8 years in Chinese social media: how’s RenRen doing?
Inside the complex Chinese social media scenario, RenRen still represents one of the most important platforms. It was launched back in December 2005; together with Douban it belongs to the first generation of Chinese social media, among the first and most successful “real-name registration” SNS in China.
Due to its Facebook-alike features and its popularity among students in the early years, it has been dubbed “The Facebook of China”.
Formerly known as Xiaonei Network (literally: on-campus network), over the years RenRen has seen rise of new players such as Kaixin001, microblogs like Sina Weibo and – more recently – the booming Tencent’s mobile app WeChat.
Lots of things have changed over this long 8 years; what kind of audience does RenRen have today? How is it still tickling the interest of brands?
Renren users: students and white collars
The main audience of RenRen is people aged from 13 to 30 years old. The user base evolved over the years: it extended from university students to middle and high school student, and then to white collars – many of them started using the SNS back in the days. The main target also switched from major cities to tier 2 and 3 cities.
According to an inside source:
“Up to now, RenRen has covered 1/3 of Chinese middle school students, and about 10 million white-collar users.”
For sure, unlike Weibo and WeChat, RenRen is failing in appealing to the new masses of Chinese Netizens, and hardly pops up in the reports about the next social media trends in China:
“Renren’s downfall came because it was slow to adapt to the rise of smartphones and mobile internet use, analysts say.” (source: The Financial Times).
But although the platform still struggles in term of monetization (more on this report by Fool.com: Will RenRen ever make money?), if we look at the company’s official releases, the figures are still quite intriguing:
“The number of activated accounts on RenRen rose to 194 million from 164 million in last year. And monthly independent login in accounts grew to 54 million from 45 million in June 2012″ (source: China Internet Watch)
Brand Pages: still a valuable opportunity?
Since the dawn of social media marketing, RenRen has been an important player in marketing initiatives targeting Chinese users. Before World AIDS Day, in December 2012, Durex launched the global viral campaign 1 Share 1 Condom: content could be shared on Twitter, Facebook and RenRen:
Speaking of long-term strategies, the features RenRen offers to brands are similar to the ones offered by Facebook. Customers can find their target users on RenRen, and effectively deliver the message to the right groups through the adv system. The platform enables brands to beautify the page, organizing online activities and give-aways.
Several international companies have established a presence on RenRen, and has been using it to activate fans in successful marketing campaigns. And quite a few of them still do.
Dell, Uniqlo, Budweiser and KFC
The most notorious examples is probably Dell, among the first brands to heavily invest on an integrated RenRen strategy, including an initiative targeting influencers in universities, called “Dell Campus”, and an online flagship store to drive computer sales (more on this report by MSL Group). The Dell page on RenRen counts over a million fans, and present a Facebook-alike timeline with the story of the company.
In 2010 Uniqlo launched a popular campaign called “Lucky Line”, a social app where users could stand in a virtual line and win prizes. The Japanese brand now counts over 180 thousand fans on the social network.
American beer Budweiser is today among the big spenders inside the platform: the brand’s official page counts over 4 million fans – way more than the 2.5 million followers on Sina Weibo. The scheduling is quite tight, with many references to the American pop-culture:
Another active American brand is KFC, the largest food chain in China with over 4,400 locations – although they recently lost a significant amount of consumers in the country due to recent Bird Flu fears, as reported by The Business Week.
The brand has been hosting a number of campaigns mainly related to product launches and special deals. The strategy on RenRen is pushy and strictly sales-oriented, with a multimedia approach including the promotion of other web platforms and mobile apps:
The future: social games & mobile
For a long time RenRen has always been on top of digital trends, adding additional services to the social network. Since 2008 they hosted the popular FarmVille-alike social game Happy Farm, which they recently decided to shut down generating the protests of it over 100 million users. Renren currently keep on investing on the social gaming platform RenRen Games.
In 2011 the company went public on the New York Stock exchange, and purchased the video sharing site 56.com for $80 million.
More recently, the social now turned its strategic attention to the mobile internet: up to now the mobile users has taken up 60% of total activity on the platform, and the company is now dedicating 45% of the workforce to mobile development, according to The Wall Street Journal.
One thing is sure: China is by far the most rapidly evolving digital scenario, and the “cool factor” here plays a vital role. A service like WeChat reached over 200 million users in just 2 years, while multi-million-users platforms lost their hype literally overnight.
The only solution is constant product innovation, because today every slice of the giant Chinese social media pie is worth billions.