Weibo Battles WeChat for China’s Social Media Preference

Global Business


Despite Weibo’s impressive stock surge, some experts say its best days may be behind it.And that’s probably because of a rival messaging app, WeChat. Wang Lihuan reports on China’s social media competition.

Sina Weibo, widely known as China’s version of Twitter, debuted on the U.S. Nasdaq exchange Thursday, expecting to raise at least 340 million US dollars. Many are optimistic about the new offering, but others note that in contrast to the company’s best days between 2011 to 2013, the number of Weibo’s active accounts are dropping.

Thirty-year-old Han Minjie works at an art gallery. She signed up for a Sina Weibo account three years ago and has seen the company’s ups and downs, as well as the rise of its main competitor, Tencent’s social media tool WeChat. Han says that compared to Sina Weibo, WeChat offers more private space for chatting with friends and posting personal information.

Weibo Battles WeChat for China’s Social Media Preference

Despite Weibo's impressive stock surge, some experts say its best days may be behind it.And that's probably because of a rival messaging app, WeChat. Wang Lihuan reports on China’s social media competition.

“If you and I are good friends on Wexin, all we can do is talk with one another. But if you are talking with someone else and I’m not friends on the system with them, he or she cannot see what I left on your WeChat, and vice versa. So it’s easier to chat on Weixin. But with Weibo, it doesn’t matter if anyone is anyone else’s friend. If 10 people leave comments on one post, I can see them all,” says Han.

But Han says although she uses WeChat more often than Weibo, she is not abandoning Weibo, because for her, Weibo offers much more information than WeChat. She can find more news, promotions, and discount information on Weibo. Yang Hua, general manager of iResearch’s telecommunication consulting center, says that Weibo is actually a social communication platform based on weak relationships, whereas, WeChat is based on strong relationships.

“Sina Weibo is a weak relationship platform, it has something to do with social networking, but it’s not that intimate. A strong relationship platform is based on friends, people from work, acquaintances. People chat through WeChat. But Weibo is a quick information delivering platform,” says Yang.

Yang explains that most people follow celebrities on Weibo, but people add friends according to their contact lists on WeChat. When two people include each other in their WeChat circle, they are already actually friend’s offline.

As a result, when breaking news happens the hit rate on Weibo will peak. When Chinese actor Wen Zhang was caught cheating on his wife and issued a public apology on his Weibo account, the apology was shared more than 1.2 million times and gathered nearly two million comments. Not only celebrities, but many companies have official Weibo accounts to promote their products. Zheng Ruoxing, for example, runs a jewelry shop online and also promotes her products on Sina Weibo.

“My store has an official Weibo account, and we post pictures of our new products or pictures of buyers wearing our products. Strangers buy our products through Weibo. It’s easy to draw in more followers and customers through Weibo, people can get to know us by searching through other people’s posts. Weibo gives us better coverage,” says Zhen.

As the two social communication tools play separate roles, experts suggest different business models for the two.

Yang Hua with iResearch Consulting Group says,” As a communication tool, and as people’s daily assistant, more 02O systems will input into Weixin, such as payment reminders, investment tools, or issuing coupons, discounts or calling taxis. It becomes a personal assitant. As for Weibo, it should further develop its media role and attract more advertisments, become a platform for companies to promote themselves or deliver information. There are a lot of things it could do.”

Yang says Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba Group’s acquisition an 18 percent stake in Weibo last year is a good example, as Alibaba wants to sell more advertising space into China’s highly competitive social networks. The monthly active users of Sina Weibo are currently around 92 million, whereas that of Weixin is about 230 million.