Renren (NYSE: RENN ) may relish being called "the Facebook of China," but there is really little that the two social networking websites have in common.
Outside of being busted IPOs -- with Facebook (Nasdaq: FB ) trading for half of its May debut, and Renren shedding more than two-thirds of its value since going public a year earlier -- the two companies have little in common.
- Facebook is profitable. Renren is not in the black, and analysts don't see that happening until 2014 at the earliest.
- Facebook is the undisputed champ in social networking in most of the countries where it is available. Renren has many rivals clawing away at it in China, especially from micro-blogging sites led by SINA's (Nasdaq: SINA ) Weibo. Given China's restrictive ways, it's not as if there is a lot of freedom in the closed social networking websites when pitted against the Twitter-like micro-blogging platforms.
- Facebook's advertising revenue is growing. Despite a 31% increase in monthly unique logins, online advertising revenue at Renren has fallen 11% over the past year. That's pretty shocking.
"I'm in the camp that thinks paid services including e-commerce and gaming will be the mainstay of social networks," CEO Joseph Chen said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview.
The emphasis on gaming is already evident. The only reason why Renren was able to overcome the dip in online advertising revenue to deliver a 48% spike in revenue was because online gaming more than doubled during the quarter.
Online gaming is a big part of Facebook's model, but only as a developer-agnostic platform. Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA ) contributes a healthy chunk of Facebook's revenue, but Facebook is simply there to skim royalties off the online transactions. Renren is taking a more hands-on approach in developing the games that now make up more than half of Renren's revenue.
Renren is also differentiating itself from Facebook by investing in the daily deals space. Facebook tried to hop on the Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN ) bandwagon, but jumped off last year before jumping off was fashionable. Renren is committed to keeping its two-year-old Nuomi offering growing. The Groupon-like group-buying site is expected to drum up merchandise sales of more than $100 million next quarter.
Will the sum of Renren's parts be enough? It may be that Renren is simply trying to do too much. Being the master of all trades may eventually get in the way of running a social networking website. However, since monetizing social networking through online advertising appears to be a taller task in China than it is globally for Facebook, it's hard to argue with Renren's approach of trying on many different hats until it finds one that fits.
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