The conventional wisdom says that China has no (or very few) users of social media sites like Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter. But that wisdom may be off the mark.
Internet research firm Globalwebindex has been tracking social media user growth in China since July 2009, and the firms reports that Twitter usage in China has grown from 11.5 million users to 35 million in the second quarter of 2012. Facebook users have grown from 7.9 million users to 63.5 million in the same period.
Local social media services like Weibo and Qzone dominate in China, but Facebook, Twitter and Google+ from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) can claim to have at least a toehold in the country.
Globalwebindex challenges the argument that the “Great Firewall” of China blocks access to the popular U.S.-based sites:
[I]t only takes a little bit of desk research to discover that what is called the “Great Firewall” is actually much more porous than the Chinese government would like to admit. On closer inspection, Chinese users are using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), VCN (Virtual Cloud Networks) or connections at work that may be routed internationally. Crucially, this means that users won’t be picked up in analytics and will not register as being in a Chinese location at all!
The research firm also notes that 78% of China’s Internet users access the Internet through mobile devices, far more than any other country.
The argument is not that the Chinese are massive users of non-Chinese social media sites. It is, rather, that non-Chinese social media sites are more popular than most people think. It may not be a game-changer for Facebook or Twitter right now, but it is certainly a more positive note than we usually see about non-Chinese Internet usage.
The company’s blog post is available here.