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The explosion of social media in China is putting pressure on companies doing business in China to increase engagement on Chinese social networks, and forge alliances online with local key opinion leaders, known as KOLs.

This per Normandy Madden (@normandymadden), senior VP-content development, Asia/Pacific at Thoughtful China, and Ad Age’s former Asia Editor, in an article regarding marketers heeding China’s social media growth.

Free speech doesn’t appear to monopolize blogging. From Chris Maier, Millward Brown’s director, media & digital solutions in China:

One fascinating aspect of China’s digital landscape is how openly netizens take to the cyber-streets to offer thoughts, opinions and guidance. Of China’s 500 million online users, half claim to be active bloggers.

It doesn’t stop at blogging. Look at the number of people using Chinese social networks:

  • Tencent’s QZone, 580 million people active users out of a total of 712 million registered users
  • Twitter-like, Tencent Weibo, 507 million registered users
  • Sina Weibo, 400 million users
  • PengYoum 259 million users
  • Facebook-like RenRen, 172 million users

Jesse Goranson, SVP, Media & Telecom at Nielsen Greater China, told Madden there are four main types of opinion leaders. “[They are] celebrities, commercial accounts, grassroots folks [who] are building a name for themselves, then industry experts in a particular field.”

Law firms should take note of the influence opinion leaders can have via social media in China. People are exchanging thoughts, opinions, and guidance. This sort of online exchange where thought leadership is most influential is ideal for lawyers.

There will of course be legal, social protocol, and learning curve issues when it comes to multinational law firms expanding their use of social media and social networking in China, but the sheer number of people in China using social media cannot be dismissed.