Largest Internet Population, still Minimum Impact

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ChinaInternet2012

Few days ago, I had a chance to welcome a bunch of students who come from one American University in Boston region. I gave them a short and simple presentation regarding China Internet business. In the end, what really strikes me is no matter how China throws out glaring internet statistics and potentials; so far its digital impact still remains weak outside of China.

I could not say I did a fantastic presentation. But I did ask these students whether they knowBaidu or Tencent. They shook their heads and I thought I had to stop asking their knowledge ofAlibaba, Sina Microblogging etc.

Of course, they are just college students and I shall not expect them to understand China, especially about digital China. However, in contrast, almost every Chinese university student should at least have heard of GoogleFacebookTwitterLinkedin. Why? Because China internet movement still follows US, because the success of China internet giants still follows the business models of US. The leaders might not care about followers that much; as long as you stay in your own territory; that might be the tragic fate of being the copycats, I suppose.

Then what about Wechat, the hottest App powered by Tencent in China right now? It should be superior to Whatsapp and carries a tinge of China’s creativity. Well, again the students did not seem that impressed; after all they probably would much prefer Facebook App or Snapchat. Even though Tencent claimed that Wechat will accumulate 400 million users soon and already launched its business in US, this app still has been adopted mainly among Chinese community.

Overall these students showed not much curiosity or enthusiasm about China digital ecosystem, more or less an indifferent attitude. Eventually one student asked what might be the best way for a foreign brand to foray into China. My answer: I compared different online purchasing behaviors between US and China, while as usual emphasized the importance of e-commerce and social marketing in China.

In conclusion I said “Huge digital population means huge purchasing power. China is a black box, and you have to understand our internet culture and mindset before conducting your business in this country, otherwise it would become more and more difficult to earn any dime from this market”. After such speech, somehow deep down in my heart, I hope one day China’s digital influence will go beyond its territory, rather than a lucrative online market with staggering statistics in the eyes of many foreigners.

Editor’s Note:  this post appeared first on L’Atelier BNPP.

image credit: uschina.usc.edu

  • donglai jiang

    I full understand your concern. it is quite a huge topic to cover in a few words. still, i ‘d like to briefly share my points.

    1. Language is a great barrier. If you ask US students if they know some big IT giants from Japan, most likely they wont know as well. Although china has the biggest base number of internet user, most of them are Chinese.
    2. Culture as soft power. US has spend over 100 years to build their soft power, culture, pop music, US dollar, or even political model etc. Internet is just one of these. China still have a long way to go.
    3. Lack of creativity like you said is also key issue China internet business is facing.
    For big US internet company, you can find its “projection” in China

    • Cecilia Wu

      Tks for your comments, albeit a huge topic we still have to talk about it, even in few words.

      The point I was trying to make here is I have seen so many research reports, videos and presentations to talk about China digital potentials. However except those huge numbers of population size along with e-commerce scale, we have nothing else to impress people outside of China. WE NEED TO MAKE AN IMPACT on the digital stage of the world other than being the most populous country. Hope my message is alarming as well as convincing enough.