Although most of the Western social media companies are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall”, the Middle Kingdom still has the world’s most numerous and most active internet users. Social media is now deeply embedded in Chinese culture, especially for the younger generation, but it’s a confusing place for an expat or a newcomer. Here’s our quick guide to China’s social media universe to help you get to grips with the basics.
Which Social Media Sites Are Blocked in China?
Pretty much all the ones you use in the West, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and even boring old Linkedin. Google is also banned, of course, so that also rules out anything related, such as Google Docs and G+, not that anyone uses the latter anymore.
How Do You Access Blocked Social Media Sites From China?
Moving to China doesn’t necessarily mean dropping of the Western Wide Web altogether. You can keep on poking and gramming away as long as you equip yourself with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Even though the Chinese government has recently started putting pressure on VPN providers, you can still download one from a an app store based outside of China.
Some are free, but you generally enjoy better reliability and customer service from those you pay for. At the time of writing, Express VPN is widely considered to be the best VPN in China. With one account you can download the app to multiple devices. When switched on, it will change your IP address to somewhere outside of China, allowing you to access all the blocked social media sites your heart desires.
What Are the Most Popular Chinese Social Media Platforms?
The Chinese social media scene is vast, wide ranging and ever-changing, but the majority of it is ruled by internet powerhouses Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Sina, otherwise known as "BATS”. Below is a brief introduction of the top Chinese social media accounts right now.
The first mobile app in China, WeChat is the social media platform to rule them all, reporting 950 million users in 2017. It’s the one social media platform you cannot live without in China. Just like Facebook “Walls”, users can post comments, photos, links, videos etc to their “Moments”, as well as message (text, voice and video) friends and businesses directly and in groups. You can also order taxis, book movie tickets and pay for pretty much everything via WeChat Wallet.
Known as the Chinese Twitter, Weibo is a “microblogging” site and one of the most popular social media platforms in China. While it is fundamentally the same as Twitter, 140 characters in Chinese go a lot further than 140 characters in English. Users can therefore share much longer text posts, as well as links, photos and videos. Weibo is popular with content creators, celebrities and “influencers”.
Previously two competing video websites, Youku and Tudou merged in 2012 to form one big mega site. Youku Tudo is similar to YouTube in the sense that it is a video hosting website with content uploaded by users. However, it differs in the fact that the content is more often than not professionally, rather than personally, created. Users come to stream, download and share TV shows and movies. Many of the videos are foreign with Chinese subtitles.
A relative newcomer, Dianping is like a cross between Tripadvisor, Yelp and Groupon. The website and mobile app provide crowd-sourced reviews and rankings of businesses across the world. As well as voting for their favorite restaurants, users can also engage on a more granular level, such voting for their favorite dishes in said restaurant. Dianping also often shares deals with hefty discounts.
Douban is arguably China’s coolest social media network and therefore has no solid Western equivalent. It’s kind of like a mashup between MySpace, SoundCloud, Spotify and Imbd - basically a place to find, discuss and share music, books, movies and all things related. Douban also has its own free music streaming service, Douban FM. Users can connect with each other through common interests. A cultural dating site, if you will.
Although sometimes dubbed the “failed Chinese Facebook”, there are still a fair few people using Renren in China. It was massively successful when it launched in 2005 in the wake of the Chinese government blocking Facebook. Renren basically copied the entire and design and color scheme of Facebook but failed to keep pace with industry development, such as going mobile. Doh! Now many of Renren’s users have moved over to other Chinese social networking platforms, but there are still some die-hard fans.
A more successful Facebook copycat is QZone, a social media platform that allows users to listen to music, send photos, share videos and write blogs. It’s also popular with businesses as it provides fully customizable pages which act as micro-sites with a ready made audience.
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