Social media sensation facebook has been warned that it faces a number of serious obstacles if it wants to conquer the huge Chinese market. Despite the firm revealing last week that it is contemplating re-entering China, analysts say it has slim chances of successfully grabbing a sizeable chunk of the world’s biggest internet population.
Facebook was already blocked from the world’s second-biggest economy nearly three years ago following deadly riots in the western province of Xinjiang that authorities say were abetted by the social networking site. Even if the site can mend fences with Chinese authorities, industry watchers believe it would still likely face intense competition, political meddling and little commercial success.
Few foreign internet companies have succeeded in China - eBay, Google, Amazon, Yahoo and most recently Groupon form the list of notable online players who have failed to gain traction in the fast-growing nation of 1.3 billion people. “It’s actually a bit late for facebook,” said Hong Kong-based CLSA analyst Elinor Leung.
Almost half of China’s 500 million internet users use social networking sites, government data showed in January. Leung said it “will be very difficult” for facebook to to differentiate themselves from established rivals.
“The Chinese have been social for years, and facebook would be just one more option among many,” said Sam Flemming, founder of Shanghai-based social media consultancy, CIC. “It certainly would have a certain amount of cache, especially among the more internationalised Chinese and foreigners living in China, but it would need a big push in awareness beyond this small group,” Flemming added. Those in China who want to access facebook and other blocked sites must use special VPN software to get around the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’.
Analysts said facebook would have to manage and censor content heavily to gain Beijing’s blessing for this to change. However, a heavily censored facebook may not be appeal - as its selling point is its sprawling global reach and open nature. “Chinese consumers don’t ever want to have some second-class offering or some dumbed-down offering,” said Duncan Clark, from BDA China.