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Media (R)evolutions: Social media in China linked to mobile devices

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

The social media market in China can be bewildering because it changes quickly.  Just a few years ago, Renren was king of social networking in the country… until the emergence of Weibo, and more recently, WeChat.  At the same time, the demographics of social media users in China have been shifting as smartphones become increasingly popular and affordable.  Social media is now used by more age groups and across a greater geographical spread than before.

After conducting a survey covering 100,000 people in 60 different Chinese cities, Kantar, a network of 13 companies engaged in market research, created a massive infographic, including this slide on mobile social media. According to the results, social media's reach among urban residents has increased to 34% from last year's 28.6%, and 85% of respondents use mobile devices to engage in social media, compared to 71.5% last year.  

Among the social media that are accessed on mobile devices, WeChat is the most popular, with 74.8% of respondents claiming they visit the app on their mobiles, followed by Weibo with 18.4% and Bulletin board systems (BBS) with 8.9%.  BBS sites allow people to post basic messages online and, in contrast to many countries, they continue to be popular in China today.

Media penetration is another area of rapid change in China. The Internet, not surprisingly, now has 100% penetration among social media users and a 69.4% penetration rate among urban residents. Similarly, mobile online (which simply indicates accessing the internet from a mobile device) has 91%.4 penetration rate among social media users.  Out of home (OOH) encompasses a variety of platforms, from digital billboards and signs atop taxis to digital signs at airports, gyms, and waiting rooms, and has a penetration rate that is also high at 88.7%.

China Social Media infographic

On the geopolitics of "platforms"

CGCS's picture

Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.

Map of the frequency with which people in different places @reply to each other on TwitterIn the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.