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.