Failure of foreign peers in China a warning for Facebook as it eyes mainland access

By Xiao Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-20 23:43:02

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's longtime wooing of the Chinese mainland market took a new turn over the weekend when he met with a senior Party official in Beijing.

The move stoked speculation that the US social network might yet gain access to the world's largest Internet market in terms of online users.

Zuckerberg posted a picture Friday on his Facebook page showing him jogging in Tiananmen Square without wearing a mask despite the visible smog at the time.

But even if his efforts come to fruition, Facebook will still face considerable challenges in translating its global clout into commercial success in the mainland market.

Zuckerberg had a meeting with Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, at which Liu stated that he hopes Facebook can share its experience in terms of advanced technologies and management skills with its Chinese counterparts and help Internet development to benefit the people of various countries, according to the Xinhua News Agency on Saturday.

The meeting inevitably fanned hopes that Facebook might be closer to entering the mainland market, but with its foreign peers having failed to perform impressively in China there are still doubts about whether it could be more successful.

Thus far, LinkedIn is the only US social network that has built a notable presence in the mainland market, partly thanks to its introduction of a Chinese version of its site in early 2014.

Facebook may also launch a local version, but it probably won't be enough, as it is less unique compared to LinkedIn, which offers professional social networking services that the mainland's homespun Internet firms have failed to match thus far.

What particularly dampens the outlook for Facebook's possible mainland foray is the US firm's announcement at the end of February that it would be closing its credit rating and reporting pilot program because of regulatory and consumer concerns.

This is an arena in which China's three Internet behemoths - Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - have proven to be increasingly strong, enabling them to access an enormous wealth of consumer information.

A more realistic approach for Facebook might be to forge partnerships with Chinese Internet giants. This would certainly make it easier for it to get started in China, before it gets to know local users' habits enough to develop localized strategies.

The Facebook founder was in the capital city to attend an annual high-level economic forum, at which he shared a stage Saturday with Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma Yun to discuss future progress in artificial intelligence, among other things.

At the session, Ma recalled his first meeting with Zuckerberg back nine years ago, during which the two Internet celebrities swapped phone numbers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

It was Zuckerberg who called first, according to Ma, who didn't disclose when the call was made.

It is likely that the two Internet giants might cooperate in possible expansion into each other's turf, which would be of particular benefit for Facebook, assuming it's granted access to the mainland market.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: It's Your Business

blog comments powered by Disqus