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Is the “Great Firewall of China” Falling Down?
Written by Betsy
Thursday, 29 March 2012 14:50

Although the "Great Firewall of China" prevents Chinese from accessing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other popular social media platforms, Chinese consumers are heavily involved in social networking. Indeed, China has developed its own domestic social media space that is dominated by strong local players, which offer similar (or even superior) functionality than Western social media platforms. The following infographic illustrates the social media landscape in China – take a look at the full graphic (below) to see China's internet landscape. Visit G+ to view the original infographic.

Tencent was founded in 2008 and has become one of China's largest and most used Internet service portals. According to its corporate communications department, Tencent’s strategic goal is to provide users with "one-stop online lifestyle services". Specifically, Tencent’s leading Internet platforms in China – QQ (QQ Instant Messenger),, QQ Games, Qzone,, SoSo, PaiPai and Tenpay – have brought together China's largest Internet community. As of 30 September 2011, QQ IM’s active QQ user accounts amounted to 711.7 million, while its peak concurrent users reached 145.4 million.

In fall 2011,Tencent announced that it was rolling out an English-language version of its Weibo microblogging platform (similar to Twitter, which is prohibited in China), and early in 2012 it started advertising job vacancies, aiming to hire a team to launch online social games on Facebook.

What are Tencent’s motives for the roll-out of its English-language version? There is quite a lot of speculation on the true motives for the launch of the English version of Tencent in the U.S.

According to Xing Hongyu, general manager of the Tencent Weibo Business Unit, “Tencent Weibo will deliver a high-quality user experience with the company's 12 years of experience in Internet services”. Xing also said that the English version of Tencent Weibo would enhance the company's influence globally.

Some argue that Tencent aims to bring new online social games to market in North America, particularly on Facebook, a social media platform that is currently blocked in mainland China. Along the same lines, the expansion on Tencent in the U.S. will offer the company the chance to create new games with a global reach, which will give Tencent a competitive advantage. 

Others argue that Tencent’s move into the U.S. is associated with its efforts to be competitive and to offer new opportunities to marketers. Specifically, some experts believe that the launch of an English-language Tencent Weibo is more about offering new opportunities and building “new avenues” for U.S. brands in order to tap the growing Chinese consumer base as opposed to competing directly with its global rival in microblogging, Twitter, says

Kairos Consumers interviewed Jenna Cheng, Marketing Manager at Cheskin Added Value, about Tencent’s roll-out in English: “There is a great opportunity for Tencent to fulfill the needs of U.S. marketers seeking to engage with Chinese consumers, especially since active Weibo users are located outside of major metropolitan areas. According to the BrandZTM China study by WPP companies, Nanjing and Weifang are commonly known as tier two and tier three cities - urban areas of around 8.5 million, which are enjoying rapidly rising spending. Such cities are crucial for any brand wishing to win the hearts of Chinese consumers. As indicated in Kantar Retail's inaugural China 2011 PoweRanking® Survey, global retailers such as P&G, Unilever and Wal-Mart face increasing competition from local brands in the fast-growing China market. Therefore, Western brands could benefit from creative ways to connect with Chinese consumers, such as through Tencent's microblog and new Facebook games”.

Along the same lines, Sina Weibo has an English language mobile app and partnerships with Flipboard and Instagram. It has promised to launch an English website this year. Already it has about 450,000 users in the U.S., most of whom use it to communicate with residents of China. Users include Ed Lee, the mayor of San Francisco with about 50,000 followers, and U.S. basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, with about 875,000 followers according to

Despite the difference in opinion as to the real motives of Tencent, this much can be said: the pressure is on for the “Great Firewall of China” to fall down one way or another….

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 April 2012 15:24