Any Western marketer without background knowledge in Chinese language or culture may be initially intimidated when trying to understand Sina Weibo. As with most things that intimidate us, we tend to ignore it in hopes that it will either go away or at least eventually become less scary. Unfortunately, thanks to its more than 143.8 million monthly active users, China’s Sina Weibo will be doing none of the above. That’s why we’d like to break the ice and introduce you to the world’s fourth largest social media platform.
Hello, I am Weibo
Weibo (pronounced as ‘way-bo’) literally translates to “microblog,” and has grown in popularity since its initial launch in 2009. In the summer of 2009, the Chinese government blocked all access to social media networks from outside of China (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), which is likely how the platform became so popular. To this day, the Sina Weibo continues to grow and currently has 500 million total users– more than Twitter and Instagram’s monthly active users combined.
Can You Read This?
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: Weibo has practically zero usability for non-Chinese speakers. You can only experience it in Chinese, so without a grasp of the language, clicking through the site is an obstacle course guided only by Google Translate and a lot of guessing. Once you quickly learn how to read and write Mandarin (heh), you’ll see that the microblog portion of the platform is much like Twitter– there’s a 140-character limit to every post and the ability to ‘follow’ other users.
All in One
Weibo is like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Google+ combined into a busy package of links, moving images and a sea of Chinese characters. On the homepage alone, you can post, read your friends’ posts, see suggestions for potential friends and view trending topics that have recently piqued the interest of Chinese netizens. With a wealth of photos, videos and hashtags, this platform encapsulates what almost all other Western-born platforms include plus so much more.
During the Chinese New Year, Weibo teamed up with Alipay (China’s version of PayPal) and launched a campaign called “2015 Let Hongbao Fly.” The campaign was a digital version of a typical Chinese New Year tradition where red envelopes containing money (called Hongbao) are exchanged during social occasions like holidays, weddings and births. For the social media rendition of this tradition, netizens could exchange digital Hongbao amongst their friends and followers. According to China Internet Watch, there were 5.4 million virtual red envelopes exchanged within the first eight hours of the campaign. Those would be record-breaking metrics by Facebook or Twitter standards, which only reinforces the fact that China’s online community is active, engaged and powerful.
Gaming has always been a big player in the social media landscape, but no platform integrates gaming as well as Sina Weibo does. The gaming portion of the platform is reminiscent of Apple’s Game Center, except all gaming is available directly through Sina Weibo’s platform. Its virtual currency, the Weibi, allows you to exchange real money for game credits.
Still feeling baffled by Sina Weibo? We understand, but the best way to gain a better grasp of the platform is to jump in the trenches and experience it yourself. So grab a Chinese-English dictionary and prepare to clumsily click around a sea of gibberish because Sina Weibo is here to stay.