When East Meets West: The Social Media Tycoons of China

This week's guest blog comes from Boston Buzz Builder, Megan Wang. Megan explores the social networking of China and how it is both different and similar to other popular social networking sites. China shouldn’t be a mysterious mirage anymore. The Chinese economy is booming with FDIs (foreign direct investments), skylines are going up, and the country is making a huge statement in almost all stateside publications. U.S. companies are searching for investments in Chinese ventures and more often than not, foreigners are picking up and moving to China to start businesses that would be less successful in their own native countries. The opportunities are limitless, and sometimes lawless – China’s social media scene is exactly on par with all of these developments and could quite possibly give Western social media platforms a run for its…impressions!

First, lets mock up a list of U.S. social media tycoons and their Chinese counterparts.

Facebook’s Chinese counterpart is best known as Renren, formally named Xiaonei (Mandarin for school garden – which was targeted mainly to college students, just like Facebook). After its initial development, with most of the design copied from the older version of Facebook – even the widely recognized blue banner. The founder, Wang Xing, sold the platform for $4 million. After seeing initial profit rise exponentially, a competitor known as Kaixin001 went live.

Whereas Facebook has opened itself to absolutely anyone who would like to have a profile page, its Chinese equivalents are each targeted towards specific age groups. Renren is for young adults, specifically college-level students. Kaixin001 caters toward the young professional (perhaps a little reminiscent of LinkedIn).

After Wang Xing sold his social networking site, Renren, he went on to develop Fanfou – the Chinese version of Twitter, which oddly enough looks exactly like the older version of Twitter.

The name Fanfou literally translates to “Have you eaten your meal or not?” During the Cultural Revolution food was scarce, and so to ask if one had eaten was the equivalent to Westerners asking, “How are you?” Perhaps this is a play on Twitter’s slogan “What are you doing?” or it’s the first step in original creativity. Decide as you may, but the discussion on piracy and copyright in China is an extremely debatable issue in itself.

Renren, Kaixin001 and Fanfou are major players in the social media game. Don’t forget Fanfou’s competitors DiGu and JiWai. There are also other platforms such as YouTube equivalents Tudou.com and Youku.

Now, why should all this matter?

Let’s get number friendly: China has 450 million Internet users, which is only around a third of its population. In comparison, the total population of the United States in 2010 was 308 million. Imagine every single person in the United States being online, and more! In addition, 92% of Chinese web-users utilize social media and each average having 2.78 social media accounts. This is why it matters; the surging power of the Chinese web-user cannot be ignored. By 2015, it is predicted that there will be 2.3 trillion active social media accounts. If Facebook is to one day have dominancy over the way we use the Internet, how will it operate against The Great Firewall of China?

Will Chinese social media users stay with platforms they are most comfortable with, or will they merge with the rest of the world? Share with us what you think will be the future of Eastern social media, and if it will ever meet with the West.