Before embarking on our journey to explore the nuts and bolts of Chinese social media, perhaps it is instructive to first have a look at a set of macro numbers just to give us a proper perspective on where this crazy little thing called Chinese social media fits in the overall scheme of things and why we should bother to spend time making it part of our business strategy.
Internet use worldwide has been growing at a breakneck pace over the past 15 years. Its user demographics have also undergone a significant shift. Whereas English has been and still is the most dominant language used, its user population now only makes up less than one third of the overall user population.
If you dig deeper into the numbers, you would notice what is even more significant is the pace of growth of non-English Internet populations. Whereas the English user population has grown by 301% over that period, the user populations for Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Russian have grown by 1,478%, 807%, 2,501% and 1,825%, respectively.
China is now the country with the largest Internet population with 538 million users (note: the entire population of the U.S. is 313 million). Since edging out the U.S. to take top spot in 2010, China’s user population has gone up by 118 million in the past two and a half years! Talk about a tsunami.
Another observation one can glean from the above numbers is that, as impressive as these numbers are, the penetration rate as a percentage of the Chinese population is only at 40%. Whereas comparable rates for developed countries such as the U.S., Japan, Germany, the U.K. and France are hovering around the 80% mark, making significant further growth difficult, there is still ample headroom for growth for China.
If you think the above the numbers are impressive, take a look at the mobile phone statistics. From a modest user base of about 40 million in circa 1997, the mobile population has exploded in the ensuing 15 years and has for the first time exceeded 1 billion users in 2012 (1.1 billion to be exact). The user population went up by 126 million in 2012 alone.
Of all these users, 232 million are 3G/broadband Internet users. With the rapid growth in the smart phone user base, China has already pulled ahead of the U.S. as the largest market in terms of annual smart phone sales since 2011. It is also set to top the U.S. iOS (iPhones) and Android install base in 2013.
And 75% of users surfs the web using their mobile phones.