There are more than a billion Chinese people and a lot of them are not using Twitter, because it’s banned. These are the two major advantages of Weibo (which translates in English as “micro-blogging”) that has allowed it to cross the 200 million registered user milestone in two years, a feat that took Twitter about five years.
Just to show off it’s emerging dominance in Chinese cyberspace, which should include not only the People’s Republic of China but all countries where people read Chinese characters or speak Mandarin or Cantonese, Weibo took out a seven story ad on Times Square. Clearly, the message to the markets of the world is that if you want to sell anything in Chinese cyberspace, then you have to deal with Weibo.
The thing is, with Chinese being the language with the largest number of speakers and readers, the English world’s social networking rivalry may be overshadowed by Chinese social networking.
Weibo’s growth has been charted for some time now. Forbes says “Weibo had more than 5 million users in early March 2010, according to global marketing and media relations firm Ogilvy. By the end of the first quarter 2011, the Weibo population swelled to 140 million users, the company said in an earnings statement dated May 11.”
SINA owns Weibo and an article onYahoo Finance cites that according to financial group “Mirae Asset, currently 14% of Chinese Internet users are microblog users, of which 54% are using weibo, with 21% going to Tencent. Accounting for page views, Sina Weibo has an 87% market share compared to a mere 8% for Tencent.”
SINA is also looking at going into more global territory as it eyes launching an English version of Weibo.
But more than the sheer number of users, Weibo is trumping Twitter in terms of its revenue model.
Twitter’s main revenue model is basically sponsored tweets, promoting trends and data analysis for enterprise accounts. On the other hand, Sina’s business model is more varied and is based on interactive, precision ads; instant search; paid content; e-commerce; social games like Farmville and a wireless value-added service.
Years of self-censoring experience have earned Weibo acceptance from the Chinese government, giving it a a very strong position in China while locking out Twitter. The thing is, by the time Twitter does get into China, the chances are that the world would have moved on to other forms of rapid-fire social networking, or committed to other brands.
Paul Farol is a Filipino writer and blogger currently based in Manila. He is currently a media practitioner and is involved in community development projects in Northern and Southern Luzon, Philippines.