Few days ago, I had a chance to welcome a bunch of students who come from one American University in Boston region. I gave them a short and simple presentation regarding China internet business. In the end, what really strikes me is no matter how China throws out glaring internet statistics and potentials; so far its digital impact still remains weak outside of China.

I could not say I did a fantastic presentation. But I did ask these students whether they know Baidu or Tencent. They shook their heads and I thought I had to stop asking their knowledge of Alibaba, Sina Microblogging etc.

Of course, they are just college students and I shall not expect them to understand China, especially about digital China. However, in contrast, almost every Chinese university student should at least have heard of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. Why? Because China internet movement still follows US, because the success of China internet giants still follows the business models of US. The leaders might not care about followers that much; as long as you stay in your own territory; that might be the tragic fate of being the copycats, I suppose.  

Then what about Wechat, the hottest App powered by Tencent in China right now? It should be superior to Whatsapp and carries a tinge of China’s creativity. Well, again the students did not seem that impressed; after all they probably would much prefer Facebook App or Snapchat. Even though Tencent claimed that Wechat will accumulate 400 million users soon and already launched its business in US, this app still has been adopted mainly among Chinese community.

Overall these students showed not much curiosity or enthusiasm about China digital ecosystem, more or less an indifferent attitude. Eventually one student asked what might be the best way for a foreign brand to foray into China. My answer: I compared different online purchasing behaviors between US and China, while as usual emphasized the importance of e-commerce and social marketing in China.

In conclusion I said “Huge digital population means huge purchasing power. China is a black box, and you have to understand our internet culture and mindset before conducting your business in this country, otherwise it would become more and more difficult to earn any dime from this market”. After such speech, somehow deep down in my heart, I hope one day China’s digital influence will go beyond its territory, rather than a lucrative online market with staggering statistics in the eyes of many foreigners. 

By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager