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Weibo’s Revival: Sina Weibo Is China’s Twitter, YouTube & InstaGram

With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival.

Manya Koetse

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With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival. What was once called ‘China’s Twitter’ has now become a comprehensive platform that incorporates the major features of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and InstaGram.

According to new Chinese mobile internet data reports, Sina Weibo‘s monthly active users (MAU) reached 390 million in September 2016 (source: Questmobile/Sina, Huxiu.com).

With these numbers, Sina Weibo became the fourth most-used mobile application of China in the autumn of 2016 after WeChat, QQ and mobile Taobao. Over 90% of Weibo users access the site through mobile.

Weibo’s huge revival

Weibo’s staggering MAU numbers show a sharp increase since last year, when the micro-blogging platform hit 212 million monthly active users.

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Weibo listed as China’s fourth most popular app (via People’s Daily).

Weibo’s growth in monthly active users may come as a surprise to many, since a lot of media (such as the BBC) wrote that the social media network was on its way out in 2015. With the rising popularity of Tencent’s WeChat, many Chinese media also predicted that Weibo was over.

But Weibo is anything but dead – the social media site is currently seeing a huge revival. According to Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (曹国伟), Weibo’s high user rate can be explained by the fact that Sina Weibo is now becoming a platform that successfully combines the best features of different western social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

More than Twitter

Weibo is often explained as the ‘Chinese Twitter’. Like Twitter, Weibo also works as a follower/followee microblogging network. (Sina Weibo originally also had a 140-character limit for posts, but this limit was removed earlier in 2016.)

But Weibo is much more today than what it was when it launched in 2009. With an explosive growth of short video and live broadcasts, virtually all posts on Weibo now come with audiovisual content and/or pictures. The site is now all about microblogging (like Twitter), sharing pictures (like Instagram), and videos (like YouTube).

Sina Weibo partnered up with video sharing app Miaopai in late 2013, which allows users to post videos to their timeline and play them from there – similar to Facebook’s video function. Livestreaming also has become an important Weibo feature.

According to CEO Cao Guowei, another important Weibo function that has contributed to its revival is the ‘interest search function’, which allows users to browse their specific interest categories within Weibo, and the automatic recommendations based on user interests. These functions further promote the social interaction between users.

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

On Weibo, it is all about sharing information, both user generated content and professional media content: “The active information ecology is at the base of Weibo’s revival,” Cao says in a recent interview with Sina Tech.

Celebrity economy

Weibo is an important news source for its users, but the platform’s growth is also connected to China’s booming celebrity economy.

‘Online celebrity marketing’ or ‘cyberstar economy’ is alive and kicking on Weibo, where self-made celebrities are mushrooming. Papi Jiang is the best example of how quickly Chinese netizens can become huge celebrities through social media.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

China’s so-called ‘Big V’s’ – popular microbloggers who have a ‘v’ behind their name as their accounts have been verified by Weibo – are worth big money. These social media celebrities vary from comedians to fashion bloggers or make-up stylists. Some Chinese online celebrities have just become famous because they blog a lot or have an extraordinary appearance.

These online stars offer great marketing potential for brands because they have a huge following, much influence, and often the right target audiences. While Weibo helps online celebrities grow big, these online celebrities also help Weibo by boosting the number of active Weibo users.

In an interview with People’s Daily, Cao Guowei expresses his content over Weibo’s success. It is clear that it is not the end of Weibo. “This is just the beginning,” Cao said: “And the future of Weibo is only getting better.”

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ed Sander

    November 20, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    After the arrest of ‘big V’ Charles Xue in the summer of 2013 new legislation was passed that made spreading of rumours – with the CCP defining what is and isn’t a rumour – punishable with up to 3 years in prison. Weibo very quickly dead out in the months after. Many, among whom myself, thought that this would be the end of Weibo, which up till then had been a platform where the public could have its say (as long as it didn’t mobilize and criticize the central government) and expose corrupt local officials through ‘human flesh search engines’, an era that started with the Wenzhou train crash. Figures from 2014 seemed to confirm the decline of Weibo (e.g. http://www.chinainternetwatch.com/8829/weibo-aug-2014/). However in early 2015 more positive statistics began to appear (e.g. http://socialbrandwatch.com/weibo-has-stunning-2014/) and since then I haven’t seen much negative news about Weibo. The contradicting sources were gone and Weibo indeed seemed to be in a great revival, which now nobody can deny anymore.

    Having said that, the plarform hasn’t just changed in functionality but also in type of content. The height of the online citizen movement of the 2011-2013 (a highly interesting period for social media during which I lived in China) has been replaced by gossip news about the stars, with divorces of moviestars and their cheating wifes now being the most popular topics. And that’s exactly how the CCP likes it: panem et circenses. Weibo has survived and revived but at the same time Weibo is also very much dead and decomposing.

  2. Avatar

    Shelly

    November 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

  3. Avatar

    overseaschinese

    December 4, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    There are a plethora of features on Weibo that completely supersedes anything that we see on Instagram, Twitter or Youtube.

    Even Wechat is much more superior than Facebook.

    If it’s anything like, we can already say that Facebook is trying to be like Wechat. Twitter is trying to be like Weibo.

    Let’s not fool ourselves, these Chinese apps is cashing in, while the US-based ones are struggling to monetise.

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Digital

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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