Facebook considers sales office in China to address local advertisers

Facebook has a growing number of advertisers in China

Facebook may still be among the foreign websites blocked by Chinese authorities, but the U.S. social network is considering opening a sales office in China to help drive advertising on its service.

The social networking company is catering to a number of Chinese companies, including exporters and developers, that are already using the site to reach customers outside the country, it said on Tuesday.

"We are of course exploring ways that we can provide even more support locally and may consider having a sales office in China in the future," the company said in an email.

It represents a burgeoning business for a U.S. website that's been blocked in the nation since 2009. China is notorious for its strict censorship of the Internet, but Facebook is still finding business opportunities in the market, according to Vaughan Smith, the company's vice president of special projects.

The social networking firm has attracted "several thousand" Chinese businesses wanting to use the site as an advertising platform, he said during the China 2.0 Forum, an event in Beijing organized by the Stanford Graduate School of Business last month.

Some of these advertisers include gaming companies and clothing makers, Smith said. To access Facebook, clients are using virtual private networks to bypass China's censorship.

"We already have a great business in China," he added.

Facebook is supporting its Chinese customers with the help of a sales team in Hong Kong. Other U.S. Internet companies such as Google have also served local Chinese advertisers, even after facing disputes over the country's censorship.

On the user side, however, Facebook is still remaining mum on whether it wants to expand into China's Internet space. The company's CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressed interest in the market before, and was once spotted visiting China's top tech companies.

But any entry into the nation would mean letting China's censors regulate content on the site. Last November, a Chinese official said the government welcomed "Facebook-like sites" as long as they followed the relevant laws.

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Tags regulationinternetFacebooksocial networkingInternet-based applications and services

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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