Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Great Chinese Social Media Challenge

An interesting post on the "year ahead" (yes, like me you are probably getting sick of year-end wrap up/year-ahead prediction pieces) in social media on Marketing Profs. One of the predictions posits the possibility that one of China's top social networking sites, such as QZone, will make a play for U.S. audiences.

5. The year of the Chinese social network
We talk about Facebook’s China strategy, but what about QZone’s American strategy? The Chinese social network QZone is by some counts (though the data is a mess) larger than Facebook. They are more innovative about monetizing traffic. It is not far-fetched to imagine QZone launching a play in the U.S. And you can bet you’d be reading a flood of articles and blog posts imploring you to open your QZone accounts. There are 112 million Chinese who manage an active social profile, vs. under 60 million Americans. At some point, we may well be taking our social networking cues from Shanghai, not Silicon Valley.

While this is a nice idea, I really don't see this happening for a very long time (if ever). Here are some reasons:

1. The user experience and expectations of a Chinese audience is VASTLY different from what we expect in the U.S. For a test, try for yourself. Play with Yahoo China and Yahoo Taiwan for a little while. Then go back home and look at Yahoo U.S. Notice the differences? The Chinese sites are rambunctious, and let's say "noisy" to say the least. Chinese consumers are used to being stalked by advertisers and inundated with commercial noise. This doesn't play with a U.S. audience.

2. Do you have any friends on Facebook based in Greater China? Take a look at their status updates, what they are "fans" of, the pics they post and the games they are playing. There's a lot of astrology, fortune-telling, love story and posing with food. Chinese users (especially those in Taiwan) have taken to Facebook in HUGE numbers very recently. Why? Chinese developers created apps and games that appeal STRICTLY to the local audience. Spend enough time exploring this and you'll see that these users have created basically a parallel world or ghetto within Facebook proper. There's not a lot of Mafia Wars and joining causes in this universe, it's more "tending to your aquarium."

3. Has there EVER been a non-product-related Chinese brand success in the U.S.? There have been few Chinese brands that have even "made it" on these shores, perhaps Haier (Chinese white goods),  HTC (Taiwan mobile phone OEM), and Acer/Asus (Taiwan netbooks). Content or "soft" products and services? OK, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was a success. How about a China-created user experience/online company? Can you name any? Why would this be? It will most likely be a LONG time before Chinese content/service companies are in an economy that is mature enough to support the development of leading global brands. And, as the MANY missteps by Google, Myspace, Yahoo, et al, in Asia show, it is VERY HARD to build a global platform that can catch on like wildfire regardless of cultural roadblocks/preferences.

We live in an open society and have created some unique online/social experiences that with a lot of work can make some waves overseas. The restrictions on content/access, etc. in China are a huge burden for companies doing business there; conversely, a Chinese company doing business in the U.S. will come from that mindset, presenting challenges.

If a Chinese company, such as QZone, want to make headway in the U.S., they will be smart to take a few lessons from the pages of Facebook and A. Open their platform to U.S. developers; B. Open local development/sales offices; C. Encourage the "foreigners" here in the U.S. to create organic "societies" much like the Chinese ghettos on Facebook, and; D. Don't even think of trying to restrict content.

Thanks for reading.


  1. some good points there, but to expand it, has there been any good web based stuff coming out of non US shores? The US has a huge heads up on the internet thing.

    As for hardware, it's only been in the last 30 years that the Japanese brands had made the impact on a global scale. Even the South Koreans with LG and Samsung have only been making strides in the past 10 years or so.

    It take a lot more than these countries think to make a global impact. Sort of like Benq's failed attempt in buying Siemens. It doesn't work that way. And who thinks Lenovo has the same cache as IBM?

  2. thanks for the thoughts, very well said. those are great examples i would point to as well. it is true that most Asian countries are not at the level yet of being able to produce "innovative experiences." as you point out, it has only been in recent history that they have gotten to be able to produce innovative products. give them 20-30 years