Weibo: China version Twitter but more

Micro-blogging refers to an online public platform that allows users to post short texts, images, or videos to a certain platform and share information with the public. This kind of platform has become popular for global users in the web 2.0 era. The variety of Micro-blogging platforms worldwide is basically diverse and they are available in most parts of the world. However, the micro-posing industry in mainland China is relatively isolated due to censorship issues. To address people’s need for tweeting, various micro-blogging platforms are created on their own. For example, Sina Weibo (also called Weibo after 2014) is one of the biggest micro-blogging platforms for Chinese language users. It occupies a crucial position in the Chinese social media landscape. This essay will give an introduction and overview of Weibo and profile its transformative effort on society.

Weibo is a micro-blogging website (mobile client is also developed) which has similar features and functions to those of Twitter. Therefore, Weibo is also called “China’s version of Twitter”. It is a platform for sharing, disseminating, and accessing information based on the user community. It was firstly launched in August 2009. Since 2007, even though some other micro-blogging websites had been created because of the emergence and success of Twitter, they still failed to break and innovate the existed mode of “blog”. In 2011, Sina Weibo has more than 100 million registered users, according to Sina CEO Cao Guowei. He also revealed that Sina will at least double the 600 people in its micro-blogging division and significantly increase its marketing spending on micro-blogging. On April 17, 2014, “Weibo” was officially listed on the Nasdaq under the ADR ticker (Sheridan,2014). Afterward, Weibo has grown through the continuous expansion of markets and services. Weibo is transformative because it deconstructed the traditional concept of “blogging”. Instead, it focuses on the term “micro”. The initial version of Weibo only allowed users to tweet post each content within 140 Chinese characters. This feature adapts to the need to share and receive fragmented information in a fast-paced world. Moreover, Weibo has powerful integration capabilities, enabling the integration of other information dissemination channels through an open platform. From the perspective of communication channels, domestic micro-blogs can basically publish information through a variety of channels such as web pages, SMS, mobile Internet, and instant messengers. Among them, although the content of micro-blogs on portals is only open to registered users, they all pay great attention to the integration between micro-blog products and other products, which makes the dissemination of information through multiple channels more convenient and smooth, not only forming a multi-channel overlapping effect but also promoting the mutual influence between channels. For example, Weibo integrates information channels and dissemination methods such as mobile Internet access, SMS, desktop clients, other websites, online updates, various instant messaging applications, other micro-blogs, and even the ability to update micro-blogs through input methods (Xie and Xu, 2011).

Figure 1: Image from Jian Zhi

In terms of ownership, the current chairman of Weibo is Cao Guowei while CEO is Wang Gaofei. Before 2009, as a web portal company, Sina previously runs a blogging website. By inviting celebrities to join, Sina Blog has made a great success. Hence, the same business strategy is also adopted to Weibo. For the time being, the business model of Weibo can be summarized in four ways. Advertisement revenue is the major revenue mode of Weibo that it already occupied 70% of the total revenue in 2013 (Zhu, 2014). The second business model is its e-commerce traffic platform. With the popularization of Weibo, there are more and more enterprises create accounts in Weibo and use it as a platform to conduct marketing. The third one is its mobile Value Added Service by cooperating with mobile operators and mobile phone manufacturers. Finally, it profits from its own value-added service.

 

So far, Weibo has been recognized as the dominant social media platform in the Chinese-language media space. The corporate position of Weibo is a social networking platform. As of September 2018, Weibo reached 446 million monthly active users and commercialization continues to be highly dynamic. Currently, Weibo is still dominating the market micro-blogging in China. Weibo’s partners include the following: business application partners, data partners, and ad optimization partners. They enable Weibo to operate a broader range of businesses and have a stronger ability to attract users, make reasonable decisions, and consolidate the revenue. The major competitor of Weibo can be roughly classified into two categories. The first one is other similar micro-blogging products such as Tencent. The other category is mobile social networking such as Wechat (Zhu, 2014). Both of them have the function of information sharing and online community. They are all produced and developed by mainland China company which also target Chinese language users with a large base of users. In terms of the suppliers, the major supplier of Weibo is internet service providers such as CMCC, CMUC, and CTCC. Young people are more likely to be active on Weibo. According to Sina & Weibo Data Center in 2015, users with university or higher education are the main users of Weibo, accounting for 76% of the total. In 2019, users between 16 to 25 occupied over 61% of the totality (Sun, 2019). Therefore, Weibo is mainly an online product that is very focused on young people.

 

Figure 2: User age distribution, credit from Xigua Data.

 

Same as other online platforms, Weibo is also directly regulated by the government. Since PRC was found in 1949, information control is always in the government strategy. As a vehicle for information dissemination, media is considered as the government’s “throat and tongue” that it represents the government’s interest to maintain political stability (Guo, 2018). Therefore, there is a dedicated institution called Glossary Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) was established in 2013, in order to regulate contents online. Its key regulatory mandate targets pornography, violence, as well as any other contents that may threaten and harm the interest of governing (Roberts, 2018). To control the information, several laws and regulations are created and used by the government. Every user of Weibo is required to register with their real name so that the internet provider can keep on recording their online activities. However, the boundaries of what constitutes a violation are actually blurred. This leads to a consequence of over-regulation that users may feel their privacy and expression freedom are restricted. For instance, users’ images may be blocked unreasonably even if none of them are related to irregular topics. Generally, since 2013, the trend of regulation on either Weibo or other online platforms is tighter.

 

Figure 3: If your image is considered illegal, it would be blocked like this.

 

 

Figure 4: Ecosystem map of Weibo

 

As mentioned before, the most transformative effect of Weibo is innovating the existed mode of “blog” and expand the concept to “micro-blog”. Although it is not the first entity to provide micro-blogging service, it is the one that successfully got through all the difficulties and finally dominates China’s microblogging market. Till March 2020, there is a total of 550 million active users on Weibo. Different from traditional blogs, a simple application on mobile is enough for people to develop their own homepage, rather than using a laptop. It is adapted to the ability to receive and process fragmented information in a fast-paced society. Another innovative thing Weibo has done is bringing the general public and celebrities closer together by inviting celebrities from all walks of life. Except for star fandom culture, users can also build their own community based on interest or hot topics. For example, I am an Animal Crossing lover and players in this game need to trade with each other to build their island better. To address this need, a community of Animal Crossing is established and people can help each other under that hashtag. Except for entertainment purposes, the vulnerable also use Weibo to seek help and many of them received a helping hand. For instance, civilian-initiated animal rescue organizations post contents for rescue materials and adoptions, family members of seriously ill patients post for raising funds for treatment. Although Weibo is called the “China version of Twitter”, they are still different because of China’s social landscape. Evidence of this perception of microblogging uniqueness is found in the views of microblogging administrators and their elite users, who believe that the product cannot be replicated in other societies, especially those with mature democracies. Evidence of this perception of microblogging uniqueness is found in the views of microblogging administrators and their elite users, who believe that the product cannot be replicated in other societies, especially those with mature democracies (Han, 2016). Researches are indicating that because of the strict information control by the government before Weibo was popularized, there was only one voice in the society. The creation of Weibo somehow provides an outlet for people to express themselves. Therefore, information spreads far more powerfully on Weibo than on other platforms. According to Couldry (2015), the potential space for activism is now much more expanded and resourced than in the pre-digital era. In terms of networked activism, Weibo is also a major platform for it. As a digital platform, Weibo has the ability to gather users (citizens) together. For example, China feminists raise an activity for donating period brief and overnight pad to female health-care workers in the hospital when Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in China. The hashtag was called “姐妹战疫安心行动“ which means “reassuring actions for sisters to fight against the virus” in English. As a result, they provoke a strong social reaction and finally raised over 2.3 million RMB in supplies. Female’s physiological need was not firstly considered by the leadership but this activity raised the social attention of female’s menstruation. (Click for viewing the video of the pad donating activity.)

 

Figure 5: Animal Crossing community (super topic) on Weibo

Members: 248,000 ; posts: 624,000

 

Pad donating hashtag on Weibo

 Figure 6: Views: 510 million; Discusses: 543,000

 

In summary, Weibo is a transformative platform for Chinese language users because it provides a Twitter-like platform for them to access and share fragmented information. It perfectly fits with the feature of a smartphone that every user whenever and wherever can get engaged to the online community and contribute their own idea. The rise of Weibo is strongly affecting people’s life both socially, culturally, and even politically.

Reference

Couldry, N. (2015). The myth of ‘us’: digital networks, political change and the production of collectivity. Information, Communication & Society, 18(6), 608–626.

Guo, B. (2018). Background of China’s internet and social media. Regulating social media in China. (pp55-81). International Academic Publishers, New York Peter Lang Inc.

Han, E, L. (2016). Remembering Weibo in China’s Social Transition. Micro-blogging Memories : Weibo and Collective Remembering in Contemporary China. (pp183-207). Palgrave Macmillan, London, UK.

Sheridan, P, M. (2014). Weibo IPO leads Chinese stock invasion. CNN Money.

Sun, S, E. (2019). Ten Years of Sina Weibo: Summary of Rapid Growth Experience. Sohu. Retrieved from https://www.sohu.com/a/331645493_464100

Xie, Y, G & Xu, Y. (2011). The history, current situation and trends of micro-blogging. Modern communication. Vol.4. 75-80.

Zhu, Y, J. (2014). Sina microblog business model analysis. Fudan University.

 

Bibliography

Featured image: China Daily. (2018).

Figure 1: Image from Jian Zhi

Figure 2:User age distribution, credit from Xigua Data.

Figure 3: Screenshot from my personal Weibo account.

Figure 4: Ecosystem map created on my own.

Figure 5: Screenshot of Animal Crossing super topic.

Figure 6: Screenshot of the pad donating hashtag.

 

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Zoe Wu
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