Renren, "The Facebook of China", looks for a comeback
China once had its own answer to Facebook.
Renren, founded in 2005, was one of the biggest social networks in the early years of the Chinese internet. Today, it’s mostly just a memory for the country’s netizens.
Similar to Facebook, Renren initially focused on students, encouraging them to create profiles using their real identities. The absence of the real Facebook in China helped Renren gather millions of young users who used the site daily to connect to their friends (or stalk their crushes).
In its heyday, Renren had more than 100 million users, and a higher valuation than the country’s then-biggest internet portals, including NetEase and Sina.
But its decline started shortly after a high-profile IPO in the US in 2011. While Facebook took off quickly outside of US college campuses, Renren failed to expand and adjust to China’s changing internet landscape. As Chinese web users migrated to mobile at an increasing speed, they flocked instead to smartphone platforms like Tencent’s WeChat, which launched in 2011.
“We failed to stand up to the pressure from WeChat,” Renren's CEO Chen Yizhou said in a blog post this month. “The time spent [on Renren] by our college student users dropped after they graduated.”
But it looks like people haven’t forgotten about Renren -- and Chen isn’t ready to give up just yet.
That blog post, published in response to a popular article on WeChat about Renren’s demise, drew over 100,000 views and hundreds of nostalgic comments. In it, Chen pledged to make Renren profitable by the first quarter of next year.
If past experience is anything to go by, it won’t be easy.
Having lost the market in social, Renren has tried over the years to explore other areas, pivoting to gaming and online lending. None of them really worked out -- except for its used-car business, which now makes up the bulk of Renren’s revenue.
In January, Renren jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon by releasing a so-called RRCoin, which sent its stock up 47 percent. But the initiative was soon curbed by authorities amid China’s wider ban on crypto trading.
Meanwhile as video platforms become more popular in China, Renren has sought to reinvent itself by transforming into a live-streaming site. But it still lags more popular rivals.
Some people have attributed Renren’s downfall to a lack of focus and ingenuity. It seems like the company is now trying to return to its roots by getting back in the social game.
Chen said the company is planning to develop a better social product -- one that’s different from existing social giants like WeChat and Sina’s Twitter-like Weibo. And last week, Renren launched a mini program in WeChat that lets users access some of the basic functions of its social network.
But reaction to Renren’s mini-program has been mostly lukewarm, with only a few discussions on Weibo and Zhihu, a Chinese Quora-like platform.
Despite the nostalgia, some users don’t seem too keen on returning to Renren.
One of the most liked comments under the WeChat article on Renren says, “Sorry, I’ve forgotten my Renren login.”