The State of Social Media in China

China, with the world’s largest population at a whopping 1.357 billion individuals, also represents the largest market in the world when it comes to social media users.

But because China’s government has instituted a strict system of controls over Internet usage in the country and has blocked access to many Western social media websites via the Great Firewall of China, it is also one of the most unique social media markets.

Despite the challenges inherent to using the Internet in China and the country’s status as an emerging economy (average per capita annual income is just less than US$7,000 according to the World Bank), there are 618 million Internet users in China, or a 45.8 percent Internet penetration rate according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Web properties blocked in China include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and anything related to Google, including Google+, Gmail, and YouTube. This ban has created opportunities for domestic Chinese Internet companies including Tencent and Baidu.

Here are my top social media platforms for China: 


As a messaging platform similar to Skype, QQ offers comprehensive Web communication functions such as text messaging, video chat, voice chat, online, and features that allows users to send files on and offline. At June 2014, QQ’s monthly active users (MAU) hit 829 users.

First released in China in 1999 by Tencent, QQ is the granddaddy of Chinese social media and has since expanded to include services such as social games, music, shopping, and microblogging. In April, the service recorded 200 million simultaneous online users. As it is an older platform, QQ has had to offer additional features in order to stay relevant – and it did so with its instant messaging app Mobile QQ. After joining the mobile payment space with QQ Wallet, which was launched in July this year, newly integrated lifestyle services include shopping, restaurant deals, and even health monitoring.

Despite its reach and new features, QQ is rarely used for marketing, as its users are predominantly young students in rural areas who don’t have a lot of spending power. 


Lucky for marketers, Tencent has other social networks up its sleeve such as Qzone – a social networking website launched in 2005 that offers similar services to QQ such as blogging, photo sending, music, and videos.

Tencent 2014 first-quarter figures put Qzone monthly active users at 644 million.

Although Qzone is primarily a blogging platform, it also has similarities to Facebook, as brands can promote their products via fan pages. For example, according to the Nanjing Marketing Group, Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi sold its Redmi device on Qzone in March of this year and scooped up 15.18 million pre-orders in just one week. 


Rounding out the Tencent social media trifecta is WeChat. With its seemingly endless suite of features including voice and group chat, video call, walkie-talkie, and people nearby, WeChat is a formidable force in the Chinese social networking space.

At June 2014, WeChat had 438 million active monthly users.

Compared to its messaging rival WhatsApp, WeChat has been far more focused in monetizing its platform within the social and mobile spheres with its in-app e-commerce and services. Besides gifting friends and family a red pocket during Chinese New Year, WeChat users can upgrade while gaming, buy shoes, and even book a taxi.

Besides outreaching to users in-group, chats of up to 500 people, brands can also use WeChat to advertise in a number of ways. Brands can set up a WeChat service account, which allows them to engage with customers by sending targeted material and use affiliate sales channel Weidian to analyze their users’ shopping habits and preferences. Businesses can also place QR codes in high-trafficked places for users to follow their brand, use the location-based service function to target offers, and ads to nearby users, and use the “throw a bottle” feature to raise awareness about charities or discounts. 


For the month of September, Sina Weibo boasted 167 million monthly active users. And despite competition from newer player WeChat, financial results released in November, show Weibo’s third-quarter revenues grew 58 percent year-over-year to $84.1 million.

Weibo has an active presence in the Mainland market – especially among the younger demographic. Weibo’s sway has a lot to do with its influential user accounts such as business tycoons, Asian celebrities, and media figures. It initially launched as “Sina Weibo,” but shed the “Sina” prefix back in March.

Despite it being called China’s “Twitter clone,” Weibo is a far friendlier platform for marketers, as brands can promote their events and online stores through video, live broadcast, and celebrity interviews.

Coach is one of Weibo’s top brands as it focuses on interacting with followers and running mini-campaigns. For example, their 2013 “New York Style” campaign featured five Chinese fashion bloggers in a video, then had fans voting on their favorite street styles for a chance to win Coach merchandise. With more than 640,000 followers and 3,200 posts, Coach was named “Most Digitally Competent American Fashion Brand in China” in 2013 by the Digital IQ Index


People might be right to call this social network the “Facebook clone of China,” as RenRen not only fronts a similar layout and colors but also has a lot of the same features – such as profile creation, a friend’s list, fan pages, and a messaging application.

Its origins are also similar to Facebook, as it started out as a network exclusively for college students. As of June 30, 2014, RenRen’s social network had approximately 214 million activated users. With its large user base, access to the Mainland market, and similarities to Facebook – foreign brands can easily use RenRen to engage with Chinese consumers.

However, RenRen has made some missteps in recent years, such as almost entirely missing the mobile revolution, and as a result their user base has been declining.

There are signs it may follow a trajectory more like that of MySpace than Facebook.

Image via Shutterstock.

Related reading