Saturday, March 10, 2012

Social Media in China: what is Sina Weibo

What is Sina Weibo? Is it the twitter of china?

Weibo, many people in western Europe or the USA, don't know what Weibo is, but in China, Sina Weibo is really big. Sina Weibo receives 1 in every 100 visits in China! If I say: "weibo is a Twitter +", probably you will get an idea.

I started to do some desk research to learn about Weibo. Interesting for myself, to learn about what Weibo is, why Weibo got so big and what can be learned from the services and features they offer and of course it is always interesting to look at cultural differences in (online) marketing.

This article is based on desk research and I will add many links in the article.

Sina.com is an online media company in China. Sina owns Weibo. Weibo is often described as a hybrid form between twitter and facebook. Details about Sina can be found at Wikipedia.

Why did Sina Weibo became so big?

Sam Flemming and Eugene Chew explain why Sina became so big in this interesting video.

An important reason is that they are very good at marketing. In 2005/2006 Sina was very big in blogs. Especially because they made celebrities blogging in China. Some people say Sina has good contacts with the government. In any way, the service they provide is really interesting and in present time at Sina Weibo celebrities still play an important role in their services.

The Chinese internet has always been social. But the Chinese web never went viral.
Weibo made things go viral.You have many ways to share your content. And Weibo has a lot more features then it's western counterpart Twitter has:
  • weibo has comments
  • weibo has rich media
  • you can have a private weibo group (so not the whole world can see your posts)
  • you an have an enterprise page
  • Sina Weibo has functions of many social platforms and that makes it extra attractive.
Sina Weibo is really innovative and many things are customized for the Chinese people.

Chinese people are very generous and open to everybody in their social circle, but for strangers they can be unsympathetic. Weibo is like a big private karaoke room. Important for Chinese because they can express themselves in their own circle.

Sina Weibo looks like this:


The biggest competitor of Sina Weibo, is Tencent Weibo

Comparisment between Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo

Sina Weibo attracts more adults, celebrities and has more active users
Tencent Weibo attracts more students and has younger adience

Why weibo works better than twitter in China is explained in this video:

A short summary of the video interview:

  • Chinese phrases and sentences are much shorter then in the west. Chinese can say in 2 characters what we need 30 words for. So Weibo is much more focused at content. 
  • Weibo is more technologically sophisticated then Twitter.
  • Twitter is very geekie, with the "@" sign and the hashtags (#), shortlinks etc...weibo is much more easy to use.
A powerful feature from weibo is micro topics. Weibo takes any tweet that is related to a certain topic and creates a unique page with that so users can view and discuss.

Juanmarketing explains more differences between Weibo and Twitter in his article.

Sina Weibo has a higher penetration in China than twitter, in the many countries where twitter is available

How to promote your brand at Weibo?

Here is a nice written article about how to promote a brand at Weibo. What we learn from this article is that you really have to think about engagement and virality. The example "Vancl" that is mentioned in the article is really interesting. I do not see a visual example, but I can imagine that if you let your followers make their own advertisement of your products, this causes a hughe virality. Content is important, but virality is as well. 

It seems like that Chinese celebrities are just as important as celebrities in the UK for example. So think about using celebrities for branding purposes. Weibo is the social tool that has the largest base of active celebrities.

Marc Violo created a nice graphic about features that can be used at Sina Weibo to promote a brand.

  • The purple lines are content drivers.
  • The red lines are interactive applications.
  • The graphic and visual stimuli are the blue lines.
  • The engagement enhancers are the orange lines.
  • and the green ones the data and tracking systems.
As I understood, but do not see in this graphic, Sina has a huge "portal" as well. That probably can also be used as a traffic driver.
Also I have read about new features from Sina Weibo, such as Weibo interview, Weibo live blogging and more. But I have not been able to find examples yet. They are welcome, I am very interested.

Burson Marsteller has published a Weibo Guidebook at slideshare:
A farmer in China got rid of his 700 tons potatoes within 24 hours by using Weibo.
North Korea is appearantly active at weibo as well.
A bike get's stolen, but also found again due to the impact of Weibo.
People use fake "Iphone signatures" at weibo?
Recently Sina Weibo started a charity platform, make it easy for people to follow charity and to donate to charity.

At Sina weibo it was possible to have an anonymous account. But as from the16th of march this will change, due to a legal change in China. This will have some effect at the usage of Sina weibo.


We all know the Chinese social web is evolving and changing fast.This makes it very interesting to follow.
So I think another strong aspect of Sina Weibo is it's current integration with other digital marketing channels. Twitter for example still has no integration with Google.
The Chinese "google" the big search engine in China, Baidu, has now integrated Sina Weibo's real time search results and Tudou, the Chinese Youtube is doing the same. These are important steps to lead to a mature digital web in China. In my opinion very interesting, since the west is going to run behind if you look at these initiatives that are now made in China.


Especially in certain parts of the world, small things and adjustments can become very important to make a success from online services. Weibo is very big and I think they will move to the west as well in the future. Curious how this will work, since also Weibo then has to make some changes in functionality to make it a success in the western world.
As we already think that Facebook is powerful to promote a brand, weibo and Chinese portals are  important to make a successful brand promotion in China and to make your brand go viral.
Human's are social, so it is important to integrate that in the online service. Weibo has threaded comments (unlike twitter) and other features that make this service more user friendly then it's western counterparts.
Make your online service as intuitive as possible!

Anyway at least I have my Sina Weibo account. Feel free to add me!

My Sina Weibo Account
And I must say, although, I cannot read Chinese, it works pretty intuitive! I can imagine already that this can be very much fun to use. I have to learn Chinese though...

Thanks for reading and greetings,

Alex Baar

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