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  • Marta Compagno

5 Differences Between Chinese and Western Social Media

Updated: Mar 13, 2019

Chinese vs Western: a Different Social Media Landscape

Are you looking for an article about Chinese social media marketing?

You don’t need to search any further, this is exactly what you are searching for.

The Chinese social media market is one of the most active, fastest-growing and high potential markets in the world. Due to limited access to certain Western sites, the most popular networking platforms used in the West are not used by the Chinese. The market is thus dominated by domestic social media such as WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Baidu, Youku and many others.

For foreign companies that wish to venture into the social media market in China or integrate their businesses with social media, it’s important to understand some key differences in the Chinese social media scenario (platforms, content and consumers) which can help them to shape the most efficient social-media strategy.

The Chinese social media landscape is completely different and complicated: platforms, competitors and targets are significantly different when compared with western medias.

When a company decides to plan a new communication in China they should rely on a Chinese marketing agency that can help with an initial analysis of the Chinese market, competitors and target. This step will be crucial in order to plan the right communication strategy.

In this post we’d like to show you the biggest difference between a Chinese and Western scenario. Let’s dive right in.

1. Chinese Social Media Platforms

China’s social media landscape is vibrant and unique.

The number of social media users has been growing since the first day, and it’s impossible to stop it. In fact, as Statista shows in the chart below, by 2022 social media users in China will number some 725 million.

Although most of the major western social networks have been restricted in China, this has not precluded the Chinese from developing their own social media networks to meet the same needs of society. So, which are the major players in the Chinese social media market?

1.1 WeChat

WeChat is among the world's largest social networks with more than a billion monthly active users. Even though WeChat is often referred to as the “Chinese WhatsApp”, it is not just another app for messaging and calling.

Think of all the things you can do with your smartphone today: whether it’s messaging a friend, sharing photos, booking taxis, finding a hotel, paying bills, ordering food, playing games and so much more, in China you can do all of this with WeChat.

WeChat provides a user experience like no other app, therefore it essential to consumers in China

1.2 Weibo

Weibo is a multimedia micro-blogging platform where users can upload their own posts, photos, videos, share content, follow other users’ accounts and be up to date with the latest news.

Celebrities, brands, and key opinion leaders often leverage Weibo. Weibo is usually known as the Chinese counterpart of Twitter but in terms of numbers, the network appears to have overtaken Twitter with 431 million active users to Twitter’s 335 million*.

Weibo is used by over 30% of internet users in China therefore it is a key social network to be engaging with if you are attempting to enter the Chinese market.

1.3 QQ

QQ is a messenger platform with more than 803 million monthly active users*.

Often compared to Facebook Messenger, QQ offers users a bigger variety of services including online games, music, shopping, micro-blogging and movies.

QQ doesn’t require a phone number to register like WeChat since each user has a unique numerical ID for their account. QQ has also a very popular desktop version which is used for business and corporate communication especially among white-collar workers.

2. Chinese Video Platforms

As of June 2018, China's online video users reached 609 million, accounting for 76% of the total Internet users*; in addition, 30% of the Chinese internet population watches online videos everyday*.

Youku, Aiqiyi and Tencent Video, “the YouTube of China”, are among the most popular video sharing platforms and video hosting service in China.

On these platforms, users can share their content as well as stream or download movies and TV shows.

3. The Importance of Mobile in China

With 802 million internet users* China commands the world’s biggest Internet user base and it is increasingly dominating the social media landscape. By comparison, the United States has an estimated 300 million internet users.

Most interestingly, China has the world’s most active environment for social media: online users spend more than 40% of their time online on social media*, and more than 80% of Chinese social-media users have multiple social-media accounts on different local platforms. That means a more exposure to content, and more interactions. 

Smartphones are currently the dominant tool for Chinese people to access internet: 788 million are mobile users which represent the 98% of the country's total user base*. While Chinese users rely on their phones to manage most of their business and leisure activities, in Western countries many social media platforms still have a high percentage of PC and laptop users.

Thus, it is important to understand that “mobile first” has become an indispensable facet of everyday life in China, where people consume most of their media on their phones.

4. Content Trends in China

In the era of excess of information, high-quality content has become extraordinarily valuable. Chinese internet users spend on average 27.7 hours online per week looking for information, good content and a great user experience. 

As “content-first marketing” has become crucial, the major domestic news platforms such as Tencent, Weibo, Baidu, as well as short-video platforms, began to prioritize accurate content production and distribution in order to provide their target audience value and to support consumer demand.

In addition, the pace of work and life is getting faster and faster and so therefore is the way of reading and consuming media. Mobile phone reading has occupied most of the fragmented time of Chinese consumers who use their digital devices during every free moment across the day. 

Their reading behavior is more selective and oriented to personalized content and short-length content. Therefore, several Chinese news apps have started sending interest-based content to users, supported by algorithms and machine learning, optimizing the user's reading experience.

5. Consumer’s Reviews and Chinese KOLs

The Chinese population, more than in Western countries, loves reading reviews on social media and most of them make purchasing choices based on recommendations that they find online.

The Chinese consumer is more likely to be influenced by the views and opinions of those within their social circle and to spread the word by distributing to their family and friends via channels creating a powerful social media wave which is highly persuasive. 

In addition, influential opinion leaders (KOLs) are becoming increasingly popular in China and consumers see them as experts on different subjects they give their view and opinion on. Therefore, KOLs can generate mass interaction with online users and now they become a very common business strategy for many brands. 

In China, an article in the South China Morning wrote that these opinion leaders have more influence on consumption behavior and social trends than movie stars and singers do. However, businesses must choose the right KOL and plan the right communication strategy in order to invest the money for a good return.


China has a unique social media landscape with plenty of social networks and messaging apps featuring a range of video, news, e-commerce and other services. 

China has the largest internet user base in the world which highlights the real potential social media in China has to offer to domestic and international brands.

To succeed in Chinese social media marketing and reach the right Chinese audiences, brands and agencies must deeply understand the Chinese market and the unique products and services within it, implement localized strategies, keep up with the trends in the social media sector, constantly adapt and learn from the dynamics of targeted customers.

Our agency, Asia Link, can provide with all services and integrate the online strategy, including social media marketing, with the offline one which remains really important in the Chinese market.

We can accompany you in this new world where the potential is very high but, in case of poor planning, investment can be quickly wasted.