Why It Matters:
With the world’s largest population (1.3 billion), number of Internet users (513 million) and mobile subscribers (>900 million), China is an extremely important digital market. The Internet landscape is largely unique, and often misunderstood, with a plethora of home-grown social networking platforms filling a “social void” left by the relative inaccessibility of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Here are five things you should know about digital in China.
1. The Internet in China
There are reportedly over 513 million Internet users across China, accessing the net from every kind of device you can think of. Even with such a large number of users, only 39 percent of the population is actually connected and in 2012 we saw an increase of 55.8 million Internet users from 2011. More than 57 percent of Chinese Internet users are under 30, while only 136 million users are located in rural areas, meaning the large majority of users are young urban dwellers.
The Web is a platform of choice for Chinese people to discuss life, current affairs and also make decisions around brands. Chinese consumers prize peer-to-peer recommendations because they often lack trust in formal institutions. Consequently, word of mouth in China is very influential, guiding opinions and decision making for many and impacting brands both positively and negatively.
2. Social Media Landscape
China’s social networking tools are primarily focused around entertainment and connecting people with friends and family, who are often separated over long distances due to the high levels of domestic migration. All the usual types of social platforms exist in China albeit with uniquely Chinese characteristics. Bulletin boards and micro-blogging services are particularly popular social tools. Over 65 percent of Chinese companies are using social networks to connect with their stakeholders. Youku (think YouTube) is the most visited website in China reaching 38 percent of users, followed by Sina Weibo (think Twitter) reaching 15 percent and LinkedIn* reaching just 0.4 percent. More than half of the Chinese Internet population uses Weibo (literally meaning micro-blog) services, with Sina and Tencent Weibo being the platforms of choice. Other key social media platforms include Renren and Kaixin, both similar in function to Facebook. As an agency, we are finding that many clients are focusing their digital strategy around Sina Weibo and Renren, as both platforms are targeted at the more affluent/mobile Chinese consumer and cover a significant portion of Chinese Internet users (>300 million).
3. Content & Search
Chinese Internet users performed over 73 billion search queries in the second quarter of 2011. Baidu is by far the most popular search engine in China. Google is no longer operating a search business in mainland China and searches via Google are now routed through Google Hong Kong. The Chinese government is proactive about moderating online content, which has resulted in a number of websites being restricted, blocked or even deleted due to perceived unlawful content.
4. Mining the Social Web
Digging for content and unearthing conversations across China’s social media platforms to uncover brand and consumer intelligence is a key focus for our digital team. The space is new and the number of tools to automate the process is limited. For example, Radian 6 is not a catchall solution for China. Notable third party tools currently include Alive.cn (Sina Weibo analysis/KOL directory), Tfengyun (think Klout for Twitter), CiC (basic monitoring) and Brandtology (opinion mining and sentiment analysis). Where tools are lacking, we often use platform APIs to gather intelligence and/or rely on manual data gathering and analysis. (Disclosure: Edelman currently has a strategic partnership in place with Brandtology)
5. Online Video
China is the world’s third largest film market. Widely considered China’s answer to YouTube, Youku has revolutionized the way that Chinese people view film and television. The platform allows users to upload their own content, and also broadcasts film and programming licensed from movie studios and TV companies. It sees itself as comparable to Hulu. The influence of online video channels is having a profound impact on peoples’ viewing habits, with traditional television audiences rapidly falling away and coming online to consume on demand. The US movie studio, 20th Century Fox recently struck a deal with Youku to stream 250 films across the platform.
This introductory article only just begins to touch the surface of digital in China. Our team here is always eager to answer questions and help others across the Edelman network get a better understanding of the China market. If you have any such questions or thoughts, we’d be delighted to hear from you!
*LinkedIn is an Edelman client.
Image Credit: exfordy