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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.

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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

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

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Backgrounder

‘Good Doctor’, Digital Hospitals: How Mobile Apps Are Alleviating China’s Healthcare Problems

With the rapid digitalization of China’s healthcare, Chinese patients now have more ways than one to receive medical assistance.

Manya Koetse

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China’s healthcare industry is facing some serious challenges. As Chinese society is rapidly digitalizing, mobile apps now provide innovative solutions to alleviate pressing problems in the country’s health services sector.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “Good-Doctor Apps und Digitale Krankenhäuser.” 
 

Social Credit System, artificial intelligence, surveillance cameras; these are some of the hottest topics making headlines in mainstream Western media when discussing China-related developments recently.

With the rapid digitalization of Chinese society, these topics certainly have come to play a more important role in social media discussions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). But if there is one issue that seems to concern Chinese social media users the most, it is not facial recognition nor their ‘Sesame score’: it is the topic of healthcare.

In December of 2017, a photo showing a crying mother kneeling down beside a toddler on the sidewalk in front of a Shanghai hospital went viral overnight. The moment was captured on camera by a reporter who was visiting Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital.

The photo of Guo Yinzhen and her son that went viral in China (image via NetEase, source: https://3g.163.com).

The mother, Guo Yinzhen, is a single parent who had traveled from a remote village to seek medical help for her 3-old-son, who was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus or ‘water on the brain.’ Already having traveled to the city multiple times and spending all her money on medical bills, Guo could not afford the additional 100.000 yuan (€ 12.600) for medical procedures needed to save her son’s life.

Guo’s story struck a chord with Chinese netizens, who continue to share the heartbreaking photo on social media to this day. It has become emblematic of China’s healthcare problems.

 

Crowded Hospitals and ‘Healthcare Disturbance’

 

The key to an adequate healthcare system, no matter where in the world, is that there is a right balancing in the “iron triangle” of efficiency/cost containment, high quality care, and patient access.[1] China, however, struggles with all three sides of this triangle.

Guo’s case is an extreme example, but many people in China dealing with less serious health issues and needing basic medical services also struggle to afford and access the healthcare they need.

Over 95% of people in China have health insurance, but people from different regions do not enjoy the same benefits and their out-of-pocket expenses can vary greatly. Uncovered medical costs can sometimes be catastrophic and simply unaffordable for patients and their families.

As more money flows are going to healthcare facilities in China’s cities, there is also the issue of varying levels of providers’ medical education and the overall healthcare quality, with the substantial majority of modern hospitals still existing in urban areas.

Easy access to the right kind of healthcare can be especially problematic for China’s rural population, as people often need to travel long distances and have to go through the lengthy process of registering and waiting for their doctor’s appointment, which sometimes requires them to stay in the city overnight.

For all of these reasons, China’s bigger public hospitals can get super crowded, sometimes resembling shopping malls on an end-of-season sales day. On social media, both patients and medical workers often complain about the stress brought about by the huge crowds and the shortage of doctors in hospitals across the country.

Perhaps it is no wonder that China even has a word to describe outbursts of violence between patients and doctors: ‘Yī nào’ (医闹, literally: “healthcare disturbance”).

Weibo user ‘Sunscreen’ complains about the crowds at Huashan Hospital.

One major problem within China’s healthcare conundrum is the lack of local family or primary-care doctors, which often makes bigger hospitals the first stop to any kind of medical treatment for Chinese patients.

The reasons for this issue are manifold. There is a general lack of trust in private and smaller local healthcare clinics, for example, and patients often choose to go directly to a bigger hospital to avoid making extra costs.

This makes it extra difficult for many community health care centers – that are already struggling – to make enough money and to retain qualified staff. In a society that is rapidly aging, the challenges facing China’s healthcare industry are only becoming more pressing.

 

A Doctor Today, Just an App Away

 

As China’s online environment is thriving, new innovative online apps are popping up on a daily basis. Some of these apps, that have found their ways into China’s most popular app rankings, are offering solutions to some of the country’s most pressing healthcare problems.

One of these apps is Ping’an Good Doctor (平安好医生), which was developed by health insurance provider Ping’an in 2015 and calls itself China’s “one-stop healthcare ecosystem.”

“Ping’an Good Doctor” promotional image by Ping’an.

Employing some 1000 medical staff in its in-house team, contracting over 5,200 external doctors, and collaborating with 3000 hospitals and thousands of pharmacy outlets across the country, the app is somewhat of an “online hospital.”

Through the app, users can look through an online database of medical professionals, order medicine at nearby pharmacies, get 24/7 online medical consultancy, search for information about both Western and Chinese Traditional Medicine, etc., but they can also use Ping’an Good Doctor as a fitness app to track their own health.

Screenshot of Ping’an app screen, by author.

When looking for a specific doctor for a one-on-one consult, the app first lets users select an area of expertise (e.g. dermatology or gynecology), and then offers a list of different specialists in various price categories.

Doctors from well-known hospitals, for example, or those with excellent ratings, have a one-time consultation fee of 100 yuan (€ 12,60). Other doctors can be consulted starting from 30 yuan (€3,70). All costs can be paid efficiently via online payment apps.

Doctors to pick from within the app’s various price categories.

Ping’an Good Doctor uses an AI-driven system to ask patients various questions about their symptoms and to automatically create a user’s medical record to save time. Based on the AI-generated record and the conversation with the patients – files such as photos can also be uploaded to the app -, the doctors can prescribe medicine or refer the patient to a hospital for an offline appointment if needed.

Ping’an recently announced that its number of registered users exceeded 300 million users, with 62 million monthly active users. Because the app keeps building on its AI-driven system, Ping’an Good Doctor can be expected to only become a ‘smarter’ smart health app the more popular it gets.

Although Ping’an is now leading within China’s medical app category, there are many other apps providing similar services, such as Chunyu Yisheng (春雨医生), Haodafu Online (好大夫在线), or DingXiang Doctor (丁香医生).

The emergence of these apps is just one of the many ways in which China’s digital developments, online media, and tech giants are impacting the healthcare industry, profoundly changing how patients receive healthcare information and access medical services now and in the future.

List of recommended medical apps in the Tencent app store.

In a way, China’s medical consultation apps fill the void in offline primary care. Patients who would otherwise turn to hospital care as their first stop can now  access medical consultations any time, any day, at a relatively low cost. Those who suffer from relatively harmless conditions could be diagnosed by a medical specialist via the app and get the medicine they need within a matter of minutes. With the growing popularity of these kinds of apps, many patients no longer need to visit a hospital at all.

Are smart health apps such as Ping’an Good Doctor the solution to China’s healthcare problems? No, they’re not. Struggling mums like Guo Yinzhen will not find the help they need there. But they do contribute to a more efficient healthcare environment where crowd flows in hospitals can be reduced, and patients do not need to spend a lot of time and money to stand in hour-long queues to get five minutes of their doctor’s time.

Although smart health apps could not help Guo Yinzhen and her son, social media apps could. As soon as their story went viral in late 2017, Shanghai Children’s Welfare Foundation Xiaoxingxin offered to cover medical treatments for the little boy, with a notable pediatric neurosurgeon operating the child. According to the latest updates, the boy’s situation was “looking good.”

Hopefully, the same holds true for the challenging sides of China’s healthcare industry.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

[1] Burns & Liu, 2017: 3-4.

References/Linked Sources

Burns, Lawton Robert, and Gordon G. Liu. 2017. “Introduction.” In China’s Healthcare Industry: A System Perspective, Lawton Robert Burns and Gordon G. Liu (eds), pp-1-116. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Economist, 2017. “China needs many more primary-care doctors.” The Economist, May 11 https://www.economist.com/china/2017/05/11/china-needs-many-more-primary-care-doctors [20.10.19].

Zhou, Viola. 2018. “Does China Have Universal Healthcare? A Long (And Better) Answer.” Inkstone, Oct 10 https://www.inkstonenews.com/health/china-translated-does-china-have-universal-health-care/article/2167579

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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