The Oban Blog

Behind the Great Firewall of China

As the second largest economy in the world1 China has long been the focus for international commerce, specifically for the last thirty years2. As the West deals with economic difficulties, China increases its economic appetite, reportedly growing by 7.90% in the fourth quarter of 20123.

China presents new market opportunities for e-commerce but requires a watertight strategy to reach the world’s largest population4. New market entry can bring a multitude of roadblocks including international legislation, policies, cultural differences and fierce competition. One of the most notable problems for international marketers is the Chinese governments’ internet censorship Firewall. But don’t let that interfere with the lucrative opportunities that may await you! Careful planning, research and localised strategies can overcome such obstacles.

If entering this exciting, high growth market involves applying social media to your marketing communications, there are a few rules you will need to understand. Mastering Chinese social media strategy is a unique proposition tied closely to stringent censorship laws, cultural semiotics and language barriers. In this report, Oban highlights top tips for running a successful social media campaign in China; identifying the best social media platforms for engagement, providing content solutions and advice on cultural sensitivity.

Total China Internet Users

Image credit: CNNIC

Did you know?

  • With 513 million users5, China has one of the world’s largest online populations, almost double of the USA
  • The Chinese market boasts more than 500 million active users6
  • It has a projected increase of 30% over the next two years
  • Graduates and high school students dominate the social media landscape
  • Mobile devices are the most popular platform for engagement

Social Network Users

Social media platforms

With over 400 million registered users, Sina Weibo is the most popular social media platform in China7. Employing a Chinese speaker who can post in Simplified Chinese is key to amplifying your marketing messages on Weibo. Why? It uses 140 characters just like Twitter but because each character in Chinese represents an entire word the user can fit 3-5 times more information into 140 characters than English8. A difficult task if you don’t have insight into Chinese language, culture and localised content style!

image 3

Image credit: China Internet Watch

As shown in the image above Weibo is the fastest-growing source of traffic to other websites after search engines9. Much like Twitter, there is very little targeted advertising on Sina Weibo because users don’t share their school, workplace or other personal details on their profile as you might do on Facebook. However, our independent research showed that users on Weibo are keen to share personal information in posts and respond well to other profiles which do the same. Social media campaigns have a greater influence if brands encourage engagement by sharing visual media, anecdotes and localised information that is relevant to their followers.

Although less popular than Weibo, other social networking sites can still be crucial to campaign success. As the firewall continues to ban foreign social media platforms, a range of domestic sites jostle for position, including:

  • Kaixin001 – a smaller market share at 130 million users, its demographic is largely urban professionals aged 25-34 who use the platform daily10
  • Qzone – features 388 million users aged between11-16 who live in rural areas. It’s important to note many accounts are inactive11
  • RenRen – This platform is great for targeting students in urban areas and boasts over 120 million highly active users12

Tip: Know your geo-target market – social media consumption varies between cities and rural areas in China

China's Social Network Universe

Image credit: Venture Beat

Content strategy

The Chinese mainly use social media to keep in touch with family and friends. To encourage engagement, we recommend starting a brand page as a community for employees and clients to share experiences with photos and videos. Distributing content featuring staff and customers’ personal experiences often gets the best engagement. This can then be shared amongst potential customers on Weibo, driving brand awareness and engagement throughout communities.

Be inspirational

Sharing photos and videos is as popular in China as it is in the UK, facilitating a creative approach to your social media campaign strategy. With the absence of YouTube due to censorship legislation, we recommend using for stills and YouKu for video footage to host content that’s shareable on SinaWeibo and RenRen. These platforms will drive an improved, holistic ranking as they are indexed by Baidu, China’s leading search engine.

image 5

Visitors to


 Image searches account for 10% of Internet traffic. To increase your brand’s visibility make photo albums public and include alt text so it can be easily found.


Our research shows how international marketers can take advantage of social media opportunities in China by using Sina Weibo as a hub and connecting other social channels like RenRen and YouKu as part of your content sharing activity. Employing these channels will help increase search visibility on your Chinese language website, driving brand awareness to new target audiences.

It’s important to remember a native speaker is crucial in localising your social media strategy. Showcasing your brand personality with relevant anecdotes and visual content will help drive engagement. Moreover, researching what social platforms are popular in your geo-targeted area is fundamental for driving brand awareness and lead generation. When it comes to international digital marketing always have a solid understanding of your target market’s social media consumption. At Oban, we know that a deep understanding of the local market is vital for sustainable, international success.


1 World Bank
3 Trading Economics
6 Internet World Stats
7 The Next Web
8 Thomas Crampton
9 China Internet Watch
10 Venture Beat
11 Venture Beat
12 China Social Games