Social Media is Different in China from the West

Chinese social media, from a Western view, seems equally fascinating and overwhelming. The social media ecosystem in China is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Google, Twitter, Facebook and other global giants are banned in the country due to the internet censorship laws. Into that emptiness come various social media giants, each of which has proven itself as a massive entity with useful social media properties.

But what is the social media landscape in China like? What services are used, how many users exist and how does it shape Western services. Let’s get a closer look.

Gigantic Closed Market

With a population reaching more than 800 million, China has more people than anywhere in the world. On top of that, the country makes up 20% of all the online population. China’s user base reaches higher numbers than European, and the United States combined.

This increases the demand for social media sites and creates an atmosphere for them to thrive. In the first quarter of 2018, Tencent posted revenue of $11.7 billion. That’s just $0.3 billion less than Facebook. Considering that these social media services are mainly only for the Chinese, that’s pretty impressive.

Still, Tencent receives a large advantage over the social media option in the Western world. While the Chinese market does produce plenty of competition among video platforms, messaging apps and other services, there’s one social app that excels above the rest: WeChat.

WeChat’s Importance

WeChat sits at the heart of the social media ecosystem in China. It remains the most downloaded app in the country and continues to boast of 750 million users. In fact, about 25% of the population opens the app daily.

WeChat remains popular because it is more than just your typical messaging app. Everything someone needs can be discovered on the app. From scheduling a doctor’s appointment, booking your next vacation, ordering a car, buying clothing or movies, and playing games with friends, it’s all available. Because the app is also linked to Alipay, which is a QR code platform, I can also be used to pay others.

WeChat is a distribution platform. The focus isn’t on allowing people to run full-blown apps. Instead, it enables access to mini programs for the 200 million users.

These mini programs are downloadable and run within a larger app. That’s what allows WeChat to remain flexible, convenient and dynamic.

With this success, Western markets have started to see the value in this mini-program setup. Both Snapchat and Facebook now have games on the platforms, but WeChat goes further than that.

It’s the conduit that allows the Chinese population to interact with the whole world. With the restrictions of the country, this is vital to the Chinese people, unlike what’s needed in the Western world’s social media world.

There’s also a varying range of opportunities for advertising and marketers to use. WeChat utilizes valuable tools and there are always new developments. Consider the interaction mechanics occurring between friends while advertising posts continue to drive further engagement.

Catering for the Larger Market

Even though WeChat remains a central player in the Chinese society, the social media landscape is still fragmented.

To illustrate this point, WeChat is the largest measuring app in China, but the South China Morning Post listed four other communication apps as major players as well. These included MOMO and QQ.

When it comes to the social video landscape, we identified ten platforms that also boast of plenty of users while serving varying audiences.

You might be asking; how can all of these applications continue to co-exist? Because China is a domestic market so large that’s it is bigger than all other continental markets. The services fragment themselves to further appeal to the different demographic or geographic areas without seeing any loss of income.

To see this, take a look at Huoshan, a video app. It specifically targets second-tier cities in China with smartphone user bases that are in development. The app finds success even though it hasn’t broken into established markets within the cities of Shanghai or Beijing.

In a smaller market, this way of business probably wouldn’t work economically. Still, Huoshan continues to boast of a rapidly growing base of users and established itself in the Chinese market simply because the country’s size supports it.

Another big difference between the social media landscape in China from the West is that companies can carve out a user base big enough to make up for an entire national user base in another country. This unique market dynamic causes companies to change the way it operates.

Social Media Culture from China Moves West

The Chinese social media market is moving from a closed platform to open completely. Just look at one of the many Chinese apps that’s now a global player.

TikTok, a short video platform, has taken off across the world. This video application goes by the name Douyin in China. It allows users to upload 15-second videos with music and share it around the world.

TikTok boasts of 300 million monthly active users plus 150 million daily active users in the home territory. Other companies attempt to replicate the success in the Chinese market, but none of them have achieved the same notoriety.

Just recently, the platform reached a billion installs across the world. To do this, the company shifted its name and changed the branding to fit in with the Western audience.

TikTok’s platform continues to draw attention from other global brands. Some brands paying attention include World of Warcraft, Jeep and BMW. All of these brands ran short video, vertical ads and feed ads on the platform and found success. They also made it to the SocialBeta’s Toplist of 2018 best campaigns of the year. The hip and cool branding struck a chord with cultures around the world.

What’s important about this is that you can see how Chinese social media concepts aren’t far from the Western expectations, despite what people might think.

Once the cultural and language barrier has been penetrated, it is possible to pay attention to just the mechanics. What TikTok and Douyin demonstrate is that Chinese social media mechanics work across the globe.

Other developments continue to come from the social media landscape in China as well, such as regional platforms and mini-programs. These are easily reconfigured for use in Western markets.


Social media in China is different and varying platforms exist. This provides a long list of advertising opportunities for companies. As the platforms continue to evolve, advertising becomes more vertical, interactive and social.

App and brand advertisers should seek to make the most of the diverse landscape in China. It’s a great avenue to reach users in the country, but it also provides a channel for trying out new creatives. You can effectively test out the best way to engage new users.

NativeX bridges the advertising gap between China and the West. By providing solutions such as China top media performance marketing, consultation, in-house localization and creative services they are able to assist in your app’s success within China. NativeX is currently running the XploreChina campaign which provides applicants a $2,000 testing budget on China top media along with valuable insights into the market and real-time evaluation of your apps performance and ad spend across the top media platforms. NativeX will also be hosting a free XploreChina seminar in New York City and San Francisco on July 17th and 31st, respectively.

For more information please visit or contact NativeX at [email protected]

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