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Cannes 2012: Renren: China's own social networking growth story

By , Seminars, Cannes | In Advertising | June 18, 2012
The site, which started as a networking site for university and college students in China, has not only redefined the social networking space in the country but has also managed to keep Facebook at bay.

Renren

Joe Chen and Bessie Lee

The Mandarin character Rén, which shows the two legs and torso of a human body, stands for people. So China's largest social networking platform - Renren - stands for people-people or in simplified words - people connecting people.

The site, which started as a networking site for university and college students in China, has not only redefined the social networking space in the country but has also managed to keep Facebook at bay.

The growth story of the social networking platform or precisely Renren in China is a contribution of two factors - largest lonely young generation in the world - thanks to the country's one child policy and second, the growth of smartphones. There are around 200 billion smartphones in China and Renren gets 55 per cent of its traffic from mobile phones.

In an interesting conversation between Joe Chen, founder, chairman and CEO of Renren and Bessie Lee, CEO, GroupM, China, Chen talked about the shifting media attention in China fuelled by the growth of smartphones.

In fact, in the lower tier cities of China, where people are not so economically profound as in Beijing or Shanghai, people's first interaction with a device starts with a smartphone as it is more affordable than a laptop or even a desktop. In fact, in China, the online medium has already surpassed the newspapers in terms of reach.

Talking further on the success of Renren, Chen mentioned how the social gaming of Happy Farming propelled the growth of the platform, which was originally an alumni club.

In the early days, 'Poking' was a popular activity on Facebook but in China, it wasn't considered courteous. Rather, 'stealing' vegetables from friend's harvest, which the social gaming offered, caught the attention of the people.

It was amazing to learn how people in China, even grandmothers, woke up at 2 am only to digitally steal vegetables in an online game; it resulted in sleep depression during that period.

Chen said, "Social gaming is the biggest benefactor and accelerator of growth for social networking. Zynga is an integral part of Facebook."

Chen's experience with Renren says that in China, the revenue for social networking comes from brand advertising, gaming and local e-commerce, which is very unlike Facebook, where Small and Medium Business Enterprises and self-service ads are driving the revenues.

When asked about the future of social networking, Chen quipped that it's too hard to predict growth in this sector as things move very fast. He cited an interesting incident where he had hired a chief financial officer (CFO) from a biotech company, two years ago. While briefing her on the internet industry, he said that growth here is four times faster than the traditional industry. Now, with the growth of mobile, he said, the rate is 12 times faster.

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