While internet use in China continues to grow, Mainland China and its surrounding areas (specifically Taiwan and Hong Kong – collectively known as Greater China) have been slow to pick up social networking. Web portals remain the overwhelming way that Chinese internet users spend their time.
The Market in China
The recent study released by comScore evaluates the way Chinese internet users spend their time online. The study only examined the habits of users who are fifteen years of age or older and accesssed the web from a home or work location, and the study looked at the Greater China area. The number of activities engaged in online is more diverse than in the North American and European markets, and the amount of time spent on web portals is substantially higher.
Web portals – meaning sites that aggregate content from a variety of sources to provide a one-stop collection of relevant, current data – make up 24.4 percent of all time spent on the internet in China. The second most popular activity, entertainment (which includes watching video content), accounts for only 9 percent of time spent on the web. Using search sites or similar web navigation accounts for 6.2 percent of traffic.
The revealing element, however, is how little time is spent on social networking.
Only about 5.5 percent of time spent online was on social sites, and the company with the highest reach (Oak Pacific Interactive Sites, who owns Renren, the most popular Chinese social network) only had 17.8 percent market reach. Compare that to the North American market where time on social networks accounts for approximately a quarter of all online time and Facebook has about a 70 percent market reach.
What This Means for U.S. Companies
We won't attempt to judge exactly why things are happening in China. The slow growth and low popularity of social networking could be due to any variety of reasons, ranging from the censhorship challenges in Mainland China to the different culture to the slower trickle-in of what is essentially a North American concept. What really matters, however, is how this impacts your various technology companies.
But will major U.S. companies be able to succeed in the Chinese market at all? Google actually withdrew after censorship debates in early 2010, and the recent Gmail hacking attempts has prompted more tension between Google and the Chinese government. But as Yahoo and Bing both continue to approach the status of "web platform" (giving more aggregation, surfacing, and service elements) the possibilities for these companies should be noted.