Field Report: Shanghai and China’s Social Web

It’s been three years since I’ve been back to China (see all my posts on Asia) to report on the local web scene but am now in Shanghai and have met with a handful of folks that are looking at social business within China. Don’t take this as a proper research report, but just sharing what I heard from speaking to a handful of professionals who are looking at the social web, culture, and business such as Sam Flemming, Bryce Whitwam, and hearing from Nicolas Zurstrassen of Nike present at the Social Media event where I was speaking.

Field Report: Shanghai and China’s Social Web, What I Learned:
Caveat:  Don’t take this as complete research, it’s just based on what I learned in a short period of time, you should connect with China experts who I listed out below.

  • China’s online sphere already large and growing –with increased disposable income. The largest internet population in the world, 400mm of the 1.3 billion Chinese citizens are online, nearly one third and growing also with an increase in wealth. Google’s announcement of AdMob indicated they are tracking the top visited websites across the world, and wow, has the landscape changed.  See this list of the visited websites around the globe, many of them are Chinese such as Baidu (#8), Tencent QQ (#9), and Sina (#11).
  • Chinese internet marketing requires a specialized approach. The Chinese online community is vastly different than the West, There are different tools, websites, behaviors, and as a result different takes.  I’ve outlined my findings from 3 years ago, if you want to see my previous field notes in this four part series.
  • Brands and consumers go to Social Networking Sites (SNS) –not create their own. In the west, it’s common for brands to have their own online community that’s branded using a community platform.  Yet, from what I heard, it’s more common for brands to join customers where they are in SNS sites like QQ, in order to reach consumers.  They will often have to ‘pay to play’ the SNS sites to participate.  Secondly, I met with CIC, who paid me to speak at their event, they are a brand monitoring company that focuses specifically on the online discussion in mainland China for brands.
  • Brands are getting engaged with social marketing: At the conference, Nike presented their case study, in which they’ve reached Chinese young men who are basketball players.  They created a community on QQ called “Ballers” that focuses on a lifestyle play that encourages them to connect to each other, organize, and share tips.  Also present were L’Oreal, who has had recent success with the China Luxury community.  Also, Ford has had early successes promoting their new car Fiesta, by deploying on QQ (SNS) and YouKu. (Like YouTube)
  • Facebook and Twitter are basically aren’t relevant: Both of these western owned sites are blocked by the firewall (bitly, seesmic and a few others blogs I regularly read), and I was unable to access them from my hotel. I was able to access them via my iPhone using the international data plan, and all Tweets were done by SMS.  Those who really care about the social space have VPNs that can leap over the firewall.
  • Consumer Brand Backlashes Occur Online: Like all markets, consumers are asserting themselves using mobile and online channels.  At the Social Media Conference, it was discussed a few times about the HP issues with products and how netizens use the web to share their concerns (see video). Also, a holiday called consumer day, netizens will assert their voices over brands, and get educated on how to protect themselves.  Was told that blackberries are still common for the business audience as they are often supplied by the employer, so you’ll need to know your mobile consumer behaviors before building platform specific apps for China.

Recommendations For Brands Entering Social Business in China

  1. Know the Socialgraphics of your market: Understanding the nuances of the individual market is key.  In fact, with China being a behemoth of online netizens, a dedicated approach is required.  Just as you know the demographics and psyhographics of your online consumers, you’ll need to know how they use the social web, and that’s called socialgraphics.
  2. Your Facebook Strategy Need Not Apply: Don’t expect your North American strategy in social business and marketing to work in China, you need to find experts and hire experts that understand the nuances.  You’ll need to know the specific internet memes here, how the discussions evolve, and how folks communicate with each other.  Remember, each culture has their own social networking adoption (although Facebook continues to drive global dominance, however I don’t expect that to be the case for China) so you’ll need to rethink your strategy.
  3. Governance and Organizational Model Key for Social Marketing Success. Take a look at your social business organizational model and really ascertain which of the five models is best for your global business, in particular, the Coordinated, Dandelion, may be most effective, and in some cases Organic.

I also was able to enjoy the city, and visit the massive 2010 Expo (bigger than the Beijing Olympics, estimated costs at over 40 billion dollars) and was amazed by the British, Dutch, and many other international pavilions. Shanghai has undergone incredible growth since I was here 10 years ago, and the growing skyline was impressive.  I joined the Geeks on a Plane tour for the Shanghai events, including acceding the second tallest building in the world, the Shanghai World Financial Tower.  The recently expanded subway was clean and well run, especially compared to the aging NYC subway and SF transit in my own area.

Again, I don’t claim to be an expert in China and it’s netizens (the term used for the social web and community) so I encourage you to connect with Paul Denlinger, Yat Siu, Elliot Ng, Sam Flemming, Bryce Whitwam, Isaac Mao, Kaiser Kuo, Napoleon Biggs, Christine Lu, and Rebecca McKinnon all who I’ve spent time in person with and turn to them for information about China.

Posting will be light for the next week, (I’ll make a brief stop by Hong Kong’s Web Wednesday) I’m taking my first vacation since I started my business as a partner at the Altimeter Group, 10 months ago.  See you soon.

Update: NPR quotes from this blog.

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  • Looking forward to seeing your pictures on Flickr!

  • Looking forward to seeing your pictures on Flickr!

  • Looking forward to seeing your pictures on Flickr!

  • Yes, I took quite a few, it'll take me another week to post them

  • Yes, I took quite a few, it'll take me another week to post them

  • Yes, China is developing very differently from the rest of the world. Some of this is due to government policies favoring local brands and websites, while other changes are mainly due to different user habits which have perpetuated in China (PRC), making it very different from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    Would say that biggest differences are overwhelming lead Tencent's QQ instant messaging service has had in China. While AOL was never able to effectively monetize its ICQ investment, Tencent has been ingenious at collecting fees based on QQ, and has developed a highly profitable model with more than 600M active user accounts.

    The other success area has been the Chinese BBS sites, which may seem antiquated in the west, but have been very effective for gathering news and information on products. Many of them use open source which is based on Comsenz's offering.

    More recently has been the rise of social gaming, and now e-commerce, for which Taobao (owned by Alibaba) is the main player. It took a long while for e-commerce to take off, but now it finally is.

    When it comes to e-commerce, I always recommend to western brands that they plug into the main Chinese destination sites and build on their platforms, instead of trying to build their own sites which are very costly, and often ineffective, to market. It's smarter and easier to go where the people already are.

    One area where I see China being slower than Hong Kong and Taiwan are location-based apps; this is because of Chinese government restrictions on accuracy. My guess is that it may take a while for the Chinese govt regulatory authorities to reach consensus on how to open this up. In the meantime, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which do not have these restrictions, will move on faster ahead. When the Chinese govt's policies are clarified, then China will catch up.

    I recently wrote an article for Forbes.com The China Tracker on this subject, and how it affects Hong Kong:
    http://blogs.forbes.com/china/2010/05/11/why-ho

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  • Curious to hear more about the Nike Basketball community. Do you recall who presented the case study? Enjoy your trip. Sounds fun and educational.

  • Curious to hear more about the Nike Basketball community. Do you recall who presented the case study? Enjoy your trip. Sounds fun and educational.

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  • Thanks Jeremiah – good insights and very useful, particularly the mobile handset elements. It seems China has leapfrogged a web generation and the Western companies are now playing catch up, confused as many still seem about the business benefits of social networks. Do you have any insights into how what appears to be a Western-oriented approach to the Semantic Web development will embrace China's net dominance?

  • Thanks Jeremiah – good insights and very useful, particularly the mobile handset elements. It seems China has leapfrogged a web generation and the Western companies are now playing catch up, confused as many still seem about the business benefits of social networks. Do you have any insights into how what appears to be a Western-oriented approach to the Semantic Web development will embrace China's net dominance?

  • Peter

    The teams that were presenting are reading this blog, so maybe the'll chime in. I found a few links, here's the Western version on Facebook
    http://www.nike.com/nikeos/p/nikebasketball/en_

    Their campaign was done in Tencent QQ.

  • Peter

    The teams that were presenting are reading this blog, so maybe the'll chime in. I found a few links, here's the Western version on Facebook
    http://www.nike.com/nikeos/p/nikebasketball/en_

    Their campaign was done in Tencent QQ.

  • Paul it's always great to hear your insights. Everyone, Paul is one of those I rely on and listed at the bottom of the post.

  • Paul it's always great to hear your insights. Everyone, Paul is one of those I rely on and listed at the bottom of the post.

  • Thanks, Jeremiah. I was just talking to Richard Ting at RGA about this site. They helped Nike Basketball build it out, and we're wrangling with the idea of giving Ballers Network its own site. It's currently fully baked into Facebook.

    I'm going to read about Tencent QQ. Appreciate the feedback.

  • Thanks, Jeremiah. I was just talking to Richard Ting at RGA about this site. They helped Nike Basketball build it out, and we're wrangling with the idea of giving Ballers Network its own site. It's currently fully baked into Facebook.

    I'm going to read about Tencent QQ. Appreciate the feedback.

  • “Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!

  • What a comprehensive insight on China's Social Web.

    I've always wanted to blog about the use of Social Media in different cultures and I reckon your post will be the one I'll build upon.

    IMHO there has to be more acadamemic research on the topic.

    The field of intercultural communication offers some principles, e.g. Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-c

    The IBM research is quite old, but one needs at least a couple of standards to start.

    If anyone could share some links to research approaches, that'd be great!

    Cheers,
    Stefan

  • What a comprehensive insight on China's Social Web.

    I've always wanted to blog about the use of Social Media in different cultures and I reckon your post will be the one I'll build upon.

    IMHO there has to be more acadamemic research on the topic.

    The field of intercultural communication offers some principles, e.g. Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions: http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-c

    The IBM research is quite old, but one needs at least a couple of standards to start.

    If anyone could share some links to research approaches, that'd be great!

    Cheers,
    Stefan

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  • That's why at Stepcase, we chose Hong Kong as the base over China. Some innovations like location-based services have to be iterated outside of China until it catches up. I agree with Paul (and had a great discussion with him afterwards) where Hong Kong has its advantage.

  • That's why at Stepcase, we chose Hong Kong as the base over China. Some innovations like location-based services have to be iterated outside of China until it catches up. I agree with Paul (and had a great discussion with him afterwards) where Hong Kong has its advantage.

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  • Romjck

    Those audiences are very, very different, even from artist to artists. Those are different audiences that will demand different experiences. Right now, aside from some skinning, “enterprise model” seems to mean the same user experience and flow for every site. In reality a country artist may see fans that want very different content and different interactions from the fans of an alternative rock artist. It is something ONEsite noticed very early on with radio – even stations needed different experiences.
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  • Romjck

    Those audiences are very, very different, even from artist to artists. Those are different audiences that will demand different experiences. Right now, aside from some skinning, “enterprise model” seems to mean the same user experience and flow for every site. In reality a country artist may see fans that want very different content and different interactions from the fans of an alternative rock artist. It is something ONEsite noticed very early on with radio – even stations needed different experiences.
    San Diego Boxes

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  • Anonymous

    It is clear that the brand has its own online community, which is the brand name through the Forum. Shanghai and have a handful of people who believe that social enterprises in China.

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    China is competing with the rest of the world in terms of digital, social and mobile usage. The overall findings were not what people expected for the most part, but they come as no surprise to several industry professionals.