The Chinese social media landscape

Social media are an importantWeChat—A New Way for SNS Marketing in China part of the Chinese life. They have 597 million users at the beginning of 2013. In China, 91% of the online population has an account on a social media site, as compared to 67% in the USA. 88% of Chinese social media users are active on one social network at least. This is the case for 67% of Americans only. Regarding to a 2013 study of “We are social”, the number of   social media’s users  in China today is almost the double of USA’s population. Social media is a huge phenomenon in a collectivist country as China. People like to share and being connected every times with their friends, in a much more emphasized manner than in western countries.

Because of the Chinese censure, called the “Great Firewall of China”, numerous of western social media are not allowed on the Chinese internet. To satisfy the Chinese consumer, the country has developed his own social media. Perfectly adapted to the local culture (which is totally different than the western ones), those social media are the most popular in China and most of them are owned by the local group Tencent Holdings.

In this article I will present the main Chinese social media: QQ, Qzone,  Weibo (Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo), Renren, WeChat, Kaixin.

I.                 QQ: The Tencent’s chat.

 logo QQ

Launched in 1999, the first version of QQ was named “OICQ” (open ICQ, for reference to the previous instant messaging computer program ICQ owned by AOL). Because of a conflict with AOL for the brand’s name, the Tencent’s software was renamed “QQ” in 2000. “Q” is often use in Chinese as a translation of “cute”.
It is today the most famous social media in China, with 784 million users. Mostly of them are second tier cities teenagers.  This social media is accessible by computer or by phone. The phone version is more used for practical reasons.

QQ is a kind of MSN. Users can chat instantly, sharing mail correspondence or speak by videos with each-others. The service is free, but people can pay to obtain privileged memberships. This system is based on seven kinds of services illustrated by seven diamonds of different colours:

  • Red: QQ’ services Access (QQ show, personal avatar, clothes…)
  • Yellow: allows to personalize Qzone
  • Blue: access to basic games
  • Purple: access to famous games of Tencent
  • Pink: offers for QQpet, a game of pet farming, like a veterinary visit for free
  • Greenish: access to QQmusic
  • Black: access to DNF (game)
  • And a VIP diamond which allows to use the QQ version free of adds

QQ is also widely used in business even with foreigners have business in China.

II.               Qzone

 Q zone

Qzone is a kind of « My Space ». Owned by Tencent Holdings, this website allows the users to create their own page and to share their personal content, photos, videos and texts.

According to the, Qzone has 712 million users in 2013. To access Qzone, people must to be registered on QQ. It is the most popular platform for social sharing.

Users can listen and share music, write diaries and blogs, send photos to other members and make friends.

III.              Weibo: Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo.


Weibo means “microblogging” in Chinese. We can compare this social media as a mix between Facebook and Twitter. For example, users can write messages of 140 characters maximum, sharing photos and videos and sending messages to other users.

The landscape of Chinese social media owns two main weibo social media: Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo.

  • Sina Weibo is used by 500 million people, mostly in big cities. Its multimedia function was created before the Twitter’s one.
  • Tencent Weibo, owned by Tencent, has 507 million users who live more in smaller cities that Sina Weibo’s. But like Qzone, Tencent Weibo attracts new customers thanks to its instant messaging base: QQ.

Even if less people use it, Sina Weibo has a very important and maybe the most influence on the Chinese society. It is a source of expression and of information. The limit of 140 characters has nothing to do with the limitation in western countries: with 140 Chinese characters, people can write short novels, named “Wei Xiao Shuo”(micro novels). This high capability relative to the content allows more the circulation and the exchange of opinions. As it is really difficult to control the information on social media, Chinese people trust more information they find on Weibo than on traditional media.

IV.             WeChat: Tencent


WeChat is a mobile application which is very successful in China based on same concept as Viber. 300 million people use this micro-messaging app in 2013 in the whole world. 260 million of them are Chinese people; 40 million are from other countries.

Wechat is a big success as you can see. And analysts are convinced it will be used by 100 million people more in 2013. As a foreigner living in China I can say WeChat is a big discovery and a very useful tool to keep in touch with my family and my friends around the world. I totally understand why WeChat is the favourite way for Chinese people to stay in touch with each other. This application is free, we can chat everywhere, both writing and speaking, it works for every Smartphone from every countries. There are a lot of funny applications and emoticons. It can be used to share pictures and short texts, like on Twitter.

An application allows us to see what happen around our place, which people are connected. It is a very efficient marketing tool, as you can see more deeply in this article.

V.               Renren


This social media is a kind of Facebook. Indeed, it offers similar appearance and functions than the famous American social media. Created by students in 2005, it was called Xiaonei (means in the campus in Chinese) before.  It was recalled Renren. “Ren” means “person” in Chinese. So “Renren” means “everybody”. This social media had 172 million users at the beginning of 2013, mainly students and teenagers.

VI.             Kaixin 001


Kaixin (“happy” in Chinese) is a kind of Facebook too. Kaixin 001 has 113 million users.

The difference between Kaixin and Renren is that Kaixin’s targets and main users are white-collar workers. Thus the audience is older than Renren’s.

VII.            Conclusion

In many aspects, Chinese social media landscape is an adaptation of the western one. They answer to the same basic needs of people and adapt the platform, options, apps to the particularities of the Chinese users and culture. Those adaptations to the Chinese culture are necessary, as eBay learnt with its failure in China and the incredible success of Taobao, its local competitor (to know more about this topic, click here).

Social media in China is particularly important for companies. According to a McKinsey Institute study “High influence: China’s social medias boom” (January 2013), Chinese people are mere likely buying a product if it is mentioned on social media and purchasing it if it is recommended by a friend or if it has a good reputation on social medias. In a country where traditional sources of information are controlled by the government, people trust more the opinion of other users in social media. Moreover, as China is a collectivist country, people naturally like to be connected and value the other’s opinion, even more than western countries. As a phenomenon, 91% of Chinese people of this study’s respondents said they visited a social media site in the previous six month, compared to 30% in Japan, 67% in United States and 70% in South Korea.

Social media are a vital source of information in China, and having a good reputation on it is a vital criterion for brand and companies. Social media influent a lot on the customer’s buying decision. That is why each company must take care of its reputation and marketing on social media if it wants keep doing business in this country.

By Leïla Hatoum


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