Social Media Has Limited Access in China?
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China is the leading and fastest-growing market in the world. In addition, their social media is also growing very rapidly. Many companies are trying to use social media as the first step to entering the market. However, there are some difficulties which foreign firms discovered while using the social media sites in China.
Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular social media sites not only in the United States, but globally. It is believed that most people would have an account of either one. Many organizations have seen social media as the most efficient channel to promote their products and services online. However, advertising through these popular social media sites like Facebook may not work if the target audience is in China; there is no way for local people to access those foreign social media sites in China because they are monitored by the Chinese government.
Local companies, like Sina Corporation, saw this as a huge opportunity if they could create a local platform like Facebook and Twitter in China. Consequently, Sina Weibo, which is a Chinese version of Facebook and Twitter, successfully launched in 2009 and more than 300 million users have registered. Local people love to update their personal blogs or pages by sharing photos and writing some interesting posts about what they found or experienced during their daily lives, which has the exact function of Twitter and Facebook.
In regard to Weibo and Twitter, their interfaces are very similar; users can write posts, upload photos, “follow” others’ accounts, and also customize their home pages. Meanwhile, Weibo is also similar to Facebook, but more localized to the Chinese people. It is believed that only people who can understand Chinese characters can use Weibo as it only displays in Chinese (except users type other foreign languages on their blogs). Users can upload videos only from YouKu, which is the Chinese version of YouTube. People can also chat with their friends through Weibo chat, play games in Weibo, and do “check-ins”.
However, what are the reasons the Chinese government prohibits the foreign social media sites to enter China, but then go on to create very similar ones?
As a person who grew up in Hong Kong and has traveled to China many times, I noticed that China is a fast-adapting country; whenever the Chinese people see something that has a great advantage towards the country, they will try to make a similar one which specifically benefits them, but at the same time, a lot of prohibited rules exist, such as Sina Weibo in this case. In other words, the government plays an important role throughout the country.
The online world has been monitored very carefully and deliberately by the local government. Online users should be very cautious about the contents they write because many new rules aim to prevent online rumors and controversial posts which disrupt the social order or stability of the country. If any users in Weibo make some negative judgment or rumors about any political issues or topics about communism in China, that post or even the account would be deleted by Sina, and other Chinese social media sites too. The local police can also arrest those users who are involved in those certain sensitive situations.
In 2008, Weiwei Ai, a Chinese contemporary artist, was hired as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. In the same year, he began to be involved in human rights activities and investigated government corruptions and cover-ups, especially the Sichuan schools corruption scandal that was a result of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Weiwei Ai tried to write blogs to express his thoughts about the Chinese government and talked about the serious political issues. His account was been deleted immediately and he was placed under house arrest by the government. Currently, the government is still keeping an eye on him. This is one of the most representative examples depicting how the Chinese government is very sensitive and strict to those political discussions.
In fact, this is one of the purposes that China is making their own platform where they can “do whatever they want” if they see anything that is improper (they have no control on foreign social media sites). You may say there is no freedom of speech in China, not only in the real world but also in the virtual world; it is very different from Western countries like the United States. It is believed that the Chinese government is protecting the society from those unnecessary troubles that may hurt one’s reputation in certain instances. Nevertheless, excluding any topics about Chinese politics and communism, online users can talk whatever they like, such as personal events, entertainment, or society issues.
Regarding the serious monitoring of the social media world in China, there is no doubt that the government is pressuring the companies to put a lot of attention on their online advertising. It is suggested that the messages should be more likely implicit and passive, without any provoking materials. If foreign companies plan to promote themselves in China through Weibo or other local social media sites, the most important criterion is to hire someone who understands the Chinese market well.
Once the advertisement is creative enough and without any negative messages, it would be promoted successfully through the social media sites because the online power in China is very strong. Users can “forward” the interesting ads or posts from the companies to their own blogs, and from one blog to another, so that everyone who has an account (in Weibo) could see the ads. For instance, Louis Vuitton should grab more “followers” (only one hundred thousand followers currently) in Weibo; it may post more videos featuring local celebrities holding the latest handbags.
China, is the most populous country in the globe and the world’s largest population of Internet users. As a result, there is a great competitive advantage for companies to compete via social media. Although the foreign social media sites are blocked in China and the government plays a serious role on monitoring the social network, once the companies cooperate with local social media firms like Sina and carefully cope with the contents of the ads, social media sites would be the best and most effective way to promote your firm and increase your reputation in the Chinese market.