BEIJING (AdAgeChina.com) -- Oak Pacific Interactive Group wants everyone in China, not just students, to use one of its top social networking sites. That's why it changed the site's name to....everyone.
In August 2009, the Beijing-based internet business group renamed Xiaonei.com, which means "on campus" in Mandarin, to Renren.com, which means "everyone."
Now the re-branded site is being positioned to focus on consumers who are a bit older than its core fan base -- a community that's already large enough to earn Renren the moniker "Facebook of China." In the U.S., Facebook also started as a site for college students, then developed into a popular social networking venue for everyone.
By April 2009, Renren had 70 million registered users, mostly university students. By the end of October, that figure hit 100 million. But that's still a fraction of China's total internet population, which topped 360 million this month, according to ChinaTechNews. (By comparison, Facebook has over 300 million -- spread across 180 countries.)
With its implied connection to students, the name Xiaonei "could limit the appeal [of the site]l for white-collar workers," said Eelin Ong, planning director at Starcom MediaVest, Beijing, Oak Pacific's media agency. "Our goal was to generate large scale awareness and build up the equity of the new brand within a very short time."
Reuniting old friends
The re-branding campaign, launched in early November, aims at 25-to-35 year-old white-collar professionals who surf the web at work, but have not yet joined the social networking wave sweeping through Chinese schools.
"We had to go after this demographic, who aren't on social networks in China as much," said Dean Sciole, exec creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, Beijing. The agency developed the brand strategy and above-the-line advertising for the campaign.
Using the tagline "Qing Xi Ren Ren," ("Emotional connection between everyone") and a new logo with two intertwined circles, the creative encourages people to use the site to track down old friends, coworkers and love interests. Ads show people who were reunited through Renren, a marketing tactic that inspired hundreds of people to contact Renren with their own stories.
"Many of the stories we've received are not that dissimilar from what we did, so we are looking at those to bring those stories to life now," Mr. Sciole said.
The campaign will run through December on CCTV, China's national network, and smaller TV stations appealing to young professionals, outdoor media on public transport systems, digital media such as viral ads, and public relations.
Xiaonei.com was founded in 2005, and has taken advantage of China's rising interest in social media. While foreign sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are blocked in the mainland by China's so-called Great Firewall, local efforts have flourished.
"There are regulations that if you follow, you are okay. Local companies monitor content and pull down content deemed inappropriate. Renren is playing by the rules," Mr. Sciole said.
Renren is a late player among mass market sites
That doesn't mean Oak Pacific doesn't have hurdles to overcome that might literally send it back to school.
"I think Xiaonei's re-branding shows that it is searching for a viable business model. I am not sure that opening up the users is necessarily the right way to go," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.
Social media sites need to get better at monetizing eyeballs, he added. That means having a clear brand positioning and package to present to advertisers. Sites can either be enormous or focus on a niche.
"Kaixing001 has broad-base appeal while smaller niche sites targeting parents also can be good for generating an return-on-investment for advertisers," Mr. Rein said. "But by being a late player trying to be large, I am not sure that they will either get users or advertisers."
SNS sites have revolutionized the internet industry
The change comes "with a big challenge," said Alvin Chiang, Oak Pacific's chief marketing officer in Beijing. The company needs to "address the overall fast-changing user profile. Most importantly, we had a much bigger vision to capture, a fast-emerging social networking ecosystem that is revolutionizing the internet industry."
Already a top player, Oak Pacific owns another social networking site, Kaixin (currently involved in a legal dispute with the owners of a rival site with a similar name, Kaixin001.com), as well as interactive entertainment portal Mop.com and information technology portal Donews.
The company is reinforcing Renren's relevance for local consumers by cooperating with popular vertical sites in China, such as wiki site Hudong.com, online video-sharing site Tudou.com, restaurant review site Dianping.com, information technology site ChinaByte.com and a car site, Xcar.com. Renren.com users can log in directly from those sites.
Renren has also partnered with Nokia Corp. The Finnish mobile phone maker now pre-installs Renren.com's widget services in some of its 3G mobile phones like the N97 mini and N97i. Existing owners of the phones can download it from Nokia's Ovi online app store.
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