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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.

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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.

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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. 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. Shelly

    November 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

  3. 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

Despite China’s ‘Broadcast Ban’ on eSports, Netizens Go Crazy for National Team’s Asian Games Success

Clumsy display of nationalism during China’s glorious esports win goes viral.

Gabi Verberg

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With 1.8 billion views (#电竞亚军会#) on Weibo, the 2018 Asian Games eSports Demonstration Event has been a big topic on Chinese social media. Despite a broadcast-ban, netizens went crazy for the Chinese team, that – somewhat clumsily – waved the Chinese flag in Jakarta.

The 18th edition of the Asian Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia, has come to an end. With 2,3 billion views on Weibo alone (#2018亚军会#), the Asian Games are a hit on Chinese social media.

The Asian Games marked the first time for esports (electronic sports) to be included in a major international comprehensive sports event.

On the 26th of August, the first day of the esports event, the Chinese team won their first gold medal after winning the game Arena of Valor aka AoV (王者荣耀). The second day, they won the silver medal with the game Clash Royale (皇室战争), ending just behind the Indonesian team.

But the most significant success was celebrated on the 29th of August. After a 3-day battle, the Chinese team won their second gold medal for their performance in the game League of Legends (英雄联盟). Their victory came as a surprise to many, since it was the South Korean team that had defeated China twice during the group phase. But this time it was the Chinese team that celebrated a three-to-one victory over the South Koreans.

Despite the national teams’ successes, TV-watching audiences on mainland China were not able to witness these important moments in sport; CCTV5, the state television’s national sports channel, did not broadcast any of the esports events. Much to the annoyance of many netizens, CCTV5 also did not allow any other platform the right to broadcast any esports events.

The reason for CCTV not broadcasting online computer games is because it is banned. In the ‘Notice on the prohibition of broadcasting online computer game programs‘ (关于禁止播出电脑网络游戏类节目的通知) issued by the National Radio and television Administration in 2004, it says that “radio and television broadcasting organizations at all levels shall not open to computer network games, and may not broadcast online computer game programs.”

That same notice also states that “online computer games have adversely affected the healthy growth of minors.”

On CCTV5’s official Weibo account, many netizens called for the broadcasting of the esports games last week, and vented their dissatisfaction towards state media for banning the broadcast.

One Weibo user wrote: “CCTV spends state money to get a monopoly on the broadcasting rights, and then they choose not to broadcast. It is a waste of the state’s money and disrespectful to the people who do want to see esports!” Some posts scolding the CCTV received thousands of likes.

Except for CCTV, Party newspaper People’s Daily (人民日报), also received many negative social media comments after thy published an article on the victory of the national team. In the comment section, readers wrote comments such as: ‘Now you want to congratulate? Weren’t you the one that didn’t want to broadcast live?’ and ‘I’ve been thinking, isn’t it time that CCTV gets its own E-sports channel?’.

Clumsy Display of Nationalism: ‘Handshake with the National Flag’

Despite China’s ‘ban’ on esports, the country’s esports athletes showed much patriotism during the Asian Games.

In an interview with Tencent Sports, one the players of the Chinese team, Jian Zihao (简自豪), who goes by the online-ID ‘Uzi,’ expressed his love and gratitude for China, saying: “It’s the first time the national esports team officially represents the country. We wear the national [sports]uniform from head to toe, with the five-star red flag printed on the left side of our chest and ‘CHINA’ in capitals on our back. […] we live in the same village as the other athletes. I never thought that this would happen to me.’

Jian Zihao

The team also had a noteworthy patriotic moment during the so-called ‘handshake with national flag incident’. After winning their second gold medal, the Chinese team gained much attention online when they somewhat clumsily kept on holding onto their national flag while shaking hands with the silver and bronze medal winners (video link).

After the award ceremony, the hashtag ‘Handshake with the national Flag’ (#举着国籍握手#) became a hot search on Weibo, with more than 27 million views.

The athletes later said that nobody dared to put the flag down, so they held it up while shaking hands. They reportedly said: ‘The national flag is the most sacred thing, we didn’t dare to make any mistakes.’

The moment the esports team shook hands with the other teams while holding the Chinese flag.

A Weibo post publishing about the moment titled the incident ‘Sorry, It’s the first time I won the  Asian Games Championship, [I have] no experience.’ (‘对不起,第一次拿亚运冠军,没经验.’); it was shared over 98 thousand times and liked more than 124 thousand times. Many netizens found it very amusing, calling the athletes ‘clumsy,’ ‘cute’ and ‘adorable.’

Whether the positive image of the athletes will be enough to lift the ban on broadcasting online gaming is not clear. Neither the CCTV nor People’s Daily have yet officially responded to the complaints. But as the next Asian Games are to be held in Hangzhou, China, in 2022, many are hopeful that the ban will be lifted by then. One thing is sure: their team is ready for it.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

Richard Liu’s Minnesota Mug Shots Go Viral on Weibo

The tech mogul’s arrest is a major topic of discussion, many netizens side with Richard Liu.

Gabi Verberg

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The arrest of JD.com CEO Richard Liu, of China’s most powerful tech moguls, has made international headlines and is dominating trending topics lists on Chinese social media.

With over 370 million reads, the hashtag ‘Liu Qiandong Mugshot’ (#刘强东被捕照片#) is a major hot topic on Weibo this week.

On Friday night, August 31, Richard Liu (刘强东), was arrested in Minneapolis for alleged sexual misconduct case involving a university student.

Liu is the founder, chairman, and executive of JD.com (京东). With more than 300 million active users, it is China’s second-largest e-commerce firm after Alibaba.

According to Forbes, Liu has a net worth of approximately $7.9 billion, making him the 18th wealthiest person in China in 2017.

A day after his arrest, Liu was reportedly released without bail. John Elder, the spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department, stated they are treating the case as an active investigation, but that no formal complaint was filed.

A statement released on JD.com’s official Weibo account on September 2nd said:

During the US business activities, Mr. Liu Qiangdong has been falsely accused. The local police investigation has found no substance to the claim and Liu will continue his business activities as originally planned.”

As Liu’s mugshot has gone viral around the world, he has become a number one topic of conversation. Despite the major international attention for the billionaire’s arrest, many Chinese netizens do not believe Liu is guilty.

“I feel like brother Liu has been set up! I don’t believe any of it!”, one Weibo comment said, receiving nearly three million likes.

“I don’t buy it! My first reaction is; somebody who can control such a big company surely can control his lower body. I think it is more likely that he has been set up,” another typical comment read.

As online discussions run wild, there are strong online rumors on who the woman is who allegedly ‘falsely’ accused Liu for sexual misconduct, with netizens spreading photos of the supposed “instigator.”

It is not the first time Liu’s name comes up in an incident involving sexual misconduct. In 2015, the billionaire tried to distance himself from a sexual assault case that had taken place during a party in his penthouse in Australia.

The New York Times reports that a guest at his party, named Longwei Xu (徐龙威), was found guilty for having sex with a woman without her consent. Liu was not charged in the case, but the tech mogul still tried to have his name removed from the official documents regarding the matter.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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