China gets to grips with the various effects of social media

Call it a crisis of conscience - of sorts. But as China's internet-using masses have rushed to embrace the worlds of social networking and microblogs it seems questions are being raised about just how they should in fact be used.

And at the center of all the confusion is, of course, the question of revenue.

China has now clocked up an estimated 457 million internet users and when it comes to social networking they are split between t.qq.com (with an estimated 200 million users), weibo.com (140 million), t.soho.com (65 million) and t.163.com (48 million).

Sina Corp - which operates Weibo - says that site's user numbers are growing by around 33 percent per month as more and more Chinese learn how they can make use of social media outlets.

Weibo's most popular microblogger is the actress Yao Chen, who has more than nine million online followers. And as Yao's popularity has skyrocketed so too, apparently, has her allure to advertisers.

Chinese media have been reporting in recent weeks that advertising agencies have been approaching Yao with offers of up to 100,000 yuan (11,000 euros) for each time she mentioned certain products - offers her management are quick to say Yao has so far declined.

China can expect to have about 100 million microbloggers by the end of 2011, according to the Data Centre of China Internet. So it's little wonder the commercial side of the trend is being fully explored.

That company also claims "social advertising" pulled in more than one billion yuan (107 million euros) in revenue last year - and that figure would top 14 billion yuan (1.5 billion euros) by 2015.

And that's why some well-established international companies too have been quick to realize the penetration numbers social networking can throw up in mainland China - and they are acting.

McDonald's recently tried out a branding campaign the company called "Group Lunch" - which suggested netizens pick a venue for lunch together - and, launching it via the relatively small social networking site kaixin011.com, were still able to get an estimated 150,000 people involved.

But there can obviously be a downside to all this "networking." China's internet was last week ablaze with indignation after the revelations of a certain "Guo Meimei Baby" - and yes it had everything to do with money.

After she boasted on her Weibo blog about her wealth and posed beside a fancy car - and claimed she worked for "Red Cross Commerce" - an inquest was called into the running of the international charity group of a similar name and the woman herself was forced into hiding.

MS

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