Ren Ren – The Chinese Facebook

Guest post by Christine Lynskey

In the West, we have Google and YouTube; China have Baidu and Youku. We have Facebook; China has Renren.

Like Google and YouTube before it, Facebook was banned by the Chinese government as a foreign threat to Chinese business. Facebook is only available in China to those rich enough to buy access to proxy servers.

Renren, translated as ‘Everyone’, is China’s No.1 social networking site. Renren started as Xiaonei, or ‘on campus’, and was founded by Wang Xing in December 2005. Like Facebook, Xiaonei started small as a networking site exclusive to university students and ultimately dominated that market, before relaunching as Renren in August 2009 and opening access to a nationwide audience. Kaixin001, or ‘happy’, is the most successful of Renren’s competitors. Kaixin001 has targetted white-collar workers – techies, media types and young professionals.

Like your typical social networking site, Renren users post messages via a central dialogue box. Games, applications, music and videos are accessed on a sidebar menu. Renren aims to increase users through music, wireless and location sharing services. Studies show that Chinese university students now get more information via Renren’s news feed than they do from search engines or other traditional news sources. Renren also aims to boost sales through Nuomi.com, the Chinese version of Groupon.

A major reason for Renren’s success is that it complies with government directions on content and censorship. It really wouldn’t have the choice either way – any keywords deemed unacceptable must be censored,  including any terms relating to the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Dalai Lama, or Chinese dissidents, such as Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, or Cheng Jianpeng, who was charged with a year of re-education through labour for posting a sarcastic comment on Twitter.

Like its competitors Kaixin001, QZone and 51.com, Renren is saturated with ads from brands such as BMW, China Mobile Communications, Estée Lauder and Mercedes- Benz. The biggest source of traffic and revenue has proved to be gaming. Three-quarters of Renren’s 22million active users have played Happy Farmer, Renren’s most popular and innovative game. Renren has been much more aggressive than Facebook in using product placement throughout their games. In April 2009, Lay’s crisps launched a Happy Farmer campaign, where users could grow Lay’s potatoes and create a Lay’s crisps factory. Happy Farmer inspired Kaixin001′s Happy Garden, and Zynga’s FarmVille, which launched on Facebook almost a year after the Renren’s original version.

Renren may be the first social networking site to go public. Its owners, Oak Pacific Interactive, are currently planning an IPO in the US, which could raise $500m (£310m). Approximately 30% of China’s population are currently on the internet, compared to 75% in the United States. China’s internet users are predicted to be 400 million, making it the largest internet market in the world – a market that Facebook and many other Western online companies are prevented from competing in. Facebook’s status in China may be changing soon though. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Beijing at the end of 2010 sparked fresh rumours of a Chinese launch.

Renren is fully taking advantage of the restrictions placed on international rivals. If you lived in China today, why would you pay extra to be on Facebook when all your friends and customers are on Renren?

Use for B2B? Beats me as I don’t speak Chinese.

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