As of January 2021 there are about 5.22 billion mobile users today which makes up 66.6% of the world's total population, according to annual data from We Are Social and and Hootsuite. By the end of this year, this number is expected to grow even further as the ongoing pandemic has also made the Internet the main source of communication across varying fields and purposes worldwide.
In line with this, the internet has also seen a drastic increase in usage. As of January this year too, around 4.66 billion people are on the Internet and this figure accounts for 59.5% of the global population. Of this total, 92.6% (4.32 billion) accessed the internet via mobile devices. Going further, it’s interesting to see how social media users take up much of the numbers, with social media users now tracked at 4.20 billion around the world. This result is up by a notable 13% from last year.
Social media usage in China
In China, 930.8 million active social media users were recorded as of January 2021, indicating a 12.9% growth from last year's figures. Mobile is so prevalent that 100% of these social media users access their favorite apps from a mobile device. Furthermore, it was found that each Chinese Internet user has an average of 7.4 social media accounts, with most people spending almost one full day on some of the top social media apps. WeChat, China's most popular super social app, has captured a staggering 73.2% of these social media users, followed by Sina Weibo contributing to 47.1% of social media usage.
From an outsider’s perspective, it could be surprising to realize how important social media is in China’s digital landscape. Despite not having popular apps from Google or Facebook, the country’s digital ecosystem continues to flourish in a way that shapes much of China’s society, even its government. The population of China may have also contributed to its increasing dependence on social media.
Super social apps
One interesting concept that shaped social media usage in China is the concept of the super app -- the best example being WeChat. In China, an app doesn't specialize on one function alone. While that might initially be the case, like in Douyin (TikTok), that app's main function would serve as a gateway for other related functions resulting in a mix of ecommerce and social networking. A super app functions like a website with a multitude of app features inside. In China, convenience is the primary reason for developing an app. And this convenience translates to enabling daily activities such as hailing cabs, online shopping, managing finances, paying bills, connecting with people, among other things. Therefore, apps evolved at a raging speed until the concept of the super app was born.
Freedom of expression
Another important aspect to note is that the sheer size of China's population makes it more challenging to penetrate. Tracking and observing exchanges on Chinese social media platforms is a great way for brands to build a deeper understanding of local perceptions and values, and can help avoid the risk of embarrassing and costly missteps.
Therefore brands look into social media to provide a personalized experience for users and therefore getting to know their user behavior. Social media provides a grassroots-level approach to targeting users. In social media, Chinese users also have more freedom to express themselves. For many, social media sites are not just their main source of information. They can also be a source of news and can even be used to organise events and put out their own versions of events. All of these contribute to how an app can be used by certain population and groups of people within the vast ecosystem of China users.
Top tier cities
Another unique element that contributes to an app's success and usability in China are its tier cities. This is what most businesses use to classify the market potential of cities within China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, to name a few. There are about a dozen first-tier cities, all the way down to over a hundred fifth-tier cities, for a total of more than 330 cities ranked by the New First-tier City Research Institute, a Chinese data provider that publishes this ranking on an annual basis.
Each tier city has its own level of development and destiny in terms of the business opportunity and population.These cities shape the social media landscape of China as usage varies depending on the various social, economic, and political factors that affect each city.
What are the implications of the rise and popularity of Chinese social media for foreign businesses? Stay tuned for our next episode to explore the business opportunities social media apps offer in the digital Chinese market.