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Internet in China: The Changing Nature of Chinese Internet Users

In our previous post we covered why the social media landscape in China is so different from the rest of the world. In this post, we will take a look at how rapid changes in Chinese economy have changed the Internet landscape – mainly because of the people accessing it.

  • How has the profile of Chinese netizens changed over the past 20 years?
  • What trends have these changes brought along for Chinese internet users?
  • What these changes mean for your China content strategy?

This content is adapted from our Ultimate Guide to China Social Media Marketing 2022. As the name suggests, this is the guide to read if social media marketing in China is on your radar. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the link to the full guide!

Most Chinese Internet Users Have Basic Education

In 2020, just 10% of people accessing the Internet in China had obtained a university degree. However, this has not always been the case – Internet in China 20 years ago had a vastly different user profile… What happened?

graph showing the changing education levels of Chinese internet users

Sources: cac.gov.cn; cnnic.cn

In our previous post, we traced back to the origins of the Internet in China – it all started with universities.

While first experiments with establishing an Internet connection began in 1987, a stable connection in China was established only in 1994.

The Internet was then available for a small circle, clustering around universities and research centers. With desktop computers being unaffordable for many households, first Netizens were mainly students in universities, researchers and a few early adopters.

Via Washington Post

Smartphones became more affordable in the mid-00’s, many priced less than ¥1,000 ($157). This sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers.

More importantly, mobile devices bridged the digital divide between China’s urban and rural regions. And so, as the Chinese internet became a more diverse space, the content on there changed as well…

Rural Livestreaming Wins the Hearts of Chinese Internet Users

With more affordable mobile phones, “rural livestreaming” or cūnbō (村播) has taken off. Chinese internet users have become particularly fond of some of these countryside “presenters”.

Ecommerce livestreaming is all the rage in China, and a large portion of the Chinese internet users flock to Alibaba’s Taobao Live. Alibaba has been particularly supportive of rural sellers, even launching a separate category ‘cūnbō project‘ in the spring of 2019 to help promote the use of their livestreaming feature among farmers.

What Does the Changing Nature of Chinese Internet Users Mean for Content?

Compared to their Western equivalents, Chinese Social Media platforms have quite limited targeting options. With China’s new internet privacy laws, brands know even less about their audience.

Brands may need to ensure their content strategy includes a range of content targeted to different users.

Messages that work for a middle class, college educated city dweller are likely to be very different from content, that’s targeting newer consumers in more rural parts of China.

Consider even creating separate social channels for your different audiences to serve better content for their needs.

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Want to read the full Ultimate Guide to China Social Media Marketing in 2022?

Find it here!

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