China is a unique market, particularly for platform entrepreneurs. More than half of the country’s population, or around 731 million people, are already active internet users – 95 percent of these accessing the internet through mobile phones. Despite the large consumer base, China has highly restrictive internet regulations. Nonetheless, local Chinese sites and apps keep emerging, replicating the features of foreign versions blocked by the government. These have become the engine of the Chinese e-market. Three homegrown social media are playing an increasingly important role in Chinese life.
WeChat is hailed as “an operating system for life” in China. It is the most popular messaging app, which the Chinese can also use to make voice calls, transportation bookings, as well as manage payments. WeChat is also crucial for the Chinese to connect with people outside the country as other messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Line, and WhatsApp have been blocked by the government. The government seems to support WeChat’s dominance as government agencies and state-run media have WeChat official accounts, so users can contact them directly through the app. The app is even poised to become China’s electronic ID system following the recent piloting of WeChat’s virtual ID by the research institute of the Ministry of Public Security and Tencent’s WeChat team.
Weibo in Chinese means “microblog”. It is a multimedia blogging platform that combines Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr features, allowing users to share short messages, images, and video. The platform allows users to track what’s hot in China, and sort the trending topics based on region or city. There are two micromedia sites in China: Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. Sina Weibo has become a main channel for content creators, such as bloggers and vloggers, as well as television and movie stars to promote their work and interact with their fans. For example, fans can purchase virtual gifts, like flowers or even Ferraris, for their idols to appreciate their work. This interactive feature led to a fivefold increase in Sina Weibo’s video views in 2017 – making it the most powerful marketing tool in the country. The effectiveness of Sina Weibo as a marketing tool has been proven by various big brands, from luxurious carmakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz to beauty and fashion products like Lancome and Furla. Meanwhile, Tencent Weibo mainly acts as a social network, and has significantly lower user penetration than its competitor.
Douban is a forum-like social networking platform, which is popular within communities to engage around specific area of interests. Members can upload book/movie/music reviews, stream local indie music and create their own playlists, view and create city events, or buy creative lifestyle products that cannot be found on other e-commerce sites. Douban’s users can join Douban Groups based on categories that they like, such as travel or technology, to discuss and share experiences. This clear segmentation is highly useful for marketers to locate specific interest groups more easily and tailor their campaign to suit the needs of these audiences.
Image credit: Dragon Social.