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Cultural Impact: How Social Media Relates to Chinese Internet Consumer Preferences

China, Social Media, Internet

China’s relatively recent forays into social media have produced some remarkable results, according to the latest report released yesterday by McKinsey China.  Much reported in the news in recent years has been a phenomenon that has the media and the business community wild with speculation and excitement. This trend is what one might describe as a uniquely Chinese form of social media that has many people scrambling to monetize. Though the phenomenon eludes easy categorization, it appears that McKinsey has hit a mark with its rather poignant analysis.

Statistical Basis

The report opens with a rather dramatic survey result. Collecting from a sample of 5,700 Chinese citizens, their research shows that 95% of Chinese in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities are registered on some form of a social-media website. They also make the observation “that 91 percent of respondents [in China]” had “visited a social-media site in the previous six months, compared with 30 percent in Japan, 67 percent in the United States, and 70 percent in South Korea.” Of these users in China, more than 50 percent spend more than 12 hours online per week.

Culture and Society

Such numbers only touch the surface of this phenomenon, as there are significant cultural and societal elements that explain this trend. Chinese cultural and consumer preferences are largely based on human relationships, and are broadly untouched by institutional attempts to influence decision-making. McKinsey hits a very salient point when discussing a Chinese consumer preference for “word-of-mouth from friends, family, and key opinion leaders, many of whom share information on social media.”

Many who are familiar with China would agree that when it comes to decision-making, the direct opinion of others often prevails over traditional sources of marketing and advertisement. McKinsey therefore contends that most of the potential for growth in e-commerce has been connected with social media and personal recommendations. In other words, for companies to make an impact they will have to focus on personal relationships.

Moving Towards Mobile

The statistics continue to add another layer to the analysis, diving briefly into the realm of mobile Internet. It was found that 50 percent of those surveyed intend to buy a smartphone within the next 6 months, 35 percent had already used a tablet computer, and around 58 percent “reported using a smartphone to browse social-media sites at least once a week, compared with 43 percent of consumers in the United States.” The incredible potential for growth in this field is augmented by the fact that Chinese internet users account for the largest percentage on the globe (shown below).

China, Internet


Source: McKinsey China

The chart, originally drawn from data compiled by Internet World Status, shows that China accounts for 513 million internet users. Given the fact that internet penetration remains relatively low at 38 percent, one can expect that any expansion within the next few years will hold tremendous potential for market growth. This is a factor that serves as a reminder for mobile and Internet companies that China cannot be ignored. No matter how difficult and labyrinthine its vast Internet market may seem, this pales in comparison to the potential benefits of braving the learning curve.

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