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.