Social media in China? Chinese only, thank you!

The most popular social media in China ? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? The answer is: none of these. Let’s talk about Wechat, Weibo and Renren. Here’s what you need to know.

In China , there are differences and the social networks of the West cannot break through a strongly nationalist culture. You have probably already heard of the famous firewall in China that “filters” Western sites and apps: “our” Internet is strictly controlled at the government level and therefore a large number of “cloned” or native apps, social networks and sites have been born for the Asian market. Here is a brief introduction to social media in China to understand what we are talking about.

WeChat, messaging is serious business

The most famous application is WeChat , now indispensable for everyone and with which WhatsApp certainly cannot compete. Developed by the Chinese company Tencent in 2011, WeChat is an app with a multifunctional interface, the services of which are:

  • Instant Messaging:On this point it works like WhatsApp which supports different types of instant messaging. For example: text messages, voice messages, stickers, etc;
  • Moments:it is comparable to Facebook or Twitter which allows users to post images, photos, videos, tweets, while friends can comment or “like”;
  • Official Accounts and WeChat Pay:users can register on the platform for free (service account, subscription account or business account), while “WeChat Pay ‘is an electronic wallet service incorporated into the App. These two services together allow users to shop online, transfer money, pay bills, book restaurants and taxis, etc.

WeChat? Everyone uses it!

Today in China, especially in metropolitan cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Shenzhen, WeChat has now become an important part of daily life for both the new generation and their parents and relatives. Not only because wherever you go you just need to have a smartphone in your hand and you can contact your friends or share moments, but above all because you can shop immediately .

In short, WeChat is not a simple app for exchanging messages but a mix of Facebook, Paypal, Tripadvisor, Instagram and Whatsapp. According to statistics  , the market penetration rate reaches 93%. The data updated to the first half of the year shows that there are already 938 million active users in the world .

We show you how a company profile on Wechat works, in Chinese so you understand well:

Weibo like Twitter (when it was cool to have Twitter)

Weibo is a Chinese microblogging site. It is practically a “Twitter” and is one of the most popular sites in China.
How it works: You know Twitter? Here, exactly like that!
People communicate by mentioning an @name, while to get their posts to appear in the timeline they use not a # but … two! #word#.

Just like on Twitter actors, celebrities and politicians have verified accounts according to the identification policy, to be really sure it’s them!

But as Twitter stops growing with 328 Million Active Users for the second consecutive quarter, Weibo is gaining more and more exposure. Think that the monthly active users in June 2017 were 361 million, an increase of 28% compared to the previous year.

Better Weibo than Twitter?

Weibo aims to develop a unique and ever-expanding content ecosystem: it has thus launched an engaging feature such as Weibo Stories and focuses on attracting opinion leaders, celebrities and influencers to increase its social and viral nature.

At the beginning, Weibo had been a real revolution in China: an online place where political dissidents had begun to express their opinions, exchange views and organize themselves. It almost felt like not in China. But the government intervened by closing and censoring all accounts; in fact, creating a real “Chinese internet” with the features he preferred.

Here is Nestle’s account on Weibo, just to show you how much it looks like Twitter:

Renren: Facebook’s big brother

You have probably already heard of it because it has always been considered the big brother of Facebook , one of those figures perhaps a bit boring … but responsible, who teach you a lot of things.

It was created on December 8, 2005 and is one of the most used social networks in Asia (China and Japan). In May 2011 it achieved such success that it was listed on the stock exchange, anticipating and beating its western “rival” Facebook.

As I explained to you, I call it a bit of a boring big brother: for a long time it was only available in Chinese language, it had and maintains a minimalist graphic style with mainly white pages and blue themes (who reminds you? Yes, for the ‘precisely!). In short, it is a bit anachronistic and does not offer great features, but it is the first social network that the Chinese have known , made their own and seen it grow … so you can’t help but be a little fond of it.

Renren towards oblivion … or maybe not

At the end of December 2016, Renren had 35 million unique visitors. For years it has been the most used social network in China and has also spread to the United States. It was a real trend setter that amazed everyone for the speed of diffusion, given that – like another social network whose name escapes me now… LOL – it was born among university students of the main Chinese universities. In the last period WeChat and Weibo are gradually replacing this social giant given their more attractive graphics, ease of use and the fact that they are able to satisfy a greater number of social “needs”.

Who is one of the multinationals that works best on Renren? Yes, of course Coca-Cola! Here is what the fan page looks like:

Why haven’t Google, Mark and company (yet) arrived in China?

And – I would add – will they probably never get there? In fact , the access to the Internet (Chinese) is blocked for foreigners : there is no possibility of access for Google and the same goes for Facebook, despite the efforts of Mark Zuckerberg. China has decided to create its own cyberspace with its own rules, its own social networks and its own market leaders. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, China’s largest digital companies, are in full swing. In 2016, the digital market for China accounted for around 18% of total sales, compared to 8% for the US. What has come to be created is a real wall between West and East.

If we have to be honest, there was a glimmer in early August when the New York Times declared (in an extremely politically correct article) that Facebook had approved the launch of the Colorful Balloons app in China . Virtually identical to  Moments , a Facebook app to share and organize the photos on your smartphone with close friends and relatives, in a private way. The app was released by the company Youge Internet Technology and it is unclear whether the Chinese government knew that Mark was orchestrating the games before he released the article in question.

To get us back down to earth, however, is the recent news that Whatsapp (always Mark’s stuff, as you know) has been blocked again in China – after a first block in July – and it is believed that the reason is to be found in the encryption of messages that do not go down to the government at all.

Zero to zero, ball in the center.

Why are Chinese social networks not famous and used in the West?

Protectionism and the closure of the Chinese government have made themselves felt with recent tightening of controls: thousands of VPNs ( virtual private networks , i.e. private telecommunications networks, which use a public and shared transmission protocol) are prohibited and countless websites foreigners and applications are censored by the firewall.

In fact, people find themselves with several limitations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find information from the West, let alone decide to export ideas, technology, etc. from China … Finally, the question of privacy and the ethical differences between East and West , which have always been on the table, are called into question especially in this. a time when people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of online security in relation to who owns the data.

In short, it seems that Chinese social networks will remain Asian prerogative for quite some time and that Mark will remain our “only” deus ex machina!

[Update] The Chinese government will evaluate citizens with a social score. And WeChat becomes the official certifier

“ WeChat is watching” more and more, so much so that it has started a process of digitization of the identity of Chinese citizens assuming the role of official electronic certifier of the People’s Republic of China.

The Digital ID Card project requires citizens to be registered through facial recognition and fingerprinting. The card must then be  confirmed in special totems or desks , where you can certify your ID by providing the physical identity card, equipped with a chip. The objective with which the program was announced is to simplify the offer and use of services. In return, you are asked to grant all information, including your fingerprint. (Next step: the moon).

The news of the  Social Credit System had already leaked: starting from 2020, China will recognize a social score for its citizens to be converted into prizes. In the face of this WeChat update, things balance even more.

No, it’s not the Black Mirror episode you saw in Season 3. It is a matter of fact.

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