Over 2 billion people around the world are signed-up members of social networks. That’s well over a quarter of the human race.
As you’d expect, this vast market’s biggest player is Facebook, which can lay claim to 1.59 billion active users worldwide. There are familiar brand names in second and third place on the chart too: WhatsApp with its 1 billion users and the fast-growing Facebook Messenger with 900 million.
Scan a little further down the list however, and you might encounter some distinctly less familiar names. Are you one of Viber’s 249 million members? Signed up to QQ? Au fait with WeChat? For those of you who are in the dark, here’s a closer look at some of the most popular international social networks that many of you may never have heard of.
Tencent QQ – #4 – 853 million users
Tencent QQ – or QQ as it is popularly known – is China’s biggest social platform, and the fourth most popular in the world. QQ is a web based instant-messaging service, featuring text and video messaging, voice chat and file sharing. The app runs off operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Android and iOS.
The platform’s business-focused branch, QQ Enterprise, allows brands to promote their products and services to the network’s vast user base.
“QQ” means “cute” in Chinese, and a scarf-toting penguin mascot reinforces the platform’s friendly persona. Some civil liberties commentators have argued that the company’s compliance with government-enforced user surveillance and censorship is anything but cute and cuddly – but privacy concerns relating to social media platforms are far from an exclusively Chinese problem.
QQ International for iOS and Android provides access to QQ in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese – though the original, Chinese QQ is widely considered the superior product.
Tencent also operates the world’s fifth and sixth biggest social platforms: WeChat and QZone.
Baidu Tieba – #10 – 300 million users
Baidu Tieba – the leading social platform from China’s top search engine – is quite unlike any other social network. It’s essentially a vastly popular forum, built around search functionality.
It all starts with a search. The user enters their query into the search bar, and is then directed to a selection of editorialised discussion threads (known as ‘bars’) based on their search. If the query doesn’t match any existing bars, a new bar is created. Members of the Baidu Tieba community moderate activity on each bar as ‘masters’, ‘vice-masters’ or ‘video-masters’. Imagine a bowdlerised Wikipedia-Reddit hybrid built around search functionality and you’ll be somewhere close to a mental image of this intriguing platform.
Viber – #12 – 249 million
Viber may not be the most interesting platform on this list from a B2C perspective, but it’s certainly worth knowing about if you’re keen to explore new ways to connect with your business contacts on-the-go. Launched in December 2010 by a team of business partners from Israel and Belarus, Viber is a free-to-use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) app offering voice and text messaging. The app also supports in-app calls to international landlines for highly competitive rates – a feature which has fuelled popularity amongst migrant workers and long-term travellers.
Viber was always intended as a direct competitor to Skype – and in many users’ eyes it is in fact the superior product. Unlike its Microsoft-owned rival, Viber was designed specifically as a mobile app, which gives it a natural edge in terms of mobile functionality. The one big drawback? Data usage.
Sina Weibo – #13 – 222 million
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. That being the case, the team behind Twitter must feel exceptionally flattered by Chinese microblogging network Sina Weibo.
“Weibo” lets you follow hashtags and user accounts, re-post content from other users, and create text or rich media posts of your own. There’s also a 140-character limit on each post…
That’s not to say China’s top microblogging platform doesn’t have some nifty features of its own. Sina Weibo’s most interesting feature for digital marketers its reward system, which awards medals to users based on how they interact with the network. Brands including Nike and Transformers have teamed up with Sina Weibo to offer special medals to users who re-tweet their content – a prime example of gamification in digital marketing.
yy – #16 – 122 million
If some of the social networks described in this article have sounded disappointingly familiar, perhaps this one will be more to your liking.
yy provides lets its users access live video streams from a huge array of performers, ranging from karaoke singers to comedic vloggers. If the viewer enjoys a stream, they can reward the performer with digital gifts such as lollypop and flower icons, which the performer can ultimately exchange for real money.
There’s some controversy in China surrounding yy – or more specifically, surrounding the respectability of its content. Chinese society is strictly anti-porn, and whilst you probably won’t see anything overtly sexual on yy, it’s instantly apparent that a high proportion of its more successful streams feature young woman acting coquettishly. Harmless fun? Not in the eyes of culturally conservative Chinese commentators.
VKontakte – #17 – 100 million
Social start-ups take note: Facebook is not necessarily the dominant force wherever it operates! Throughout much of Eastern Europe – and especially Russia – the leading social network is VKontakte.
VKontakte is similar to Facebook in many ways, from posts and profiles to likes and shares – but there are some subtle differences at play.
For one thing, messages can be sent to email addresses as well as other profiles, and comments can be left via SMS. Profile details are also more detailed – alongside your basic information you’ll be able to list details ranging from your political beliefs to your military service record.
If you’re looking to drum up business in Eastern Europe, marketing via a VKontakte page should be one of your first ports of call. Sign up, select your preferred language and create a ‘Public Page’ to get started. VKontakte requires similar marketing proficiencies to Facebook, from retargeting to stimulating organic viral sharing.