The GREAT Firewall of China (and how to scale it without being burned)

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The internet is often cited as a great engine of ‘freedom’ in China. However, blogger, Peter Foster, believes (as many do) that there is a counter-perception that says the internet in China is actually a tool of collective repression, since the Chinese state has far greater resources than ordinary citizens to control it.

The Great Firewall of China has recently precluded access to Facebook, Google, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress, Blogger, Bing and Twitter (among other sites) in the wake of last week’s Uighur riots; and according to The Wall Street Journal, while Chinese internet users have been regaining access to most social networking websites, it seems that the bans have not yet been lifted for YouTube and Blogger, both subsidiaries of Google.

For many internet enthusiasts domestic and abroad, the omnipresent censorship ability of this ‘machine’ that is the Chinese government presents a point of major contention; however this yields a unique opportunity for the people of China to take back their technological freedom through peer-to-peer information sharing and BBS sites. And for US marketers to utilize uncensored, Chinese-based tools ike advergaming and virtual word platforms.

Companies who want to market in China using social media would do well to realize the tremendous potential of these digital marketing platforms and use them judiciously for the promotion of their brands, services and products in the “Middle Kingdom.”

Although China is said to be thriving online, a deeper delve into the subject reveals that China’s great firewall is formidable and omnipresent. The Chinese government is able to block foreign media content and suppress local SNS networks and netizen content using sophisticated software and government technology monitoring policies and processes. It can do so on a whim, without court order and repeatedly.

In response to this challenging digital marketing environment, US companies wishing to engage Chinese consumers online in China, would do well to consider alternatives to Western marketing techniques by utilizing secondary platforms. For example, <a href="Mashable “>Mashable reports that Twitter can still be accessed through third party clients such as Seesmic Desktop or Tweetdeck; and many brands like Apple and McDonalds are utilizing SNS platforms like and using avatars within online virtual worlds.Additionally, US brands like Addidas are using online gaming forums like to engage Chinese consumers in advergaming platforms.chinese sitesWhile BBS (consumer watchdog) platforms largely serve to channel the frustrations from Chinese consumers who are enraged by the digital censorship tactics of their communist regime; brands wishing to demonstrate a non-interrupted advertising presence in the Middle Kingdom should learn a lesson from highly embattled Google, who tried bucking the Chinese government. For Google the battle to scale China’s digital wall of fire has largely been downhill, and has left them with sustained and painful burn marks that have yet to fully heal.

From this example, a valuable lesson to US Brands can be derived: “When in Rome China…”


2 Responses to The GREAT Firewall of China (and how to scale it without being burned)

  1. You have two big ideas in this post – and it would have been great to try and separate them or pick one to focus on. The first was about using advergaming and virtual world platforms for marketing as a way around the censorship barriers in China. The second idea was about using third party platforms as a way to engage on banned sites without going directly on those sites. Each has a wide range of potential applications when it comes to marketing. Through the weeks, the consistent theme I have seen in your posts is great ideas and insights sometimes getting buried or grouped together in an overarching post. The good news is that the thinking is all there and you have a great ability to see strong marketing potential themes and ideas in each country that we survey. When it comes to blogging, you just need to try and focus your posts more on a single great idea. (3) + (1 bonus point for a great visual that brings the point of your post home and clearly took some time to do)

  2. mintybeth says:

    You make a very good point in your blog: Companies looking to make in-roads in China really have a Catch 22. Buck the government and risk getting frozen out. Or join in and get ostracized for giving in.

    Maybe I am a cock-eyed optimist, but I truly think that social media success can be achieved in China. It makes more sense to risk entry into the market than to leave out a major segment of the world. I would suggest that companies at least try. Yes, FB may go down once or twice or even more, but it is better than sitting on the sidelines.

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