Socializing Behind The Great Firewall
Earlier this year, Chinese social networking site RenRen, dubbed the Facebook of China, went public in the US with a highly anticipated debut on NASDAQ. The share price soared more than 56% over its IPO price on its first day of trading before closing the day up more than 20%. The market-leading Sina Weibo started as nothing more than a clone of the popular Twitter service. It is now a big part of Sina’s business and may soon be spun out of Sina, one of the original Chinese Internet media giants, with a potential of IPO in the US. The Internet industry in China has been in large part homegrown. However, the Great Firewall of China (GFW) has unintentionally produced a vibrant and potentially very lucrative cottage industry of copying, promising new Web services to China.
In conversation with my friends living in China, I couldn’t help but notice that there is a Chinese equivalent for every popular Web service I use. Tencent QQ was the pioneer when everyone (well everyone around my age at that time) was on ICQ. Then there was Baidu, China’s answer to Google. Now, for every new web innovation that gains traction outside the GFW, a copy to China service soon spawns to life. We have seen the overwhelming success of Sina Weibo (Twitter). In China, Jiepang (街旁) is the most widely used location-based check-in service, not Foursquare. Jiepang has leveraged its leadership position in China to enter into other Asian markets, like Taiwan and Hong Kong. For the cloud-based storage service, Dropbox, there are plenty of copycats, e.g. Kanbox (酷盘). If I want to share my pictures and daily rants on an informal blog, I might do it on Tumblr outside of China. In China, I can do the same thing on DianDian (点点), and among other similarly-positioned services, there are usually exact replicas of the user interface of their Western counterparts.
In this copy-to-China phenomenon, we can see that localization of these Web services and tailoring to local needs add value to the original services. Chinese Internet users are very open to new services and are increasingly seeking to interact with one another online. For marketers, to really become good at social media marketing and campaigns in the Greater China region, we must be fluent in social media in both China as well as the rest of the world. This is the rule of engagement: you must socialize, even behind the Great Firewall.