One of the challenges when developing an online presence in the China market is navigating the restrictions the Chinese government places on content.  The major Internet networks are closely watched and censored, so many Chinese consumers have responded by creating other avenues to obtain the information they want.  Companies looking to expand their business in Asia need to focus their attention on these lesser-known avenues, so they can be confident that their content is reaching their target consumers.

The Chinese government has had recurring issues with Google and its content, so instead of using Google, China has employed another search engine called Baidu.  It can be used like Google, where ad words and search engine optimization (SEO) improve a website’s ranking in a list of results.  However, because Baidu is highly censored, consumers don’t always trust the information they find.  Unlike Google, other North American tools such as Facebook and Twitter do exist in China, but they are not the most popular source for product information either.

People in China have developed their own social networks.  The leading social networking site, renren.com, began as a Facebook clone and currently has tens of millions of users.  Kaixin001.com is another popular site that is used mostly by people who work for multinational companies and attracts a wealthier user base.  Another social network, 51.com, is gaining some traction and has gained users from cities and rural areas.

There are other social networks that operate more like a wiki program or a forum in which consumers can share reviews of everything from hotels to watches.  These are much smaller networks that contain mostly independent opinions of products and services.  These forums are the best place to advertise businesses, because Chinese consumers are more concerned with product reviews than they are with price point.  Also, there is little concern about censorship in the smaller networks, so consumers are more apt to trust the content.

While China may be a lucrative market for American-based business, making in-roads with marketing and branding takes a lot of work.  Unlike selling to a North American market that is driven by price, consumers in China depend much more on reviews.  That means spending less time on SEO tools and more time penetrating the small independent forums where consumers really make their decision to buy.