Design Mind, citing an April 2012 McKinsey report, has pointed out that China is the world’s most active social media population: 91 percent of people with an internet connection have used a social media site within the last six months, compared with 30 percent in Japan, 67 percent in the United States, and 70 percent in South Korea. Social media has been a presence in China for almost 14 years – since the launch of the Tencent online chat forums. In that span of time, social media consumers, their favorite platforms, and their needs have all changed, and the landscape has shifted accordingly.
The young professionals and working class people rising through China’s social ranks, earning more money and status, are becoming more conscious of their online presence. Researchers are finding that rural areas are adapting to new technology. China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) reported in July 2012 that more than half of that year’s new Internet users lived in the countryside.
As the population grows more tech savvy, it has become a teenage right of passage of sorts in China to establish both a QQ and a Qzone account. QQ is an instant messenger with 784 million active users as of September 2012. Qzone allows users to write blog posts, find music, and post pictures. According to a Credit Suisse Bank report of April 2011, Qzone has the highest penetration rate across all user segments compared to its competitors. Both platforms were created by Tencent.
Once young users pack off to college, however, Qzone starts to look babyish, and many seek a trendier option. The next stop on the route to social media maturity is Renren, supposedly China’s answer to Facebook. In 2011, Renren reported 170 million registered users, of which 95 million of them – most of them college-aged – were active. While young adults tend to keep their QQ and Qzone accounts, the academic components of Renren –including class discussion boards, supplementary materials, and curriculum updates – are attractive. Plus, Qzone and QQ are platforms where many parents are also active, another reason their children want to find a different network. But Renren has been losing popularity as it has been slower moving to mobile.
Right now, the microblogging site Sina Weibo is experiencing an explosion of popularity, with young people logging in for celebrity gossip, brand information, and the promise of expanding their network of personal contacts. It is also being used to address political grievances and leak information to the press that might otherwise be censored. Weixin (also known as WeChat), a messaging application, has been a major presence in China since its debut in 2011.
The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced in May 2012 that the number of mobile phone users in China exceeded 1 billion. Sales are driven at least in part by a desire for easy access to the Internet and its many opportunities for socializing. McKinsey found that 95 percent of Chinese living in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities are registered on a social media site. The greater openness and connectedness that online communities provide have done much to ensure their popularity.