The online social media landscape in China is drastically different than that of the U.S. The main difference is centered around user segmentation. In the U.S., Facebook and Twitter are hands down the dominant SNS across the board. But in China, the SNS market is highly fragmented. This is due to the fact that Chinese society has numerous differing demographic groups, and unlike the U.S. each group have drastically different socio-economic status, education level, as well as way of life. So when the Facebook clones started appearing in China, each SNS focused on a single niche population within the huge China market. With that said, let’s examine the a few top SNS’s in China.
Renren was the earliest Facebook clone in China. It started as Xiaonei, which in Chinese means “On Campus”. Their primary user demographics are students, mostly college age in top tier cities. With their relatively young audience, the UGC (User Generated Content) is centered around light hearted content, as well as various other academic topic such as studying abroad, interviewing, and picking an major.
Kaxin001 is another Facebook clone with a heavy emphasis on social games. Their primary user demographics are urban white collars. Popular Content on the site includes several widespread and addictive mini-game such as Kaixin Garden (equivalent of Farmville on FB), and Park-It (mini game to park a car, of course with heavy product/brand placement). These social games caused quite a stir when first hitting the market, with dedicated players that get up at middle of the night in order to “Steal” vegetables from friend’s gardens.
Qzone is the biggest SNS by user base and traffic in China. Its primary demographics are teens and users from lower tiered cities. Qzone’s market dominance is largely driven by the integrated IM service QQ, which is the most popular IM tool in China. However, most users on QQ and Qzone do not use their real names. Instead they will most likely use an alias to identify themselves. So the content contains a lot more anonymity and is usually centered around the user’s daily lives. Also, Qzone is the only SNS that have a significant user base in the ages of 40-50. The reason is these parents all use QQ to communicate with their children, who are sometimes studying in another city.
Recognizing Qzone’s problem of anonymity, Tencent launched another real-name SNS service called Pengyou in 2008. Pengyou first started as QQ Xiaoyou, which in English means classmates. It’s primary demographics are again focused on teens and college aged students. But recognizing the narrowness of its focus, the name was officially changed to Pengyou (means friends in English) in the beginning of 2011. The growth strategy of this service is again to channel new users from QQ IM.
51.com is also one of the earliest SNS’s in China. Its user-base age-wise is quiet varied, but are mostly from lower tiered cities. In terms of traffic and registered users, it closely follows Renren. But the social economic level and income is in no comparison with Kaixin001. The content on the site combines the mini-games from Kaixin and general SNS features like photo, blog, and status. Its recent direction is to shift to a social games platform that matches users gaming preferences, and provide social pairing suggestions.
In terms of market share, each SNS claim themselves to be the biggest. But due to the user segmentation, a lot of users will have multiple accounts on the different SNS’s in order to communicate with different groups of people. Also as the user-base matures they start to adopt a dominant SNS and abandon the others. From a SNS growth perspective, Tencent’s Pengyou and Qzone are ever rising due to QQ’s continuous stream of new users. Kaixin001 has been in decline due to the hugely popular Sina Weibo taking away its users. Renren is trying to expand outside of its young demographics but it’s been really an uphill battle.
In addressing the SNS’s market, we also can’t ignore the recent dominance of micro-blogs or Weibos as they are called in China. Eventhough the Weibos differ in feature from the traditional SNS’s, they are slowly becoming dominant form of SNS in China. Almost every big internet company in China has a Weibo service: Sohu, Sina, Tencent, 163NetEase… etc. But two dominant Weibo’s are Tencent and Sina. Feature-wise, these two services are almost identical. But again, consumer demographics are drastically different. Tencent Weibo gets most of its user from their QQ and Qzone services, hence the demographics of its users are mostly teens. While Sina Weibo focus more on the white collar demographics. Content-wise, Tencent is mostly daily life focused, while Sina has lot of professional and industry content. So users of Sina would find the content on Tencent absolutely childish, and Tencent users would find the content on Sina very boring.
This article was written for ValueCap Research