The Uniqueness of Social Media in China – 2


images-9Part 2: Contents:

-Government Control
-Entertainment Focused
-References

Government Control

Background
There has never been any doubt surrounding the government’s ability to censor and control the internet. With regular blocking of Google, continued blocking of Western SNS sites such as Facebook, Twitter and even Chinese SNS websites such as Fanfou.com.cn, the government have control of social media.

This control has become even more obvious in recent months, with the government developing internet legislation research departments, potentially enforcing website blocking via the Greendam Mandate, and even introducing new SNS regulation law. The latter point I will elaborate, as it involves the creation of a law allowing for the greater potential of Government buy-in within China’s SNS (this is in stark contrast to the West where government buy-in to SNS would meet with social uproar):

Simply put, SNS sites can apply for licensing by the government, which allows some government control in Chinese SNS operations, but also has benefits for the SNS with government investment, backing and promotion; however, the new law introduced by the government means those who do not seek licensing, wanting to remain independent, could face compulsory licensing by the government. If the SNS did not want to become licensed it could equally be culled by the government.

Therefore the government have technically restricted independence from SNS sites. Even if the government did not enforce the licensing mandate on an SNS site, the regulation also allows for the government buy-in, meaning the government could slowly invest in sites such asRenren.com and therefore increase control on services and output in this way. This is definitely having an impact on in what way the gender gap is influenced by local traditions. If you want to go back to part 1 of this topic, click here.

Perhaps the biggest implication of these regulations, is the potential for all SNS sites to be government controlled. The government can easily cull or alienate any SNS which does not follow the trend of becoming licensed by the government, or simply push it out of the market with investment and backing of their government controlled SNS.

Unique implication for Chinese social media
Creating social media campaigns in China may be more tricky due to government red-tape and less freedom to express the brand/product via means you may have used in the West. For this reason, it is important to adopt your campaign to fit closely with the terms and conditions of the SNS.

With social media undergoing large changes in legislation and constantly changing blocks on various SNS, it could be considered risky to invest a large amount of capital on certain SNS that are not favored by the government or are not licensed. For example, it would obviously be a large waste of time to invest in Twitter, Fanfou.com.cn or Facebook.com in China as the sites are currently blocked. Although many users are using CGI proxies to get around the Chinese firewall, the government are constantly cracking down, and, consequently, many large social media owners in the West bare little significance in China.

Entertainment Focused

Background

Many Chinese users rely on online social networking sites as a primary source of cheap and easily accessible entertainment at any time. Consequently, online social networks serve on a secondary level for practical communication, with killing time via amusement and games -often shared via instant messaging with others- acting as the primary role for social networking.

The recent Chinese sensation ‘Parking Wars’ is a perfect example of how netizens use SNS primarily for entertainment. The game was most popular among White Collar Workers, a group you would expect in the West to use SNS primarily for communication.

In the game users earn virtual cash for parking on their friend’s lots and for ticketing friends when they park ‘illegally’. With this virtual money, users can then purchase more expensive cars. Every day millions of white-collar workers are updating their ‘parking status’ on their Xiaonai or 51.comaccounts.

This is a clear example of the importance of shared entertainment on SNS sites as the primary means for interaction. It is also important to note, whilst many will play SNS games in the West, it is never the primary means for using an SNS site like Facebook, and the games are often played in a less socially interactive way (although the West is starting to change with SNS games such as Bejeweled).

To fully understand the importance of gaming entertainment in Chinese online behavior, beyond social media, it is important to consider online gaming as a whole. The Chinese are prolific in participation within online gaming worlds; Internet cafes continue to thrive in China for this simple reason, and the Chinese government have identified Internet Addiction as a disease in China due to many young people failing to pry themselves away from games such as World of Warcraft (one of the most popular online games). A startling fact is that over 50% of all global World of Warcraft players are young Chinese men (Source, AdAge).

Gaming is a core activity in Chinese online behavior, arguably acting as a primal discharge for many young males in China. Whether it is aggression, boredom or convenience, entertainment via SNS games and other SNS activities has grown from a generation of general internet behavior where ‘fun’ is the primary drive for surfing.

Beyond gaming, Chinese netizens demonstrate the use of social media for entertainment purposes when considering Chinese video sharing communities: Almost 90% of all Chinese netizens said they actively watched video clips online compared to just 79% and 83% respectively in the UK and US (Wave 4, UM). Chinese netizens are clearly adopting online video more in their internet behavior.

Applying this directly to social media is possible with further statistics from UM’s Wave 4 study: it shows that whilst 58% of Chinese respondents had actively uploaded videos to a video sharing website, only 27% and 29% had in the UK and US respectively. This is a clear indication of social media sites, such as video sharing communities and SNS, acting primarily as interactive entertainment portals for Chinese netizens.

Unique implication for Chinese social media

Compared to the West, social media in China should focus more on fun and entertainment, and less on communication and information. The Chinese netizen is usually an experienced entertainment-seeker who uses social media to play games and watch video clips, communicating passively via the medium of entertainment. For this reason social media sites should put their entertainment value at the foreground of any advertising promotion in China, as well as the microsite homepage; this will make it easy for netizens to digest, communicate and share the entertainment benefits of the social media site on messaging tools like QQ and MSN.

The young Chinese internet audience largely see gaming at the heart of their internet activity; therefore games should be one of the core features within any Chinese social media campaign. The games should be varied and develop a difficulty curve so the netizen remains engaged on the social media site. The game should offer rewards and bonuses which are publicized within the community and therefore reward the netizen’s ego.

Ofcourse, any social media Campaign will need to get some message, product or information across to the netizen, and for this reason it is important to build this information into the game. The game can easily be themed around the product/brand, or provide information at logical junctures in the game.

In keeping with the heavy online entertainment consumption of Chinese netizens, online videos could also serve as a major element in the social media site. Because Chinese netizens are such avid watchers of clips, these can be the perfect platform for providing information in an entertaining way, and also encourage expression in Chinese netizens: For example, an easy way to continue the lifecycle of video clips and reward expression/ promote freedom of Chinese netizens’ online behavior is to host user submitted videos and clips. This can really create the feeling of engagement between Chinese netizens and the brand, and will put less pressure on client generated clips.