This is the third entry in my series of country-based guides where I explore everything I find on the social media landscape in a given country. Today’s “target” is China, the ever-so-great China.
First, a couple of general social media stats from China, as of January 2023:
- There are over 1.03 billion social media users in China
- Approximately 72% of China’s population is using social media
- On average, Chinese users will spend 1 hour and 59 minutes every day on social media
- 97.7% of all Chinese internet users are also social media users
- 77.2% of all 18+ people in China use social media
- 51.2% of all social media users in China are male and 48.8% are female
- Chinese social media users use an average of 7.3 platforms every month
- 79.7% of all 16-64-aged Chinese social media users use any type of social media to find information about products and brands
- WeChat is the most used social media platform, with 81.6% of all Chinese users having an account
- Around 36.9% of 16-64-aged Chinese social media users are using social media to keep in touch with friends and family
- Facebook is only used by 14.9% of all 16-64-aged Chinese social media users
- The top 10 most used social media platforms in China are all made in China
Alright, that’s enough about the general stuff. We’re about to get into the nitty-gritty of the Chinese social media ecosystem.
Here’s what I’ll be discussing in this guide:
- Total number of social media users and penetration rate in China between 2018 – 2027
- Number of users for China’s top 15 most popular platforms and share of internet users who use them
- The types of accounts that internet users in China follow on social media
- A comparison between TikTok and Douyin
Without further ado, let’s get down to business!
Section I: Total Number of Social Media Users in China 2018-2027
In this first section, I’ll show you the gradual increase in social media users in China from 2018 to 2022, and then give you a reasonable forecast all the way until 2027. Thanks to Statista.
See the chart below:
|Year||Number of Social Media Users||% Increase|
|2019||828.48 million||7.75% increase from last year|
|2020||901.3 million||8.79% increase from last year|
|2021||961.02 million||6.62% increase from last year|
|2022||1.015 billion||5.64% increase from last year|
|2023||1.062 billion||4.69% increase from last year|
|2024||1.105 billion||3.91% increase from last year|
|2025||1.142 billion||3.40% increase from last year|
|2026||1.175 billion||2.91% increase from last year|
|2027||1.205 billion||2.47% increase from last year|
As you can see, back in 2018, China had around 768.87 million social media users. By 2022, that number had already increased to 1.015 billion, which is a whole 32.01% increase.
By 2027, that number is estimated to reach 1.205 billion, which is a 56.72% increase from 2018, if these figures are true.
The penetration rate seems to have gone up considerably over the years. As I said in the beginning, the penetration rate in China was around 72% for 2023, and it’s expected to go up in the future.
But to truly understand how significant the market penetration for social media in China, I’ll have to dedicate an entire section to it.
Section II: Penetration Rate of Social Media in China 2016-2027
Now that we’ve seen how many social media users are in China and its expected growth by 2027, we should take a look at the market penetration for the social media industry.
We’ll be working with a data chart from Statista (and this one) and I’ll give you my commentaries below. First, the chart:
|Period||Social Media Penetration|
China’s social media penetration has steadily increased over the years, with a notable decrease in 2017, most likely a cause of the Chinese government’s crackdown on free speech and censorship regulations. The usual, you know…
But ever since, social media platforms have been expanding their user base year after year, with around 73% of China’s entire population using social media in 2023. By 2027, that number is expected to reach 82.4% and beyond.
A likely contributor to the growing penetration rate of social media in Chinese society is the country’s growing economy. The higher standard of living makes social media appeal to a larger share of the population.
I can also see how technological advances may support the increasing adoption rate of social media in China. Some of these technologies could be 5G, new AI tools, the Metaverse, AR and VR, and so on. They have already proven quite appealing to the public.
Alright, now let’s look at the number of social media mobile users in China. Just below:
Section III: Number of Social Media Mobile Users in China 2016-2022
The reason why I wanted to talk about mobile social media users specifically is because Chinese society has a very tight relation to smartphones. One could say they’re inextricably linked.
A quick overview of the number of mobile social media users in China should paint a clearer picture. Here’s the chart:
|Year||Number of Social Media Users||% Increase|
|2017||720 million||+8.10% from the previous year|
|2018||792 million||+10% from the previous year|
|2019||862 million||+8.83% from the previous year|
|2020||924 million||+7.19% from the previous year|
|2021||968 million||+4.76% from the previous year|
|2022||1.003 billion||+3.61% from the previous year|
I have several hypotheses about the massive 50.6% increase in mobile social media users between 2016 and 2022 in China:
- The affordability and accessibility of smartphones increase year after year. This way, more people gained access to smartphones and thus began using social media
- More and more smartphone-centric social media platforms have appeared in China (WeChat is one of the main ones) which effectively forced users to get a smartphone
- The mobile internet infrastructure has grown and improved over the years, offering more speed and consistency. With higher-quality bandwidth, smartphone adoption was sure to increase
- Mobile-centric online services (like mobile payments and e-commerce) became very prevalent in China, which meant that smartphones became less of a choice and more of a necessity
I keep saying this but it’s true – Chinese society is a smartphone-centric society. Everything takes place on that little gadget in your pocket.
What we see in the chart above is how in 6 years, the number of mobile social media users has gone up by 50.6% in China. I fully expect that number to keep increasing in the coming years.
But what social media platforms do the Chinese people use? For that, you’ll have to read the next section 😀
Section IV: Percentage of Chinese Internet Users Who Use the Top 10 Social Media Platforms
In this section, I’ll be showing you the total number of users for each of China’s top 15 most popular platforms as well as the share of internet users who use these platforms.
You can find the chart below:
|Platform||Monthly Active Users||Share of Internet Users Who Use The Platform|
|Baidu Tieba||503.69 million||57.6%|
|Sina Weibo||336.48 million||49.3%|
|Douyin Huoshan||Around 235.2 million*||22.4%|
|IMessage||Around 196.24 million*||18.6%|
|Inke||Around 145.95 million*||13.9%|
|Blocked in China||13.5%|
|Line||Blocked in China||11%|
Disclaimer – the entries marked with a * mean that I couldn’t find the official data online so I had to calculate based on the known total number of internet users in China in 2023 + the percentage user share of those apps.
What you have here is a chart showing hard-to-find information (you won’t believe how closely guarded some of these platforms are) with the estimated number of users for the top 15 social media apps in Q4 2022 and 2023.
As you’ll notice, the vast majority of these apps are Chinese-made and owned because of course. China has always tried to stay away from the West’s influence, and in their attempt to do this, they even made their own social media platforms.
Facebook has a measly 3.4 million users in the country, and it can’t begin to compete with WeChat or Douyin (China’s version of TikTok). The reason for this is that Facebook is actually banned in China. Officially, the Chinese government doesn’t allow its citizens to access Facebook.
The 3.4 million people using it are doing it illegally, most likely, by using VPNs or other similar tools. China’s censorship regime extends not only to Facebook but many other foreign websites and social media platforms.
Why does it do that? Well, I’ll touch on that topic in another article where I can fully delve into China’s reasonings. As for now, I’m left interpreting social media stats as objectively as possible.
In the next section, I’ll be talking about Chinese users’ preferences in terms of the social accounts that they follow. Keep reading!
Section V: Types of Accounts that Chinese Internet Users Follow on Social Media
Curious about Chinese people’s social media preferences and how they use social media? This chart should help you understand them better. Spoiler alert – there isn’t much you won’t see coming.
The chart is below, so let’s go through it:
|Type of Account Followed||Share of Internet Users Who Follow an Account Type|
|Actors, performers, and comedians||30.9%|
|Restaurants, chefs, and foodies||23.4%|
|Bands, singers, and musicians||23.3%|
|TV channels and shows||23%|
|Bands, singers and musicians||19.3%|
|Brands to purchase||18.2%|
|Brands to consider purchasing||18.1%|
|Gaming experts and studios||16.9%|
|Fitness experts and organizations||16.4%|
|Magazines and publications||15.4%|
|Journalists and news companies||15.2%|
|Sports people and teams||15%|
It seems that 30.9% of all Chinese internet users are following the social media accounts of friends, family, and people they know. This answers the question of “Chinese people are just like us“. Just kidding, but yeah, they are.
The other categories are things you would expect. Entertainment, actors, singers, TV shows, brands to purchase or consider purchasing, and so on.
There’s nothing outside the norm here that I can talk about. Though, it seems that the Chinese government has also issued a few bans on public gluttony in real life or on social media.
Mukbang, the famous video content where a creator eats an incredible amount of food, seems to be banned in China. Gluttony is a bad thing and should be made illegal.
I mean… it clearly is a bad thing regarding one’s health but making it illegal is another thing altogether. Well, China doing what China does best I guess.
Other than that, Chinese internet users are following pretty much the same accounts that you and I follow. Nothing out of the ordinary about that.
So, moving on to the next section 😀
Section VI: Number of WeChat MAU Between Q2 2011 – Q4 2022
How about a quarter-by-quarter analysis of WeChat’s monthly active users from 2011 until the end of 2022? WeChat is the single largest social media platform in China, so this ought to be very interesting.
It’ll also give us a starting point to make some comparisons between WeChat’s penetration rate in its native country vs. other apps and their native countries.
But first, the main chart we’ll be working with:
|Period||WeChat Monthly Active Users||% Increase|
|Q2 2011||2.8 million|
|Q3 2011||14 million||+400% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2011||50 million||+257.14% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2012||100 million||+100% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2012||151 million||+51% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2012||209.6 million||+38.75% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2012||160.8 million||-23.31% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2013||194.4 million||+20.88% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2013||235.8 million||+21.32% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2013||336 million||+42.51% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2013||355 million||+5.65% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2014||396 million||+11.55% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2014||438 million||+10.61% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2014||468 million||+6.85% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2014||500 million||+6.84% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2015||549 million||+9.80% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2015||600 million||+9.29% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2015||650 million||+8.33% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2015||697 million||+7.23% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2016||762 million||+9.32% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2016||806 million||+5.77% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2016||846 million||+4.96% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2016||889 million||+5.09% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2017||938 million||+5.51% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2017||963 million||+2.66% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2017||980 million||+1.77% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2017||989 billion||+0.92% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2018||1.04 billion||+5.15% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2018||1.057 billion||+1.63% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2018||1.082 billion||+2.36% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2018||1.97 billion||+82.15%from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2019||1.11 billion||-43.64% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2019||1.132 billion||+1.98% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2019||1.151 billion||+1.68% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2019||1.164 billion||+1.13% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2020||1.2 billion||+3.08% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2020||1.206 billion||+0.50% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2020||1.213 billion||+0.58% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2020||1.225 billion||+0.99% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2021||1.241 billion||+1.31%from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2021||1.251 billion||+0.81% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2021||1.262 billion||+0.88% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2021||1.268 billion||+0.48% from the previous quarter|
|Q1 2022||1.288 billion||+1.58% from the previous quarter|
|Q2 2022||1.262 billion||-2.02% from the previous quarter|
|Q3 2022||1.308 billion||+3.64% from the previous quarter|
|Q4 2022||1.313 billion||+0.38% from the previous quarter|
We can see that WeChat went through a 400% increase in its user base from Q2 2011 to Q3 2011. That bump is likely caused by the fact that WeChat was launched in Q1 2011, and early adoption of any platform is always impactful.
Here are several other factors that likely played a part in WeChat’s userbase growth rate throughout the years:
- The growing adoption of smartphones that become more accessible and affordable to Chinese users. In fact, WeChat and smartphone technology are inextricably linked in Chinese society, as this article shows. QR codes are the alpha and the omega of WeChat’s interconnectedness to other apps in China, and smartphones are the key to all of them
- New features are added to the platform constantly (mobile payments, video calling, and mini-programs with multiple uses) that attract a new host of users and increase engagement on the platform
- WeChat integrated its services with other popular Chinese apps like Didi, Alipay, and Jd.com. All of these events propelled WeChat further into the social media stratosphere, garnering fresh adoption
- WeChat’s expansion to international markets began in 2013 and reached all the way to Europe from Southeastern Asia. In 2023, there are people using WeChat everywhere in the world, including 1.48 million in the US
- The Chinese government’s restrictive policies kept tightening the noose around social media usage. For instance, in 2017, the Chinese government issued new regulations on social media platforms which negatively impacted WeChat’s user growth (still positive but stunted). You can read more about China’s prohibitive regulations on social media on Wikipedia
- The COVID-19 pandemic boosted WeChat’s growth rate as it did for most other social media platforms in the world. Isolation leads to a desire to seek any means of communication, and social media filled that void perfectly. It also helped that WeChat began using multiple state-run health code apps for its users (real-time information about the state of the pandemic, consultations, self-diagnosis, etc.)
- The US-China trade war that resulted in Former President Donald Trump trying to ban WeChat from US app stores in 2020, stunting the app’s worldwide user growth and causing a massive loss in revenue (the block was later rescinded by a judge)
As you can see, there are countless social, cultural, geopolitical, and marketing factors that can affect a social media platform’s growth. WeChat is but one example of that, albeit a very good one.
To make a comparison, WeChat is the Chinese version of Facebook in terms of popularity and market penetration. It’s also consistently…expansive and versatile in what it can do. The app lets you buy things, talk to friends and family, write micro-blogs, play video games, open video conferences, and much more.
Sound familiar? Yeah, Facebook has an expansive set of features too. In a way, I might just call Facebook and WeChat two very similar and unique platforms. You see, their uniqueness stems from their non-specialized use.
While platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok specialize in a particular type of social media interaction, Facebook and WeChat have it all. Most importantly, almost all features are of high quality.
Enough about this, though. What about the financial stats of the social media industry in China? I have those too below.
Section VII: Social Media Ad Revenue from 2012 to 2023
With such a wildly popular social media industry in China, the financial spreadsheets should look amazing for these companies. Below, I have a chart showing the ad revenue per year from 2012 to 2023 for the social media industry. Check it out:
|Year||Social Media Ad Revenue||Values in USD|
|2012||3.16 billion yuan||459 million|
|2013||4.7 billion yuan||683 million|
|2014||7.96 billion yuan||1.15 billion|
|2015||14.67 billion yuan||1.99 billion|
|2016||23.96 billion yuan||2.13 billion|
|2017||35.1 billion yuan||5.10 billion|
|2018||50.96 billion yuan||7.41 billion|
|2019||65.07 billion yuan||9.46 billion|
|2020||79 billion yuan||11.49 billion|
|2021||93 billion yuan||13.52 billion|
|2022||109 billion yuan||15.85 billion|
|2023||125 billion yuan||18.18 billion|
Between 2012 and 2023, it’s estimated that the Chinese social media market will grow its ad revenue by 296%, from 459 million to 18.18 billion USD.
Clearly, the ad industry has become bigger and bigger over time. It can only expand further from this point on since social media is expected to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years.
But in any case, that’s about it with our comprehensive guide on the Chinese social media industry. I do hope you’ve caught a glimpse of how social media works in China at its true depth.
I’ll see you at the next one!
- Data Reportal – Digital 2023: China
- Statista – Number of Social Media Users in China from 2018 to 2022 with a Forecast Until 2027
- Statista – Social Media Penetration in China from 2018 to 2022 with a Forecast until 2027
- Statista – Penetration Rate of Social Media in China from 2016 to 2021
- Council on Foreign Relations – Media Censorship in China
- Insider Intelligence – The Pandemic Will Push China’s Time Spent with Smartphones to a Near 20% Annual Increase
- Statista – Number of social Media Mobile Users in China from 2016 to 2020 with Estimated Until 2022
- Statista – Monthly Active Users of the Leading Apps in China in December 2022
- Statista – Share of Internet Users Following Social Media in China as of 3rd Quarter 2022, by Social Media Account Type
- New York Post – “Mukbang” Binge-Eating Kink Videos Are Now Illegal in China
- Statista – Number of Monthly Active WeChat Users from 2nd Quarter 2011 to 4th Quarter 2022
- MarketingWeek – How China Surged Ahead in Mobile – and What the West Can Learn
- Tech Node – WeChat Adds Taxi-Booking App Didi Cache
- App in China – The Complete Guide to WeChat Pay and Alipay Integration for China
- Jing Daily – WeChat Now Lets users Shop on JD.com with Just a Few Clicks
- 99Firms – WeChat Statistics
- South China Morning Post – WeChat’s Value Surpasses Ferrari as Covid-19 Pandemic Upends Businesses and Buoys Technology Brands from Apple to Tesla
- The New York Times – Trump Administration to Ban TikTok and WeChat from U.S. App Stores
- Statista – Social Media Advertising Revenue in China from 2012 to 2020 with a Forecast Until 2023