For many readers who concern about China, they may have heard that China has its own Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Their names are WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin.
But in fact, China’s Internet is not a simple copy of these foreign products, they have obvious differences in many details.
I often see people on Reddit who need to visit Chinese social networks for work or study reasons, and they can’t tell the difference between the major social networking sites in China.
In this article, I selected eight major social networking sites in China to compare the decisive differences in details between them.
Weibo and WeChat
Weibo and WeChat are the two most commonly used social networking apps in China, but in fact, there is a huge difference in size between them. In a way, it’s like the difference between Twitter and Facebook.
WeChat has more than 1 billion daily active users in China. But Weibo has only 400m daily active users in China, which is lower than Douyin, Bytedance’s Chinese version of Tiktok.
But as most people imagine, Weibo and WeChat are completely different in product form, so although Weibo has fewer active users than WeChat, it is still one of the most important social networking sites in China.
Generally speaking, the description that “Weibo is China’s Twitter, WeChat is China’s Facebook” is correct, especially for Weibo.
On Weibo, because the arrangement of content is based on a timeline, people talk more about open topics: political news, social events, and entertainment gossips.
In the past two years, entertainment industry-related content has become mainstream on Weibo, mainly due to star fans’ efforts to promote their favorite stars. To some extent, this has hurt the content ecology of Weibo, so that its trend is always occupied by the tidbits of entertainment stars.
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WeChat is actually not the same as Facebook, or you can think of it as a Facebook evolved from WhatsApp as the origin rather than vice versa. When WeChat was first released in 2011, it was just a chat tool. WeChat Moment, which looks like a Facebook Feed feature, didn’t come online until a year later.
WeChat has a group chat, but there is no Group like Facebook. Content posted by ordinary users in WeChat Moment cannot be forwarded, only Public Account can. Public Account is not a Facebook Page-like function, it is more like a traditional blog, you need to do complex typesetting of your articles in a Web editor to publish, which significantly increases the threshold for public content to be published in WeChat.
Another difference between WeChat and Weibo is that for a long time it did not have an official centralized content distribution mechanism. For a long time, WeChat did not include a feed based on personalized recommendations, and its search was also difficult to use during that time.
Therefore, the main way for people to find interesting content in WeChat comes from the content shared with them by friends in the conversation, or by friends sharing the content posted by Public Account to Moments.
This difference from Weibo makes the content of WeChat present a richer level. In WeChat, you will often see serious and difficult medical articles read more than 100,000 times, while obviously deceptive medical advertisements have also been read more than 100,000 times.
On Weibo, the latter type of content is quickly questioned by a large number of netizens and marked as fake news.
It is also worth mentioning that it is difficult for people to quarrel fiercely in the public content of WeChat.
Because WeChat deliberately avoids this possibility in product design. To put it simply, for an article published by Public Account, all comments must be reviewed by its author (like WordPress) before showing to everyone. Users can share the content to their Moment and add comments. But the original author and other readers of this article cannot see this comment, and it cannot be forwarded again by other people. Anyone who can see and respond to this comment must be your two-way friend on WeChat.
This significantly reduces the aggressiveness of people when commenting, because they know that when they become trolls, no one can see their abuse but their true friends.
Another problem with WeChat is that in recent years, creating content on WeChat has been considered difficult to get followers, especially for people with “simple relationships.”
Although WeChat introduced an algorithm-based content distribution system in the last year, the distribution of content in WeChat still mainly depends on “interpersonal relationships”. This means that if you are a content creator (not a company with a real product) when you write articles from scratch and run a WeChat Public Account, you will find that no one cares about your content. Although we mention that Public Account is somewhat similar to blogs, SEO doesn’t work here either.
This is very different in Weibo, where Weibo users are used to using search to actively find their favorite content. This means that if you include enough keywords and hashtags in your content, you will be discovered by many people.
In addition, WeChat itself is a so-called “super App” (a popular design concept in China’s Internet industry, which aims to integrate all Internet functions in an App). People use it not only to chat and socialize, but also to pay, shop, pay taxes, see a doctor, and so on.
But Weibo is not a “super App”, it’s just a Twitter-like social networking.
Tantan and Momo
Unlike Weibo and WeChat, these two Chinese social networking apps, which are very popular in foreign countries, are actually not so popular in China. They are widely mentioned by foreigners living and working in China on Reddit and Quora because they are the two most famous dating apps in China.
For foreigners working in China, it is easier to make friends (as well as boyfriends and girlfriends) by using these two apps.
But in fact, they tend to be replaced by Douyin.
According to the latest data, Tantan had only 10 million daily active users at the end of 2019, while Momo has more than 3300 million daily active users. But in any case, it is significantly lower than Douyin.
As mentioned earlier, these two App are more like “Dating App” than “Social Network App”. The essential difference between them is:
Momo was born in 2011, so the main interface of its product is the list layout commonly used by the previous generation of dating software, and you can see the avatars of several potential friends and the distance between you and him on one screen.
Tantan, which was born in 2014, has an interface almost similar to that of Tinder, pairing you with potential dates by constantly swiping your photo card to the left or right.
Because Momo was born earlier, like other Apps in China, after a long time of development, it began to look like a “Super App”, adding live streaming function, game function, group function, and so on. But the function of Tantan is relatively simple, just pairing and chatting.
In the user community, although there is no clear data to prove this. But generally speaking, middle-aged people in second-and third-tier cities prefer to use Momo, while young people in first-tier cities prefer Tantan.
It is worth mentioning that although these two Apps have a good reputation among foreigners living in China. But it has a poor reputation in Chinese public opinion because people associate them with one-night stands.
In the early days of the two Apps came online, no user was looking for a long-term relationship by using them. People here were just looking for a one-night stand or an immoral sex deal. Although it is true that many young people in China have begun to look for relationships through Tantan and Momo in recent years, early stereotypes have been preserved.
In addition, in February 2018, Momo bought Tantan for some stock plus $600 million in cash. As a result, these two Apps now actually belong to the same company.
Douyin and Kwai (Kuaishou)
Douyin is just a Chinese version of Tiktok that is isolated from Tiktok in the database.
Despite criticism from parents, almost all young Chinese like Douyin, which is almost the next generation of social networks.
Douyin has more than 600million daily active users in China, according to figures released by Bytedance, making it the second-largest social network in China after Wechat surpassing Weibo.
This makes Tencent as afraid of Douyin as Facebook is about TikTok. As we have said before, Tencent blocked Douyin links in WeChat and QQ because of business competition. You can’t open a link to jump to Douyin among them.
Due to the popularity of Tiktok around the world, I believe we don’t need to introduce its Chinese version of Douyin too much.
But what many foreigners do not understand is that there is another Tiktok-like App, with more than 300 million daily active users in the Chinese market, which is Kuaishou (overseas version name Kwai).
Kuaishou is not a knockoff of TikTok because it was released earlier than TikTok. Kuaishou was first released as a mobile video editing tool in 2012 and transformed into a video community in 2014.
Since then, Kuaishou has been using artificial intelligence algorithms to organize content, but unlike TikTok, it uses a two-column layout and does not play automatically. Users still have to click on the cover to enter a video to watch the video. After Douyin became popular in China, Kuaishou added a TikTok-like interface, allowing users to choose between single-column layout and double-column layout.
Kuaishou has long been an “invisible company”, and although the company has been transformed into a video social network since 2014, few people found that it had gained nearly 100m daily active users in the Chinese market until an in-depth report in 2016. This is due to the characteristics of its user base.
There is almost no difference between Kuaishou and Douyin in product form, but there are significant differences in their main user groups. To put it simply, Douyin users (especially video publishers) are mainly concentrated in China’s first-tier cities, while Kuaishou users are widely distributed in second-tier, third-tier cities, and even rural areas.
In big cities, manual workers and low-income people are also more likely to use Kuaishou than Douyin.
The difference is due to the different algorithmic preferences of the two products, and Kuaishou is more likely to reduce the amount of content posted by the top creators on the platform and direct more viewers to content posted by users in their local community, although it may not be good enough.
As a result, Kuaishou is also known as the “WeChat Moment of villages and towns in China”, which means that in some parts of China with a low level of economic development, people prefer to use Kuaishou to share their daily lives rather than WeChat Moment.
Douyin is the best choice for professional short video content creators because it pays more attention to professionally produced videos. But for viewers who want to know more about the daily lives of Chinese people from different walks of life, Kuaishou is a better choice.
Xiahongshu (小红书，Little Red Book) and Zhihu(知乎，Know it?)
Well, there is no comparability between the two sites, I just forced them together. Let’s introduce these two websites separately.
Xiaohongshu (RED) is a unique shopping community, and there doesn’t seem to be a social networking site like it overseas. To some extent, it is a hybrid product of Instagram and Pinterest.
Compared with Instagram, Xiaohongshu is more commercial, and its main content is the experience and photos of goods and shopping. Compared with Pinterest, Xiaohongshu pays more attention to “social”. You can’t just share photos of goods or foods or views, you must be the protagonist of the photo, otherwise, the content will not be recommended.
Founded in 2013, Xiaohongshu had more than 20 million daily active users during the Spring Festival in 2020.
Different from the past commodity review media or communities, Xiaohongshu does not emphasize the objectivity and rigor of commodity reviews. On the contrary, its content is more subjective and perceptual. To put it simply, when evaluating a drink, Xiaohongshu users do not use a laboratory instrument to monitor its sugar content but use a series of literary descriptions to describe the taste of the drink.
This makes everything on Xiaohongshu look like an advertisement, but many users like to watch it.
Although Xiaohongshu seems to be very small compared with other “mainstream social networking sites” in China, as mentioned before, because it is actually a shopping guide community, it is extremely commercialized. Both advertisers and content creators who want to be paid by advertisers are addicted to spending time making content here.
For companies that want to sell food, cosmetics, skincare products, or clothing in China, Xiaohongshu is a better starting point than Wechat, Weibo, or even Douyin, because no one here questions whether you are advertising.
Zhihu is at the other extreme. It is basically the Chinese version of Quora, which was founded in 2011. Like Quora, this is a relatively serious question-and-answer site that requires users to use rigorous text and precise quotes to answer questions.
But this elitism does not always work, and some people falsify their academic experience to endorse their answers. This phenomenon was so rampant on Zhihu that a meme about Zhihu began to spread on the Internet in China.
The content of this meme is: “Thank you for inviting me to answer the question. I just got off the plane in the United States, and there are too many acquaintances in the circle, so I answered anonymously.”
This kind of copywriting is in the early content of the Zhihu community. And if an answer begins with this kind of copywriting, it is likely to be made up.
Nevertheless, Zhihu is still one of the most valuable content pools on the Chinese Internet, where a lot of descriptive content is deposited on the Chinese Internet. Zhihu’s search function is as bad as Quora, so if you want to find any China-related content on Zhihu, the right way is to open Google and type: site:zhihu.com keyword1+keyword2.
The above is that by 2020, I think all foreign readers who concern about China should know some basic knowledge about China’s mainstream social networks.
If any social networks change in the future, or if a new social network becomes mainstream, I will update this article.
If you are curious about a certain App in China, you can also leave a comment at the bottom of this article, and I will try my best to reply to you.