Weibo Economy

Earlier this month I participated a sharing session on online marketing. The organizer has invited a representative from Sina Microblog (Weibo) to share the characteristics and business opportunities from this up and rising platform. Half of the guests at my table were not Weibo users and were asking me about this.

Since its trial launch in September last year, the Twitter-clone has attracted more than 5 million users (March 2010 data). As a market leader with the highest user number in China, Weibo is facing increasing competition from other microblogging platforms developed by Netease, Sohu and QQ.

Celebrity and mobile are the two reasons why Weibo is expanding so fast. Celebrities in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have all flocked to open their accounts. Yao Chen, also named “the queen of Weibo”, has 1,744,398 fans, comparable to the 5,141,149 fan base of Britney Spears on Twitter if you look at the total number of users of the two platforms.

On the Lunar New Year day in 2010, Weibo broke the Guinness Record kept by Twitter of having 2,200 tweets sent in one minute. A total of 9,873 messages were sent out through Weibo on that day. A celebrity once told me the reason why he opened his account: “Everyone is working on it, I will lose my competitiveness if I am not opening an account.”

People like to talk with celebrities on Weibo rather than their blogs, since most of the blogs are written by the celebrity assistant instead of the real person. A lot of celebrities are using their own phone to update their Weibo. A survey from Sina shows that 90% of celebrity are tweeting by themselves, responding directly to fans’ questions and comments.

Similar to Twitter, Weibo has changed the way news portals operate in China, with the rising “citizen journalism” phenomenon. After the Yushu earthquake, Feng jun, President of Aigo, read the news on Weibo and pledged to donate a solar power generator, before mainstream media were reporting the tragedy extensively. However, like other SNS platform, censorship is also stringent here, users may have their posts deleted by the administrator without explanation, if their posts contain anything that deem to be politically sensitive. During the June 4 anniversary this month, Weibo has frozen the accounts of a number of leading users, removed the candle and flower emoticon, as well as temporarily disabled the photo upload function.

Instead of having third party developing their own iPhone client app, Sina has developed it on its own. Users can upload a photo, video or sharing url with just a few clicks, Sina will even automatically update your url with its own branded url shortener, not good for brands, but really handy for users.

This blossoming platform is driving a kind of “Weibo Economy”, you can find a dozen of shops on Taobao where you can buy fans at 20 cents each if you fancy for some celebrity status. You can easily have 30,000 fans if you spend RMB2,399. You can also “buy” 50 comments at RMB20 or 100 retweets at RMB10. Certainly some of these fans are fake accounts, but it is a phenomenon showing the popularity of this microblogging platform.

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