How to Approach China for Social Media Companies

This entry is part of my research project for the class of Networked Rhetoric at Stanford University. For more information, click here.

Posted by Zach Galant, ’12

China blocked access to Facebook last summer, and it is to this day unavailable for Chinese users. Along with Facebook, China has blocked access to Twitter, censored search results from Google, and blocked other websites deemed inappropriate by the government. Many of these sites are Western sites, especially social media sites from American companies. My research involves analyzing the mindset of the Chinese in relation to Westerners to try to determine a good strategy for doing business in China.

In this blog post, I want to focus on an article I read called “The Best Strategy For Facebook: Forget About China.” Forget about China? Really? First of all, I believe this is a very strong statement, especially given Facebook’s success all over the world, basically everywhere except China. However, it does have some merit.

This article is written by Gang Lu, who has worked in China for Netvibes, a social personalized dashboard homepage. Netvibes did not find success in China, which is a bias that is necessary to consider when reading this article. It could mean that Lu has extra insight because of his experience, but it could also taint his opinions because he doesn’t think someone else can succeed where he failed.

One of the main points he has is that China acts differently. They have different values than Americans do. He mentions that Netvibes’ product was too advanced for China. This doesn’t mean that Chinese people can’t handle advanced technology. It is just commenting on their different perspective on what type of product they appreciate or want.

The other thing he mentioned is that there are tons of local Chinese companies that are doing exactly the same thing. Google, for example, isn’t nearly as popular as Baidu in China, though it is dominant in the US. Chinese people see Facebook and notice how it looks similar to Chinese services like Xiaonei and Kaixin001, even though they are the copies. It’s much harder to succeed in China when the people think it’s a copy of their local companies’ products.

While these arguments are convincing (not to mention that Facebook’s translation in Chinese, 非死不可 – in Pinyin: FeiSiBuKe, means Dooms to Die) I am not totally convinced that there is a good strategy for Facebook and other internet companies for dealing with China.

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6 Responses to How to Approach China for Social Media Companies

  1. ccrvisitor says:

    It’s obviously true that Chinese has different cultural values than Americans. And to succeed in China, ones have to learn these differences and adapt themselves. That would increase the cost for investing in China, so in some cases, I think it is a good choice to withdraw (after people do some analysis and the result shows no profit).
    Also, this is the first time I heard that facebook means doom to die in Chinese. It is really bad news for facebook and it greatly support Gang Lu’s argument that Facebook should wirhdraw from China. The name is very important. For example, Mitsubishi once produced a car serie named Pajero. It is a slang in Spanish, so it didn’t sell in Spanish speaking countries. In the end, Mitsubishi had to change the serie name. Facebook could share the similar fate. If there is a social network site doomtodie.com, I don’t think it will sell in America either. So, Facebook just cannot use their original URL in China. However, Facebook couldn’t just rename the site they’ve been using because it won’t be facebook anymore.

    Phumchanit (Yiam) Watanaprakornkul

  2. Haha, I loved the 非死不可 tidbit – that was really neat! Your research reminds me of a few analyses I read on Google’s withdrawal, and how their decision might actually be a sound business strategy and a way to get good press (see http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google%E2%80%99s-china-stance-more-about-business-than-thwarting-evil/) In particular, I thought it interesting that Yahoo, by giving up and instead taking ownership stake in Alibaba, had ended up becoming much more successful than Google. Maybe the trend that you note is actually the way to deal with China as a social media site.

    Internet usage in China is primarily entertainment-driven, and not as much used for networking / communication / commerce as in the U.S. That might also say something about the need (or lack of need) for social media presence in China.

    Great topic – keep me updated!

    Frank

  3. ccrvisitor says:

    As most of the rest of the world continues to use Facebook and Google, do you think there will be a backlash from the Chinese people regarding the blocking of the sites? Or do you think that the Chinese people are so patriotic that they will go with whatever the Chinese government decides to do? I had a debate with my friend from China over whether Google’s decision to leave China was for moral reasons/being attacked or if it was because they were losing to Baidu. I argued for the moral side. Google lost a lucrative contract to be the default search engine in many mobile phones in China by pulling out.

    Going off what Frank said about entertainment being more important than search in China, I found this article about how people were a lot more upset when World of Warcraft was taken down than when Google pulled out. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/infotech/internet/Many-wired-Chinese-unfazed-at-possible-Google-exit/articleshow/5529696.cms

    Charles

  4. Ben Weiss says:

    Hi, my name is Ben. I am one of the students in RHE 309S at UT. I think it is good that you are looking into different perspectives, especially since China seems to be very sensitive to its external perception. I think you can take your analysis to a deeper level though. It is important to distinguish and decipher the actual opinions of three groups: the Chinese people, the Chinese corporate world, and the Chinese government. It might also be useful to note the perceptions the Chinese government would like us to see when we look at the first two groups. I’m sure when you look at “the values” of the Chinese, they may have been modified by authors and news agencies that the government has some control over.

  5. Sheena says:

    This was an interesting topic to cover and one that definitely has potential for additional analysis. I liked that you centered this argument around the article, which is relevant to your claim. You covered some really great points, though I think there were some that stood out to me more than others. Identifying the values that separate the Chinese from the American would help solidify that particular claim that you made. Perhaps go into detail about whether you think these values will ever sway the Chinese people to accept social networking sites, such as Facebook. How do you think these values are keeping China from progressing and keeping up with the rest of the influential countries of the world? Furthermore, you mentioned earlier in your post the research you are going to do to propose exactly how a social media site should be directed as far as China is concerned, so I’m excited to see how you will argue the points of this argument. I think you have a lot to work with, however. Good luck!

  6. christinealfano says:

    I think Ben’s comment was really interesting about avoiding generalization and thinking about the different populations of “China” that you’re talking about. His comment about the filtering of information found in the media is also a good one — and perhaps you might draw on your expertise (or connections) to look at some articles in Chinese. I believe you can use LexisNexis to search newspapers internationally. I know that you are already interested in uncovering the Chinese perspective on this issue — I guess my message is that that remains a great priority, though, admittedly, perhaps a bit of a challenge.

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