Okay, I’m not actually blogging this from Beijing. I’m blogging it from Hong Kong, as I left Beijing a couple of days ago (my favorite city in Asia, BTW, of the four I’ve visited in recent years: BJ, HK, Shanghai and Tokyo).
I’m out here to attend Ad:tech in Beijing, which wrapped up last Wednesday, and I’m off next week to DoubleClick Japan’s client conference, Insight. Mostly, I’m in the region to present about trends in US online advertising as well as to learn about the same on this side of the globe (12 hour time difference from NY; jet lag is a bitch!). But while here, I attended a session on using social networks and blogs for marketing purposes, which included two of this very blog’s contributors, Des Walsh, who moderated, and Debbie Weil, along with Jason Ge, National Sales General Manager of Sina, China’s biggest portal.
As I wasn’t really focused on blogs on this trip, most of what I learned about the phenomenon as it’s taking place in China came from this panel, but it was honestly one of the better panels at the show. Debbie’s already been blogging up a storm about her trip, and I’m sure Des will catch up shortly, too. (Deb’s made various notes, but not about the panel; she also have various video clips of it I expect she’ll upload shortly.) Meanwhile, here are some of my notes from the panel:
- China apparently already has about as many people using the Internet as the United States does, and in probably a year or so it will have more than the US and Europe combines. Moreover, a staggering number of these are active with blogs, as writers and readers. This already includes many businesses.
- Sina is one of the most popular hosting services for blogs. To that end, it employs legions of editors (one thing China is not short on is people), who, among other things, chose blog posts to feature prominently on the site. While many topics of blog posts, including business, are welcome, politics is not; to that end, Sina employs software algorithms to do much of the censorship that is a political reality in the country.
- An interesting phenomenon of blogging in China is that blog readers are comment crazy. It’s not unusual from the sound of it for individual blog posts to generate thousands of comments. Sina’s Ge related an anecdote of a furniture business blogger who offered a free sofa to each reader to post a comment at intervals of 1,000 (i.e., the 1,000th comment, to 2,000th comment, etc.). He gave away 18 couches.
- An even better Sina anecdote, some popular TV news personality who has a blog complained about the fact that Starbucks had a store inside Beijing’s historic Forbidden City (nicknamed “Forbidden Starbucks”). Sina editors linked to the post from the site’s homepage, and commenters went on to generate half a million comments! As a result, Starbucks HQ got the message and closed the store.
- Presumably one reason posts generate so many comments is that having a voice in the world is more a novelty in China than most places. One thing came through loud and clear at Ad:tech altogether: the Chinese Internet may be lagging the US market in some respects, such as the nuances of online advertising I’m paid to care about, but in terms of social media in general, it’s on fire.
- To wit, YouTube just launched Chines-language versions of its site in Hong Kong and Taiwan this week.
- It would be naive, however, to think all this adds up to unbridled openness in the Chinese market. China remains a communist country, of course. In fact, Ad:tech Beijing coincided with the 17th conference of the Chinese Communist Party. That was probably the explanation for why a variety of Internet services, including YouTube, were blocked for part of the week last week.