced the launch of a version of the platform in Simplified Chinese. Even before the launch, the site had around four million users. Many of these users were educated in the west. It’s competing against a home-grown business network called Jingwei.com.

 

Google+

China blocks Google Plus, but the growing social platform still has 121,000 users.

 

Other local social networks

QZone

QZone is the Chinese version of MySpace, letting users blog, keep diaries, listen to music and share photos. It’s owned by Tencent, and so benefits from the link to the QQ network.

QZone is the second most popular social network in China, with between 240 million and 600 million monthly active users, and a user base of 712 million in 2013.

 

Douban

Douban is another MySpace-like Chinese social network. It has more than 100 million users, the most active of which tend to be intellectuals and people who follow pop culture.

Douban allows users to find, and chat with, people who share similar interests, although it has been heavily censored.

 

Diandian

Diandian is a Tumblr clone which numbers around five million users.

 

WeChat

WeChat is a popular Chinese mobile app with around 300 million users, 100 million of whom are outside China. Although it’s similar to WhatsApp, it allows users to do more, combining features from Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Instagram and geo-location apps. It’s less of a social network, and more of an instant messenger app, but brands have official accounts on the network.

At London Fashion Week, Burberry joined forces with Wechat to produce an exclusive show of key runway looks. Users of the app were able to unlock Wechat-only audio content featuring Burberry’s latest womenswear collection, and follow VIP guests.

Influencers: brands, celebrities & sports stars

The average Chinese internet user follows eight brands, and 38% of internet users make shopping choices based on recommendations they read on social networks. The Data Centre of China Internet reports that more than 80% of Sina Weibo users aged 19 and over have followed a brand on the service.

The Chinese Government has targeted popular social network users, such as Sina Weibo user Charles Xue, a venture capitalist with more than 12 million followers, who it arrested last year. However, despite the censorship, western brands are using Chinese social media sites to engage consumers.

Pizza Hut is seen as one brand that uses Sina Weibo well, while carmakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz have also used Sina Weibo to good effect.

 

Language and cultural fast facts

  • Around 1 in 5 of the world’s population speaks a form of Chinese. Mandarin is the official language of China, and has more than 800 million speakers worldwide.
  • The English phrase “cup of cha” for cup of tea, originates from the Mandarin word chá.
  • Chinese New Year takes place between mid-January and mid-February and is the time to honour ancestors. It’s a 15-day celebration marked with parades, a good spring clean and the handing out of Red Envelopes (known as “lai see” in Cantonese or “hong bao” in Mandarin) which are filled with money.
  • Watch the gift-giving! The Mandarin word for clock is zhong, which sounds like the word for death when spoken, so by giving a clock as a gift, you are, in fact, presenting your friend with a death wish.
  • The number four is considered unlucky in Chinese culture, and again, it has associations with death because the word for four sounds like the word for death. “Si” with second tone means four and ”si” with fourth tone means death. Some people will even refuse to take down a phone number which has too many fours in it.
  • Which Chinese? The People’s Republic of China and Singapore promoted the Simplified script. People in Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong still use the Traditional Chinese characters. The movement to use Simplified characters started in the 1950s to improve literacy levels by making the characters less complicated. For example, look at these words written:  Traditional: 漢字不滅  and then in Simplified characters: 汉字不灭.
  • While the number four is considered unlucky in China, the number eight is very lucky. The reason is that the word eight  in Chinese is “ba” and sounds like “fa”, which means prosperity. Many Chinese people try to get phone numbers and addresses which have lots of number eights in them.

 

Fast historical facts

  • The earliest recorded Chinese state was the Shang Dynasty, which started around 1700bc.
  • Imperial China dates to around 221bc. Work began on the Great Wall of China around the same time.
  • The Mongols conquered China in 1271, establishing their own dynasty.
  • The 19th Century saw western powers try to exert control over Chinese ports, which brought unrest, and creating regional warlords.
  • A Republic was declared in 1911, lasting until the communist revolution of 1949.