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Weibo, WeChat and the Future of Chinese Social Media
“China, not the U.S., is the most important country to watch as it relates to social and mobile.” –James Gross
With each passing day, our co-founder’s statement sounds less like an educated opinion and more like a hard fact. Simply consider the scale of the Chinese social + mobile market. The country has 618 million Internet users, and 500 million of them primarily access the web through mobile. The United States only has 319 million people in total.
But in order to understand China’s social + mobile landscape, you have to go beyond its massive scale. You have to understand what makes the Chinese market and the platforms that dominate it distinct from those in the United States.
Weibo’s Uncertain Future
Until recently, when most American marketers talked about Chinese social media platforms, we talked about “Weibo.” In China, Weibo actually refers to a type of microblogging platform, but we were all referring to Sina Weibo, a private company that operates a version of that kind of platform. In order to capitalize on the misunderstanding, the company actually dropped Sina from its name. It is now known simply as Weibo.
Weibo, which has a format similar to that of Twitter (users are limited to 140 characters per post), was on the lips of so many American marketers because of its massive user base. It had around 308 million users at the start of 2013. However, over the course of the next 12 months, 9 percent of its users – 28 million people – abandoned the platform. This exodus, which was largely in response to a government-mandated requirement that users register with their real names, didn’t stop the company from filing for an IPO in the U.S. on March 15th. But it has caused marketers here in the States to ask what other platforms might one day eclipse the microblogging service.
The Rise of WeChat
Owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, Wechat is a mobile messaging service that boasts over 300 million active users. Because it offers comparatively private forms of communication, it’s also where many former Weibo users fled to.
With 82 percent of the market share, WeChat dominates mobile messaging in China. And given that mobile messaging services have overtaken SMS as the largest communication channel among the Chinese, that’s no small achievement.
Like many other Chinese social media platforms, WeChat has a swiss-army knife approach to functionality. In addition to mobile messaging, users can send voice messages, share social moments, purchase virtual goods, send mobile payments, and meet new people via a format similar to that of chat roulette.
The success of WeChat has caused major competitors, most notably Facebook and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, to give the mobile messaging market increased attention. Facebook acquired WhatsApp and its more than 450 million global users for $19 billion. Alibaba, whose intense competition with Tencent for dominance over China’s Internet landscape is well documented, launched a mobile messaging app called Laiwang in 2013.
Simply put, China’s social + mobile landscape is massive, complex and wholly distinct from that of the United States. As China’s population of Internet users grows – the country is expected to have over 800 million Internet users by the end of 2015 – it’s increasingly important for American marketers to understand what makes the opportunity in China unique.
Our China Report
At Percolate, we make it our business to stay on top of global trends in audience and content as it relates to brands. If you want a leg up on the world’s most important country when it come to social and mobile, get a free copy of our latest report: Beyond 1.3 Billion: Understanding Social Media in China.