Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg traveled to China on vacation and visited several large companies including China’s biggest website, Baidu. This news caused rumours to spread around whether he was scoping the ‘socialscape’ for a future Chinese localisation of Facebook. While some have been sceptical of such a move, and despite the service currently being blocked by the Chinese government, I believe that Facebook could be much more successful in the Chinese market than its rival Google.
Google’s short stay in China had much to do with their unwillingness to co-operate with the Chinese government in censoring sensitive materials. Some have speculated on whether political agendas were involved, but this could have had a much more amicable outcome if Google had taken the time to understand the people, the culture and the environment of China, instead of assuming they knew everything there was to know.
Facebook will have greater success in China because of their secret ingredient: culture. At last year’s Web 2.0 summit, Robin Li from Baidu said it best, accusing Google of not taking the time to learn the culture of China. And there’s no hiding the fact that Zuckerberg has a strong interest in China, as during recent speaking engagement he asked, “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?”.
There is evidence to support Zuckerberg’s increasingly proactive attitude towards pursuing the Chinese market. Not only is his partner originally from China, giving him an invaluable insight into their culture, but he was so keen to improve his spoken Chinese before his trip that he had a tutor coaching him in the intricacies Chinese language every morning.
Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts perhaps put it best in Lovemarks, where he says that to know your business market or potential business market is to be amongst the people, living their life, seeing things through their eyes, being in their shoes.
Zuckerberg’s Chinese partner and dedicated learnings of the Chinese language may not be Facebook’s China strategy in itself, but it’s the willingness to learn and explore a culture that will help him embrace and appreciate these new, untapped markets.
If Facebook were to eventually open an office in China, you can be sure their content will not be blocked, because of his understanding around what would and wouldn’t be acceptable.
Things seem to make more sense if we put our pride aside, don’t you agree?