Chinese social networking site RenRen vies for same market as Facebook


Yuqing Zhao

The RenRen network, which literally translates from Mandarin Chinese to “Everyone’s Website,” is a Chinese social networking service that exists as an alternative to Facebook.

Chinese national policy currently locks out many websites to the mainland including Facebook, and YouTube. Consequently, Chinese internet users can only log-in to RenRen to engage with and interact with friends and family inside the country.  But there is change afoot, driven in part by the thousands of Chinese students studying abroad.

At the end of 2011, an estimated 38.3 percent of citizens in China use the Internet, according to the non-profit China Internet Network Information Center. In February 2011, RenRen made an announcement that it had 160 million registered users. And later in April 2011, it had to update its statement accurately to “a total of 31 million active monthly users.”

Now more and more Chinese internet users studying abroad, say they are not content with simply social [interaction] with people only in mainland China; they want to make friends and gain information internationally.

RenRen restricts users to only positive reactions while Facebook allows users to express both positive and negative experiences and opinions on any given subject.

For example, discussing the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan is taboo on RenRen, but it can be openly discussed on Facebook. Chinese users believe Facebook and RenRen serve totally different functions and aspirations but only have the same appearance.

Since 2005, RenRen has maintained a close resemblance to Facebook in three main ways: News Feeds, Profiles and Mobile Version.

Facebook still has no plans to launch in China, said North Asia Director Jayne Leung during a conference in Hong Kong recently, according to The Next Web.

A data analysis by, a web analysis company, compared information about Facebook and RenRen users and came up with the following:

The most popular age range both in Facebook and RenRen is 25-34; there is almost nobody over 54 years old who uses RenRen in China. Facebook is more popular among female users but RenRen has more male users. College-level students use social networking through Facebook, but graduate students use RenRen. Users whose income ranges between $50,000 to $80,000 are most likely to use Facebook, while those using RenRen have an income range between $0 to 25,000.

Although RenRen’s network continues to grow fast, its engagement numbers are not as strong as Facebook’s.

“To be honest, I like Facebook better, because it shows me a real world with both positive and negative voices,” said Dora Zhao, an international student from China studying in the United States.  “Using Facebook lets me feel more comfortable and satisfied to communicate,” she added.

She compared her use of RenRen and Facebook, and said she found both useful for her.

“I use both social networking tools, Facebook and RenRen, when I study in America. Facebook helps me connect with different people worldwide and also brings me real news which is blocked in China,” said Hong, another international student from China studying in the United States. “RenRen provides a platform to stay connected with friends and family in China even [though] I am on the other side of the world.”

RenRen’s new timeline design began August 2012 and promotional information about it also shows RenRen has copied Facebook’s timeline, which covers photos and life events.  Users interviewed for this report say RenRen’s move shows it wants to follow the leader of social networking, Facebook.

According to data from, the largest official website of Chinese education government, the number of Chinese students studying overseas has increased by 25.8 percent every year on average since 1978. This number reached 284,700 in 2010.

As more Chinese students go abroad and start to use Facebook, many say the interaction seems to be pushing the development of RenRen. The website wants to make changes to attract users that they lose to Facebook and also to gain new users for social networking in China.