The Complete Guide to China’s Major Social Media Networks
On 17 April Sina Weibo, ‘China’s Twitter’, floated on the US stock market. This was celebrated in China. The night it happened a building in Nanjing’s CBD flashed the message: 祝贺微博上市, Congratulations to Weibo for floating on the stock exchange.
Reports suggested that less than expected was raised during the initial public offering (IPO). But I looked at the IPO in a different manner. For me it was an insight into the strength of social media in China.
In fact, I remember seeing numerous posts on WeChat of pictures of the illuminated sign on that building in Nanjing being shared. For me social media in China is ubiquitous.
For this reason I want to try and examine the whole social media landscape in China. Below I’ve compiled the most complete list of the major Chinese social media networks available on the internet. This is not an exhaustive list, but a well-organised guide to the most important and popular social networks in China right now.
All the platforms below are available on both mobile and desktop unless stated. For example, if a platform is only available on mobile as an app then I make this clear.
It’s also worth remembering that the most popular social media networks in the western world are blocked in China. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube are inaccessible to many Chinese netizens. This has lead to an explosion of similar services competing for the people who might otherwise use these platforms.
Categories of social media networks
Different people have different ways of categorising these platforms. I’ve attempted to identify categories that are comparable with the most prominent western social networks.
Many of the social networks have multiple uses but I’ll focus on the main use to categorise it. If it falls into more than one category I’ll make this clear. I’ll try to generalise to make comparison and categorisation easier to understand.
It’s inevitable that things change quickly in the social media world. Fads change and interests develop meaning that what is popular now is forgotten about next year. If there is anything you think that I’ve missed or that you want to suggest then please leave a comment at the end.
Categorising IM networks can be difficult primarily because of the rise of mobile- only IM services. For this guide I have differentiated mobile-only and services that can be used across different devices. The comparable western IM service is Twitter.
This is the quintessential IM service. It’s simple to use and is a great way to keep in contact with friends and plan your social events. It was originally a desktop application, but Tencent developed a mobile presence.
Tencent QQ now offers a variety of services to users including online games (QQ coins), QQ music, shopping, microblogging, and group and voice chat. You have to share your details to interact with people. People are unable to read your posts unless you expressly give permission.
It was reported in January 2013 that Tencent QQ had over 200 million monthly active users and that currently there are 623.3 million registered users of the service.
This platform is China Mobile’s IM offering. It was launched before Tencent’s WeChat, but is nowhere near as popular as its competitor. In 2013 it was reported that Feixin had 100 million monthly active users, mainly college students, but that the activity levels are very low.
This platform from Taobao is a business instant messaging service that vendors and buyers use to communicate with each other. Chinese consumers like to interact with sellers and bargain prior to making a purchase and this platform enables them to do this easily.
Chinese search engine giant, Baidu, has an instant messaging service. It’s not very popular but is an example of Baidu branching out from just being a search engine and into other internet services.
As I just pointed out there are a rising number of mobile-only messaging apps in the mould of WhatsApp. These types of apps are on the rise in China and it’s no surprise. There are 500 million mobile internet users in China which is 81% of the total amount of internet users.
WeChat is Tencent’s fast growing mobile social platform. It’s been reported that it has 355 million monthly active users and that 100 million registered users are based outside of China.
WeChat is everything; it’s part social network system, part e-commerce platform and part marketing tool. From personal experience it’s by far the most used mobile social network. It’s great for sharing pictures and keeping in contact with friends using the video and voice messaging functions.
China mobile and Chinese internet company NetEase have collaborated to make a mobile-only messenger to compete with WeChat. What makes Yixin different from its competitors is that users of the app can send free text and voice messages to any mobile phone users, whether they have the app or not.
Promoted as a mobile-only app for making and meeting friends, Momo has also been called a flirting app. It uses geo-positioning to find other app users in your local vicinity and you are then able to send messages direct to their phone. For this reason it can also be considered a dating network.
This is Alibaba’s offering into the mobile messaging market. It was made specifically to compete with the dominance of WeChat and to help Alibaba compete in the field of m-commerce. It lacks the number of users and engagement of WeChat.
Online video and music platforms are massively popular in China. Platforms similar to YouTube are widely used and are also a great source of advertising revenue for the companies that own them.
Unlike trying to stream video from foreign sites, such as YouTube, the Chinese video sharing sites work perfectly. You can find people streaming videos on desktop and on mobile all over the place, from a coffee shop to the metro.
These video hosting services are the most popular in China. In 2012 Youku bought rival Tudou to become the biggest video hosting group in China. The platform is very much in the style of YouTube.
Youku Tudou lets users upload videos of any length. The company has partnered with the most important license holders in China and they regularly upload popular media content onto the network.
Similar to Youku and Tudou, this platform from Sohu’s vast stable of online networks is very popular in China.
Alibaba bought this music-streaming platform in 2013 to add to its growing social portfolio. It is a very popular network amongst Chinese music fans of all genres.
This platform is a popular peer-to-peer video streaming application. It streams everything from Chinese soap operas to American blockbusters and everything in between.
The blog-publishing service, Blogger, owned by Google has many copies in China. These platforms are popular forms of expression and let people connect in a different way to the immediate interaction of IM services.
This blog hosting service is popular amongst bloggers who like to share their personal lives with the world, but users are charged a fee for hosting a blog on Blogbus.
This is a network where users can share information about online start-ups. Many online start-ups use this blog platform to learn about the latest trends on online technology and the IT world in China.
This platform is very much in the style of mashable.com. There is lots of content focused on social media and tech information.
The Sohu company blog covers many topics of interest to Chinese netizens.
The Sina blog is very popular amongst Chinese internet users.
This public form of sharing thoughts and opinions is still very popular in China. The fact that the amount of characters you can use is limited is not such a problem in Chinese as it is in the English language. The platforms are Chinese versions of Twitter, which is of course, blocked in China.
As I pointed out at the start, Sino Weibo began trading publically on 17 April 2014. It is best known as the Twitter of China. It’s been reported that there are 100 million microblog posts on Sina weibo every day.
Although it’s been claimed that the demise of Sina Weibo is close because of the rise of WeChat, it must be remembered that almost all Chinese internet users have a Sina Weibo account. This means that from a marketing perspective Sina Weibo cannot be discounted when wanting to move into the Chinese market.
This microblogging platform is another part of Tencent’s vast internet and e-commerce empire. It is in the same mould as Twitter, but is nowhere near as popular as Sina’s microblog.
Sohu Weibo is the microblog offering from Beijing based internet company Sohu. It is similar to the other Chinese microblogs, but is far behind Sina Weibo in terms of popularity.
Another Chinese microblog from the company that owns the popular internet portal 163.com.
Social Networking Services are used by groups of people to connect, organise their lives, share different media, share opinions, debate and have fun. Facebook is by far the most popular SNS in the western world. Below I look at the biggest and most popular social media networks that people are currently using in China.
This platform is part of Tencent’s stable of social networking platforms. If you are a QQ IM user then you can use this social network. Unlike the QQ IM, this service allows users to write blogs, keep diaries, send photos, listen to music, and watch videos.
However, Qzone services are not free, unlike the QQ IM. Users can only use every service without extra cost if they first purchase the ‘canary diamond’. There is a mobile version available to use Qzone on the move.
Renren is a true social network, originally popular amongst students. The platform lets users easily share their daily lives and thoughts with friends and family.
A nice feature of Renren is the way it recommends friends that you may know utilizing users school information. The recommendations are usually people going to the same school. It can be characterized as a college LinkedIn service.
It is still popular amongst students who tend to stop using the service once they leave college. After they graduate they start using other platforms that are more suitable to post study life. There are 194 million registered users of Renren and around 30% of traffic to the site comes from mobile.
Another popular SNS from Tencent, Pengyou has around 200 million users. It uses real names and there is an emphasis on making real friendships. The site is mainly used for social interactions although recently it has developed a corporate presence. Just like Facebook users can be ‘fans’ of certain brands and follow them, Pengyou allows companies to interact closely with consumers.
Kaixin 001 is owned by Oak Pacific Interactive, the same company that owns Renren. The success of Kaixin 001 stems from the fact that many western social networks are blocked in China. It copied many of the games that Facebook popularized and has kept a reputation as a platform for playing these types of social media games.
Forum and bulletin board systems are still popular in China, certainly more so than in western countries. Some of the most popular search engines have a BBS built in.
This internet forum provides a BBS, blog, microblog and photo-sharing service. It’s the most popular BBS network in China. The forum has even been used by politicians to gather support for their campaigns and to answer questions about important local issues.
These two forums are Shanghai-centric daily life networks. Users use these platforms to discover and share content about life in Shanghai.
Autohome, as the name suggests, is a platform that provides lots of information about automobiles. Features on the forum include pictures, prices and the newest cars on the market.
Mop.com, as the forum is also known, is the second most popular BBS network in China by users. It’s one of the original forums known for creating and spreading Chinese internet slang.
This is part of Baidu’s search engine and provides an online themed community, helping people to share information in a public forum. If a forum has not been created then Baidu will automatically do this using the specific search terms used.
Chinese consumers are very active when it comes to leaving reviews, whether places they have visited or service they have encountered online. Below I look at the most popular review platforms and I also look at other social networks that fit into this category.
This review service is a self-styled platform for searching local cities to find the best restaurants, bars, shopping, sports and leisure facilities. The user community leave reviews about quality and service.
Simply select a city or use the search function to find any information you want about the services and facilities in that city. It is by far the most popular review platform in China.
Douban began as a review-sharing platform for books, movies and music. Since it started in 2005 it has developed into one of the most popular lifestyle and culture social networks.
It is most popular amongst well-educated urbanites, students and white-collar workers. Douban claim that in 2013 they had 72 million registered users, with monthly visitors of nearly 200 million.
One feature that makes it different from its competitors is the fact that you don’t have to be registered to use the website. Registered users get recommendations on book, music and movies and can use the site as a social network whereas unregistered users can find ratings of books, movies and music.
This platform is a movie booking, review and information service. It also provides a booking service and information about different sports from badminton to basketball.
This is another service from Douban, but specifically for movies. It’s in the mould of Gewala.
This cooking platform provides everything you need to become a brilliant chef. It has numerous recipes and information about food. If you want to avoid eating rat at a Chinese barbecue then use this service to cook your own food. It’s available on mobile and desktop.
This fascinating mobile-only platform is a network where users can share information about their pets. Users share pictures, can arrange walks together with other pets and pet owners and can even adopt pets and find partners for their pets!
This movie review and information network is in a similar vein to IMBD, the popular movie review platform that is blocked in China.
Online shopping is massive in China. There are an estimated 302 million e-shoppers out of a total of 618 million internet users. Alibaba is by far the biggest e-commerce company in China, but other platforms make this a competitive market.
This online shopping platform is similar to eBay in that it is a C2C marketplace. It is by far China’s most well-known and popular online marketplace. It’s owned by China’s biggest e-commerce company, Alibaba.
Known as JD.com, formerly 360Buy, it is another very popular e-commerce platform in China. It provides a huge B2C marketplace and is known for its excellent delivery service.
Mainly a review service this platform also provides an e-commerce service and coupon service.
This platform is a group-buying service in the mould of Groupon. It provides daily deals and discounts on a variety of products, mainly skincare and cosmetics for women.
This group-buying platform provides daily deals on local consumer services offering deals on restaurants, bars and other related services.
This Nanjing based company was traditionally an electronics retailer, but has diversified as it has moved into e-commerce.
The growing Chinese middle class is changing the idea of tourism in China. No longer do people want to travel in big groups. This change has spawned numerous platforms, similar to TripAdvisor, for Chinese tourists to make their own travel plans and find out about places to visit.
This platform originally started as an online forum for Chinese outbound travellers. It has now expanded its service to include booking tickets. The community of users help each other by making recommendations and criticisms.
A service with over one million user-generated travel guides, Mafengwo provides travellers with information and recommendations on flights, visas, insurance and everything related to travelling abroad.
This platform claims to be ‘your personal travel consultant’. You can check everything from hotels to plane tickets online before buying through one of the third-party links.
Looking more like an online information portal rather than an online tourism platform, this service is packed full of travel advice for travellers to any destination.
Qunar’s popular platform helps users to engage with other online travellers in China, helping them to compare different travel services.
This offering from Baidu helps to connect online travellers. It is another stable in the company’s vast portfolio of online social platforms.
The platforms I examine below are very different. The unifying feature is that they are all used to find and meet new people. The best comparison in the west is Match.com, but others may be considered closer to IM services rather than ‘real’ dating networks.
Jiayuan is the largest online dating service in China. This platform is focused on helping Chinese singles to find marriage and discourages short-term flings. It’s publically traded on the Nasdaq.
Baihe is the second biggest online dating service in China. This platform is focused on helping Chinese singles to find love and marriage.
Similar to the previous two dating platforms, Zhenai is popular amongst urban professionals seeking long-term relationships.
This mobile-only dating service app has a difference. The app allows you to connect with people in your immediate area, using geo-positioning, for quick hook-ups. It is popular amongst foreigners and Chinese students.
Networking platforms for business such as LinkedIn are on the rise in China, but in general the Chinese versions are not very popular. This is due to the cultural differences in making business connections in China. But with the rise of these types of networks habits are slowly changing.
This platform is a place for students seeking job opportunities, internships and experience to connect with a community of like-minded professionals.
This service from Renren provides a mobile platform to sharing your professional experience among a community in the same way as LinkedIn.
These platforms are somewhere between ‘proper’ blogging and microblogging. Popular among literary and artistic youth, they can be seen as platforms that young people use to share opinions with their peers.
Qing is owned by Sina and is another component of its vast social media network presence including the Sina web portal, microblogging platform and Aiwen.
This is an extension of Renren’s social networking portfolio and is tailored towards white-collar professionals.
This light blog is devoted to cartoons popular among young people, who write blog posts about their favorite characters.
Diandian is part light blog, but mainly a picture sharing platform.
Photo sharing sites in China are pretty much the same as their western equivalents such as Instagram. Some of the platforms cross into the light blogging space, but because of the focus on pictures I have included them in this section.
Similar to Pinterest, this picture sharing platform is the one that stands out from the crowd in China. It follows the same idea behind Pinterest, which is to ‘save and share stuff you love online’.
Similar to Huaban this simple platform lets users share photos with their community.
Likened to Tumblr, which is blocked in China, Diandian is mainly used for photo-sharing. The community can participate in real-time personal interest sharing and publishing pictures. It is similar to a light blog.
This mobile-only app is a voice-messaging photo-sharing platform. It crosses the voice-messaging features popular in China with an Instagram photo-sharing service.
Video sharing differs from the online video platforms. The videos shared are made by users of the services. Western video sharing platforms such as Vine are increasing in popularity and the same is true in China.
Tencent’s mobile-only video sharing app is in a similar mould to Vine. Users can record an eight second video clip and share this amongst their followers.
Wikipedia is huge and is becoming a more reliable and respected source of information. The same is true in China and some of the platforms below are in fact seen as very reliable, in contrast to Wikipedia, which is sometimes questioned.
This is the most popular encyclopaedia platform among Chinese netizens. It is part of Baidu’s search engine and in English is called Baidu Know. It is a collective intelligence platform that encourages users to share knowledge.
Specialising in natural science and engineering, this platform is popular amongst college students. Users can compose a topic, find questions and answers and take part in discussion groups.
The name of the platform means, in old Chinese, ‘Do you know?’ It has been likened to Quora, but differs in that it is more focused on giving answers rather than discussion.
Users can pose and engage in tough questions that are sometimes censored in the mainstream Chinese press. The best answers are then upvoted by the community of users.
It is claimed that at the end of 2013 Zhihu had 10 million monthly active users.
Another social platform from Sina, this is a simple question and answer search engine. It is sometimes called iAsk.
These platforms are a cross between e-commerce and reviews sites; community based e-commerce, or social e-commerce, if you like. They are places where people can discuss products and explore different opinions before, eventually, purchasing their desired choice.
Popular amongst middle class women, these social shopping platforms help users find clothes and cosmetics suited to them. The products listed come from third-party e-commerce stores such as Taobao. When users decide to purchase a product they are re-directed to one of these stores.
These platforms are fashion guides helping communities of like-minded people discuss the latest trends and then directing them where to purchase these products at the best prices. They make money by using advertising and commission from directing consumers to e-commerce platforms.
In a similar vein to fancy.com, this social platform lets users find interesting products and post them on the network. Other users can vote for their favourite products before Guoku adds the products to the network for users to buy.
This is a mobile-only version of social shopping from Taobao.
How regularly do you use these social networks? Do you think there is anything missing from this list? Please leave a comment and join in the discussion.