Since many of the most popular global digital sites are blocked in China, other companies are stepping up to fill the void.
China's "Great Firewall" blocks Twitter, Facebook, Google, and more. It truly is a different world. While only roughly 30 percent of China's population (1.3 billion) is online compared to roughly 75 percent in the U.S., that still equals some 390 million people, more than the entire U.S. population (310 million).
Here is a look at the six most important digital sites in China right now.
Weibo: This is the Twitter of China. China blocked Twitter and other Twitter-esque players (Fanfou.com) in 2009 when riots started in the Western region of Xinjiang. The government of China feared that these tools would help to power what has recently occurred in Tunisia and Egypt (by the way, Malcolm Gladwell, you were incorrect, the revolution was indeed tweeted). Interestingly enough, a limit of 140 characters in Chinese isn't as limited as it is in English. Each symbol expresses so much more than each English character. This micro-blogging site is owned by Sina, which is a publicly traded company.
RenRen: In 2006, Oak Pacific Interactive bought Xiaonei for around $4 million. It has since renamed it RenRen (in August 2009), which literally translates to "everyone." With an estimated 120 million users, it is trying to become the Facebook of China. The demographic of RenRen users is primarily high school and college students who access the Internet via cafes.
Kaixin001: Kaixin literally means "happy" in Chinese. This social network is cleaner and has an older, white-collar demographic than its competitor RenRen. Think Facebook (Kaixin) vs. MySpace (RenRen) circa 2007. Kaixin even has a knock-off of FarmVille called Happy Farm. Interestingly enough, users can use the same log-in to access RenRen and Kaixin001.
Taobao: Think of an online version of Walmart and you have Taobao. It has quickly become popular among the youth of China. It is similar to eBay in the fact that sellers sell used or new items either at a fixed cost or through an auction. Auctions make up a very small percentage of sales; most items are new merchandise sold at a fixed price. Started in 2003 by the Alibaba Group (which Yahoo owns a large stake in), Taobao is closing in on 400 million registered users and has more than 800 million product listings. Large Fortune 500 companies have opened Taobao stores – finding it easier to sell their product here than on their company sites.
Youku and Tudou: These are YouTube-like versions, but really it's more a YouTube/Hulu combination. As there are lighter copyright restrictions in China, as much as 70 percent of the content is professionally produced. This is different than American YouTube viewer patterns of shorter, user-generated videos. While Americans watch less than 15 minutes of YouTube videos per day, the youth in China spend up to an hour on these sites. Much of the content is foreign-produced and pirated.
If you plan to do business in China, you will need to learn up on these social media sites and others. It's also advised to get someone local to the market to assist you in setting up and executing on strategy. While these sites may appear to be akin to Western counterparts, they certainly have their own nuances and the culture differs dramatically.
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Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.
He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.
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