Social, Digital and Mobile in China

Simon Kemp

Continuing our series of reports into the social, digital and mobile landscape across Asia, today we’re delighted to share our country report on China.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the bigger reports in the series, with some spectacular numbers – some highlights include:

More than all these facts, however, it’s the speed of growth in China’s social and digital use that is so exciting. Adoption of Weibo microblogging services has exploded in 2011, while location-based services like Jiepang are taking off in a very big way. And if this year is anything to go by, the rate of change will only continue to accelerate in 2012.

However, the accuracy of statistics in China remains an issue. We see numerous reports on the social and digital scene in China each week, and each one tells a slightly different story.

There is also a lot of misinformation about the social and digital scene in China, with political agendas often getting in the way of objective reporting. These range from sensationalist stories on censorship, to reliance on old data that no longer represents the actual interests, preferences, or behaviour of Chinese netizens.

An interesting example of this misinformation came in the form of this infographic from G+ (not the Google network) that Mashable shared last week:

China's answer to social networking

There is clearly plenty of juicy info in there, but there’s a distinct Western bias in the reporting. It’s vital to understand that, while there are many parallels between platforms around the world, Chinese (and other local Asian) platforms are not automatically ‘knock-offs’ of Western equivalents.

Indeed, some of the Western services outlined in the infographic above launched after their Chinese equivalents – a fact discussed at length in this article on the Asian tech blog, Penn Olson. As the author, C. Custer, points out:

If you’re going to talk about copycats, please spend some time using these services first. Calling Sina Weibo a “copycat platform” is just dumb. Calling Youku a copycat platform might have made sense once, but it doesn’t anymore. Calling Happy Farm a copy of Farmville is straight-up ignorant, lazy, and wrong. And being lazy when writing about Chinese censorship does readers a disservice if you want them to actually understand the market.

It’s the last sentence that rings truest for us – in order for brands around the world to be able to develop an effective, strategic approach to global social media, they need accurate and balanced data that allow them to examine platforms and behaviours beyond what they already know and are comfortable with.

What’s more, this is only going to get more important as brands’ audiences become ever more global.

It’s clear that the US and Europe continue to be highly socially active online, but as our report above shows, the ‘population’ of QQ alone is almost as big as the population of these two regions combined.

We all know that China is big. It’s the fact it’s still getting bigger – to the tune of 10 million new internet users every month – that matters. That’s huge.

To put that number in perspective: in the time it’s taken you to read this post, more than 1,000 Chinese people will have used the internet for the first time. Given that the average web user in China spends 2½ hours on the net every day, those people are only going to add even more weight to China’s online momentum.

It’s time to get to know China in much more accurate detail.