What do tech influencer Bill Gates and multinational company Coca-Cola have in common? They are among a clutch of US giants to join Sina Weibo, the most popular micro-blogging platform in China. Launched in August 2009, today Sina Weibo is not only the leading player in China’s micro-blogging space, but also the most influential platform in the overall social media landscape.
The most influential social platform
Sina Weibo was launched by Sina Corporation, the largest web portal in China. “Weibo” in Chinese means micro-blog. But because of the success of Sina’s Weibo, the term is now used primarily to identify with Sina Weibo. There are several reasons why Sina Weibo has grown to be so influential in China:
According to Sina, Weibo reached 500 million registered users and 61 million active daily users by the end of 2013. The global social summery report released by GWI in January 2014 also shows that Sina Weibo achieved highest penetration of local population (measured by account ownership and active usage) among top social platforms in China.
Giving users a voice
As a public platform, Sina Weibo enables users to discuss personal and social topics with a level of freedom not available elsewhere in the country. It attracts the largest number of companies, public figures, celebrities and government organizations who want to have a voice directly with the public.
Sina Weibo’s primary user demographic is young and highly educated. To them, Weibo is both a place to network with friends and colleagues, and a platform to share information and participate in public conversations.With voices from diverse walks of life, Sina Weibo is playing a vital role of not only portraying, but also impacting “what’s happening in China”.
Demographics for Sina Weibo Users
More than a Twitter Clone
When first launched as a microblogging site, Sina Weibo modeled many key features from Twitter, including the 140-character limit, using “#” to tag topics, and “@” to refer to specific accounts. Because of that, it is often viewed as a Twitter clone. However, over the years, Sina Weibo has evolved far beyond the general concept laid down by Twitter. It has been integrating diverse functions and services inspired by multiple social platforms such as Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram, and more importantly, adding native functions that cater to Chinese netizen’s unique preferences and habits. Today, it is no longer simply a microblogging platform, but more a full-featured SNS platform, offering a wide range of services with streamlined functionality and well-designed interfaces.
In the following section, I will walk you through key features and functions of Sina Weibo – using Twitter and Facebook as a comparative lens. First, let’s take a look at what can be posted (and shared) on Sina Weibo.
Post box on Sina Weibo
- Sina Weibo offers various choices of content to post. In addition to text, pictures and links, users can add emoticons, directly upload videos, write long-weibos (which is essentially a blog in picture format without character limit), share music and files, create questions and polls, and even launch charity events.
- Users can schedule the time to post a weibo; they also have the freedom to decide who can see their posts: to the public, to selected groups, or keep it to themselves.
- Uses can add up to 9 pictures (including gif format) in a single post, and pictures can be posted together with a video.
- 140 Chinese characters translate to more words than 140 English characters, which means a lot more can be expressed under 140 character limit on Sina Weibo than Twitter.
Next, what do the engagement metrics on Sina Weibo look like? There are four major metrics when one is responding to another’s post: Like, Forward, Save and Comment.
- The Like function works similarly to its Facebook archetype, except that liked content on Weibo can’t be seen by followers in their news feed, but can only be seen when visiting that user’s profile page.
- Forwarding is the equivalent of Twitter’s Retweet and Facebook’s Share. Unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo allows users to add a comment when forwarding a post. What’s more, if there are more than two people forwarding a post, the last user can choose to keep the threaded comments from all previous users (which will display in a hierarchical format). This allows users to easily follow and participate in conversations.
- Save is close to Twitter’s Favorite function: saving a post for repeated reviews. While the favorite list is open to the public on Twitter, it can only be seen by the user on Sina Weibo.
- Like Facebook and Twitter, all likes, forwards, and comments are attributed to the original post.
- On users’ personal profile page, they can also view how many times each of their posts has been read by others.
A “Retweet” with threaded comments from multiples users
Finally, let’s look at the user interface on Sina Weibo. The interface generally looks like a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. But just like what we have seen above, Sina Weibo has added more details, and new features and functions have been integrated based on Chinese users’ habits and preferences.
- My home page
- My profile page
In addition to a normal version for regular individual users, Sina Weibo offers an advanced version for enterprises, public figures, media outlets, and other organizations. These accounts can customize their top and side bar (modules) based on their audience engagement needs. For example, media outlets can add an Article section on the top bar, which auto-formats and displays news articles imported from an RSS feed; enterprises can add social plug-ins in the side area, which allows users to access their social properties, special events, customer services and so on.
- Media outlet – People’s Daily
- Enterprise – The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Sina Weibo’s integrated nature is more than what we’ve detailed above. Its comprehensive product roadmap, including Gaming, E-commerce and LBS service, is leading it toward a robust SNS. Unlike Facebook, however, Sina Weibo’s reign in China is nearly absolute. With Twitter and Facebook both banned in China, it has become the single must-have social platform for local and international companies and organizations to connect with Chinese consumers, and gather insights for this increasingly important market. The upside is that Sina Weibo offers the simplicity of a single platform in comparison to the fragmented social media landscape seen in Western markets.
I hope this blog can shed some light on the most influential social media platform in China. There is great potential for brands to use Sina Weibo from both a content engagement and social media analytics perspective. In my next blog, I will write about Sina Weibo for social media analytics – what’s the current landscape, and what are the associated resources and challenges.
Xin & Brandon