The “Chinese Twitter.” You might have heard this moniker used in reference to the Sina Weibo platform. Humans, afterall, predominantly learn by association, linking the unfamiliar to the accustomed. As a microblogging platform, Weibo shared more than a few similarities with its international counterpart, most of all the 140 character limit each used in their infancy.
However, since that time Weibo has outpaced its American counterpart in growth, even doing so without having a very large presence in the international market.
But how does Weibo’s continued growth and dominance of its home market inform the landscape of influencer marketing in general? The social media giant has evolved over the years.
In this article we examine the ways in which the social media giant has evolved over the years and what we can learn from it.
The Chinese Twitter
Launched three years after Twitter, Weibo was originally conceived to fill the void left when China shut down domestic microblogging apps and barred apps like Twitter. Since its inception the platform has seen its number daily average users grow to 241 million with monthly users averaging over a half a billion. This represents a 16 percent increase from 2019. By comparison, Twitter reports 145 million daily active users. And while there are other factors to take into consideration, such as annual revenue, from a growth perspective, Sina Weibo is now outpacing its international counterpart. And while not having to compete with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook in the domestic market is a major factor into Sina Weibo’s massive user base, it is far from the only one.
In fact, the launch of Sina Weibo was followed by a surge in microblogging apps. Companies like Tencent, Sohu, and NetEase all launched their respective “Weibos” shortly after Sina did. However, none of them were able to emulate Sina’s success and, of those three, only Tencent’s microblogging platform is currently still active. So what makes Sina Weibo different from both its domestic competitors and its international rival? A large part of the social media giant’s success stems from not only their understanding of the influencer landscape, but their ability to adapt to its constant shifts.
The Value of the Influencer
From the get go, Sina Weibo’s success is tied to an understanding of the value influencers present. Upon launch, Sina began recruiting Chinese celebrities in order to boost adoption among users. This initial strategy helped turn Sina Weibo into a place where users could have unprecedented access to the celebrities they followed.
Today, this original focus on celebrity has expanded, and much like the international influencer market, Sina Weibo now hosts a bevy of KOL’s (key opinion leaders). Over the years, Sina has continued to push features that empower relationships between brands, influencers, and celebrities and their fans. For example, users on the platform, in addition to following their favorite celebrities, have the option to subscribe for additional, more personalized content.
Evolution of the Platform
Beyond making it easier for fans and influencers to connect, Sina Weibo has also changed the way in which its content is delivered.
In its first iteration, the microblogging app limited users to posts of 140 characters, similar to Twitter. However, it has since increased that limit to around 2’000, a move that facilitates the posting of more in-depth content and empowers the “network journalism” that has found a home on the app.
The increase in character limit is just one among many changes to content the platform has implemented, including allowing users to post images and videos as well as go live. These quality of life updates mark a move towards empowering richer content and helps to further distinguish Sina Weibo as more than a simple microblogging platform.
In this shift towards richer, more varied content, Sina has made sure to partner with content-creators and give them the tools they need to create professional generated content, or what they refer to as PGC. This emphasis on PGC helps maintain strong engagement across the platform as well.
A Focus on the Future
But beyond just expanding the overall content experience on the platform, Sina has also shown the ability to adapt quickly to shifts in the industry.
For example, while largely a domestic platform, Sina Weibo has opened up membership to the international market. And while this move largely catered to the Chinese-speaking diaspora, the app hosts international brands and celebrities such as the NBA and David Beckham.
Furthermore, rather than engage in trying to replicate their domestic success on the international market, Sina is taking a more targeted approach, identifying niche international markets they might be able to excel in such as sports coverage and highlights.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the microblogging platform continues to evolve, the experience it provides its users shape-shifting to provide ever more engagement. With China making up one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the world, Sina Weibo recently launched an e-commerce extension that extends C2C e-commerce services to all its users.
This willingness to continuously adapt and iterate quickly, is what has kept Sina Weibo at the forefront of the Chinese social media industry. Even as competitors like WeChat have emerged to challenge its dominance, the microblogging platform continues to find ways to meet its users where they are and provide them with the digital experiences they are looking for.
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