Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. Vine. WhatsApp. Google+. Periscope. China though only has two dominant social platforms.
In an era of constant technological development and changing user behaviours, social platforms in the West are continually evolving as new networks continue to emerge. Yet in China, there is a duopoly market with Weibo and WeChat, as new competitors are struggling to break in.
The first and most obvious barrier to entry is the Great Firewall of China. As soon as Western social platforms gain traction in China, they quickly find themselves blocked. Facebook was blocked in 2009, Twitter in 2011 and Instagram in 2014. However, this did not stop Chinese companies creating like-for-like platforms. When Facebook was blocked, Renren and Kaixin were launched. When Twitter was blocked, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo were launched. However, as they were predominantly based on Western user behaviours, only Sina Weibo still remains a popular social platform.
WeChat is the most integrated APP that exists online globally. It has officially turned China from the copycat nation to the innovation nation. WeChat combines WhatsApp, PayPal, eBay, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare and even the local post office. WhatsApp, who launched a year earlier, must really be questioning what it is doing.
WeChat’s holistic nature is the main reason behind the lack of established new social platforms in China. With over 721 million monthly active users, the social platform has a huge existing user base to roll out new feature and steal market share. This means that it’s even harder for new social platforms to join the digital landscape. When WeChat launched the Moments feature where users can post and view status updates in their private network, other photo-sharing platforms were affected.
In Chinese New Year 2016, WeChat again enabled fans to send ‘red envelopes’ to their friends with virtual money. Over 8 billion envelopes were sent over the CNY period, and WeChat confirmed its position as the #1 online payment app. The same goes with features such as branded accounts, live streaming and ticket purchasing that have all reduced growth opportunities for other social platforms.
Weibo vs. Weibo
Two years ago, both Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo were still going strong. However, there was ultimately only room for one Twitter-like platform to exist. Tencent Weibo is now stripping back its features as user activity continues to drop. Meanwhile Sina Weibo hit its ninth straight quarter of growth and reached 282 million MAUs, closing in on Twitter’s 310 million. This domestic battle caused one of the most popular platforms (Tencent Weibo) to shut down and asserted Sina Weibo as the most dominant truly social platform.
Who’s challenging next?
There are several platforms that do have hope in this market. Loftr, a photo blogging platform, has 3 million daily active users, Nice, a photo-sharing App with live streaming capabilities has 30 million registered users, even the social cooking App, XiaChuFang has 20 million monthly active users. The key for these upcoming app is to target a smaller, niche user base, and aggressively grow once they have found success there. Competition is great for the marketplace and ultimately the user experience, but WeChat will continue to roll-out of features and Weibo show no signs of slowing down. In a country of almost 1.4 billion people, only two social platforms currently coexist and we should get use to that for the time being.