Current access restrictions imposed by the “Great China Firewall” on some of the most popular social media networks has been the unfortunate reality in the past few years. While Facebook and Twitter are the most well known examples of the censorship, access to many other important marketing channels could be blocked permanently or intermittently.
Regardless of how one might feel about the whole issue of internet freedom, companies that are looking to use any of those marketing channels for their Chinese market are forced to make adjustments to their advertising strategy and mitigate the effects of restricted access by using alternative solutions.
Here is the short list of the currently blocked services (as of mid-2013), the implications of the restricted access and the suggested workarounds.
Video Hosting services
Both Youtube and Vimeo.com have been blocked since 2009. If your site contains any videos hosted on one of those services, they will appear as broken links to your Chinese visitors. Any of the instructional videos, advertisement clips etc. will not be accessible without VPN and, of course, you can’t be counting that your customers will be using VPN service to access your site, most of them will simply move on.
Current solution – hosting the clips on Youku.com, Chinese equivalent of Youtube that is accessible worldwide. Unfortunately, Youku.com is entirely in Chinese, so you’d need a Chinese speaking person to help set it up. The idea, however is the same as with Youtube – you upload your video and copy the link to your site. Of course, the real fool-proof solution would be to host your clips on your website whenever possible instead of using external service.
Google Docs, Google Drive, Dropbox are periodically blocked with Dropbox appearing to to be permanently inaccessible. Box.net, another popular service, is presently open but it has been blocked in the past. On the bright side, desktop applications for Box.net or Dropbox seem to be still syncing your files with the cloud just fine.
At the moment, I’d recommend to stick with Box.net.
Most of the most popular blogging platforms, WordPress, Blogspot and Blogger, have been permanently restricted, so any blogs published through these services will not be accessible to your Chinese audience. Typepad still seems to be kicking, another testament of its growing irrelevance.
Solution – self hosting your blogs using WordPress or any other CMS within your existing website or as another site dedicated only to blogging. You can still incorporate your blog posts into your corporate site via RSS as long as they are not posted on WordPress.com.
Besides Facebook and Twitter, other major social media sites that are restricted include Google+ and MySpace. Although, most companies continue maintaining their presence on those site to improve search ranking (especially true for Google+), it is important to keep in mind that the large number of Chinese still use Facebook quite frequently via VPN. While very little reliable user statistics on Facebook users in China is available, it is most likely used by fairly sophisticated and Western minded Chinese netizens.
Twitter is by far less relevant for the purpose of marketing in China and has been almost entirely replaced by Sina Weibo and WeChat (Weixin). If Twitter is essential for company’s marketing, Weibo and WeChat should definitely fit the bill.
Wikipedia is restricted selectively, articles deemed to be too sensitive are not accessible, not surprisingly the Wikipedia entries about the issue of blocked internet access in China are blocked too.
Bloomberg has been banned a couple of years ago after publishing some article hinting on the widespread corruption. It means that if your site has a live RSS feed or a plugin streaming information from Bloomberg.com – it will not display anything when accessed from Chinese address.