Yesterday, I have delivered a seminar entitled “Building Online Communities: Strategies, Tools and Trends” for the Masters students in Technopreneurship and Innovation (创业与创新硕士课程). The whole session took about three hours in a seminar room. The focus of the talk is to collect some of the recent insights on the trends, tools and strategies on online social networks and also conduct a discussion forum with the students via their teams on two interesting case studies: CyWorld and Facebook. One of the key learnings which I wanted to bring across for the students is to experience both perspectives of thinking about expansion from either a local (CyWorld) or global company (Facebook). We did an interesting exercise where the students provide ideas and strategies on whether Facebook should enter into China and the challenges it entails. Unlike my other talks, this is my first lecture done in Chinese. Here are some of my thoughts from the seminar.
I broke down the talk into four parts. First, I presented the definition and ideas behind online communities, and explain why I use online social networks because I can also put online games under third party applications. After that I followed by discussing the trends that is happening in Asia and presented my conclusion on the general trends of social networks in Asia (similar to my talk in TEDxSentosa) where I conclude that the underlying economics such as micro-transactions complements the language and culture barrier as to which network dominate in which culture. Following on, I presented the first case study on CyWorld to the students and broke them up into discussion groups. After the first case study and discussion, I continued with the tools and business strategies on social networks, and presented some short case studies about online advertising and virtual gifts from various sources. The last part of the seminar is on the second case study which I talked about Facebook and compare it to QQ which has successfully monetize in her own local market.
- Perspective of Global and Local Companies with respect to expansion: I used Cyworld and Facebook because they are good examples of a local company trying to expand to the West, and a global company trying to penetrate into a local large domestic market, for e.g. China. The two case study discussion sessions are centered to push the students to think about the objectives, the business models and strategies and what lessons can be learnt from CyWorld’s failure in Germany.
- Should CyWorld not expand in Europe and US while just focus its efforts in China during 2005?: I have come to a different conclusion after looking at different articles and comments from pundits about CyWorld. In fact, this will be reviewed in greater detail from the book that I am working on currently. Here is a quick hindsight about the situation then? During 2005, CyWorld expanded into China and gained about 1M users within a year. At that point of time, other than QQ (which has not incorporated social networking features), the rest of the social networks (51.com or Xiaonei – Renren.com) have not emerged. If they did not attempt to go into the western market so early, and instead focus on China first, will they have gained a first mover advantage? In fact, if they have paired up with China Mobile like the way they did in South Korea, they might have perhaps prevented the rise of the Chinese social networks which emerged later.
- Facebook to China?: It looks like a bad idea from now, given the government regulation. In fact, we did an analysis on which facebook features can be incorporated for the version that can be launched in China and how to circumnavigate with the authorities on content regulation. One important feature that Facebook might have to give up going to China is that they cannot have video shared links. During my recent trip to China, while interviewing the senior executives from 51.com and Kaixin001, they told me the platform omitted video shared links because of possible government intervention, and hence they prefer the users to go to the video content sharing sites such as Youku and Tudou. For an alternative view on not expanding to China, you should read my friend Gang Lu’s thesis on why Facebook should give up China.
Thoughts on Lecturing and Conducting a discussion in Chinese
- Presentation requires a shift in language and perspective: The easy way out to prepare a presentation given that I have a lot of material in the subject is to do a translation. It’s not a very good strategy. Working with a mainland Chinese entrepreneur based in Singapore (one of my incubatees), I decide to adopt a different approach and that is to start from thinking about how to present the whole talk without reliance on some slides in English. Unlike the English language which narrates ideas in a short and crisp manner, Chinese is a metaphorical language. I also try to reduce words on most slides where the visual representation can be helpful to help the students to understand what I am saying.
- Putting more time in the discussion sessions: Since Chinese is a metaphorical and descriptive language, presenting thoughts about a topic and subject takes a longer time. Of course, if I have to conduct future sessions, I will focus on devoting less time on slides but more on getting more students to discuss the topic of interest.
Even for myself, there is a lot to be improved. I have also learned a lot from the Chinese students I spoke to. In fact, I did not know that Xiaonei (RenRen now) started getting users by distributing paper flyers to schools and offering free coca cola to student classes which sign up on the service. It is a very offline way of doing marketing back to the basics. It also provided me some thoughts on the book which I hope to churn out the first draft soon.
You can see my presentation or download it here:
Acknowledgments: I thank Peter Du in helping me to prepare this talk, mainly with the translation and preparation for the talk. Many thanks to the staff and the NTU MSc students in technopreneurship who have attended this talk and the lively discussion that ensued during the presentation.
 Nielsen, “Global Faces and Networked Paces” – A Nielsen Report on Social Networking’s new Global Footprint.
 Benjamin Joffe, CyWorld and Tencent Sample Reports.
 TechCrunch, A look at Facebook Reach Worldwide.
 eMarketer, Focusing on Social Networks.