China: social media, but not as you know it

We Are Social's Shanghai team along with local MD Pete Lin and Sandrine Plasseraud, MD at We Are Social in Paris.
Members of We Are Social’s Shanghai team along with local Managing Director Pete Lin and Sandrine Plasseraud, Managing Director at We Are Social in Paris.

I recently visited Shanghai for a business trip and quickly faced the fact that I was going to have to live for a week within a very different social media world to the one I was used to.

I’d be living without Google (therefore without any of my professional or personal emails), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and not to mention the sheer number of apps I use with my Facebook login (such as Spotify and TripAdvisor), for a full eight days. Of course, there are VPNs that enable you to circumvent this, but in practice, doing this is often slow and frustrating.

Despite the lack of Western platforms, digital and social is, of course, huge in China. Here, people use Baidu instead of Google. The ever growing WeChat is just one of the alternatives to the social networks we’re used to in the West. You can even pay for drinks at a vending machine using WeChat by scanning the drink’s QR Code, like my colleague Pete Lin, Managing Director at We Are Social in Shanghai, is doing in the picture below.


And talking about QR Codes, it’s surprising how WeChat has reinvented them. Each WeChat user will even have their own QR Code on business cards and emails, so people can scan it to connect with you. WeChat has become a place for clients to send briefs, where work meetings take place, and even where real-time requests happen, via short voice mails (Chinese phone operators don’t even offer a voice mail service, and in my opinion they’re right not to – it’s outdated).

So, yes, the internet and social media are very different, in a fascinating and incredibly innovative way. After a week spent between Shanghai and Beijing meeting people from We Are Social, BlueFocus and various clients, I’m about to leave, very tired, and with a few extra pounds thanks to the local hospitality! But above all, I leave intrigued by China’s impressive innovation capabilities. I’m curious about its future, and look forward to seeing the rise of WeChat, and whether the West can compete with the app. So, as WeChat is now my new toy, feel free to add me while scanning my personal QR Code from your account:


If you want to learn more about digital in China, you can read our report, or for brands looking to explore the Chinese market, get in touch with We Are Social in Shanghai.