The most common question we get about social media in China is – how can we understand the difference between China’s social networks. Through some imagination, we hope to have provided the answer.
So often, China’s social networks are, quite naturally, compared to international networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is useful to a point – but it does not capture the specific way that Chinese engage and use local platforms – WeChat phone app, Weibo micro-blog, e-commerce platforms Tmall and JD.com, and emerging photo app, Nice.
Often the best way to understand seemingly complex realities is to give them a human context. So to make China’s social networks more understandable, we will create a character-based story.
So, here it is, imagine it …
The context of the story is a party, held at a big house with a balcony in a busy city. The guest list for the party covers a range of ages from late teenagers to people in their late 30s. In preparation for the party, everyone is told to bring something that matches the theme of the party – “Something I think everyone will like”.
JD.com can be described as the activity of everyone buying a present before the party (as JD.com has become the on-stop e-shop for everyone, this gives everyone the satisfaction they are buying something that “everyone likes”, more of a lifestyle positioning than e-commerce competitor, Tmall)
WeChat – Once people arrive at the party, they will initially huddle in smaller groups of people they know, or people that have the same interests as them (as WeChat works on closed-circuit logic, where you can only be invited to join a conversation, you can not ‘drop-in’ from outside of the social context.
Weibo – as the party progresses, some of the older guests (over 26) will want others to know about what is going on in the party, so they go out to the balcony and start yelling out messages to so passers-by know what is going on
NICE – is people taking selfies and photos at the party (as Nice is an increasingly popular local photo app)
QQ – as the party is happening, many of the attendees in the party under the age of 22 decide to leave the living room, and go to a brightly themed room, full of games (as QQ has captured the post-1995s with a more interactive and hobby-focussed platform)
Tmall – after the party, people have heard about new products from friends, so will now go out and buy them (as Tmall is increasingly becoming a more specialised e-commerce site – compared to JD.com – so e-shoppers tend to go there after they have a strong peer recommendation)
So, thinking of the party story –
WeChat = people talking in their own little groups
Weibo = is people going out to balcony, to ‘broadcast’ it to the world
QQ = is the cooler, more interactive room that younger people go to ‘hang-out’
Nice = the photos that are taken at the party by the cooler people
JD.com = the place to get ‘all the things’ you need before the party
Tmall = the place to get “the things you heard about at the party”