We all know that there is value in participating in social media networks from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective. There is link and traffic potential, the benefit of additional organic listings, and the ability to reach a targeted audience. As this is becoming more important for SEO almost everyday, there are often obstacles that must be overcome when participating outside of the U.S. Recently I read an article about social media in China and came across a few interesting facts.
China, with a unique and highly regulated media market, has one of the fastest growing online populations in the world. The Internet is censored of sensitive political content; however, this censorship has not hindered the growth of social media and online communities among the population. One research study noted that China’s blogging community is the largest in the world, more than both the U.S. and Western Europe combined. According to China’s Internet Network Information Center, the online population grew by 56% during the first six months of 2008 in comparison to the previous year. With these types of numbers, well-known social media giants are eager to become big players in this growing market, but have encountered a few difficulties along the way.
Unlike in the U.S. where users can freely post and share any information they choose (within reason), social sites in China are held accountable for all content that is posted and shared. Mainly content that is politically sensitive in nature is scrutinized, but these types of regulations play a part in making it difficult for sites outside of China to become as widely popular as they are in the U.S. Not only is it likely that websites outside of China are less familiar with the regulations and political environment, but they are also competing with locals who may have government associations and the ability to better influence the system.
China’s social networking sites have been required to develop robust systems to filter, block, and remove any content that may be considered unacceptable. Many companies also have employees that serve as censorship teams to supervise the content and manually make changes to prevent the site from being banned. Although social networking sites in the U.S. also employ technologies to detect and filter inappropriate and copyrighted content, they are not accustomed to a regulatory environment like that in China.
In an effort to become big players in this market that has such tremendous growth potential, social media giants such as MySpace and Facebook have made adjustments and agreements, often relying on the partnership and cooperation of China based companies. For example, MySpace China is hosted on servers in China and licenses the brand to a company who then monitors the content. A Chinese-language version of Facebook has been developed and is located on offshore servers, avoiding the responsibility of supervising the content. Google Inc. has partnered with Tianya.cn to launch the Chinese social-networking sites Tianya Wenda and Tianya Laiba.
Not all companies have found ways to weave through these difficult regulations as MySpace, Facebook and Google have. Others such eBay, Amazon.com and Yahoo! all have lost market share as a result of local competitors.