And what it means for marketers.
Sina Weibo confirmed that it has launched a real-time search engine that allows people to search from a wide range of categories from posts, users, events, groups, votes to apps.
While Baidu is the search giant in China, microblog Sina Weibo is fast becoming the social darling of brand advertisers targeting the country.
Two years since it launched in August 2009, Sina now has 200 million registered users and close to 50,000 companies opened branded accounts on Weibo. The volume of tweets per day also increased to 75 million, based on stats from the company.
At the time of writing, Sina execs did not reply with further information on its new engine. But below are some features available on the site.
You can track trending topics on the Weibo search home page. For instance, some of the hot topics include Taiwanese band Farenheit and Asian TV dramas.
Once you click on the trending topic such as Farenheit, it returned more than 2 million tweet results and even suggests fans to follow.
You can also track the tweets by verified accounts, people you are already following, pictures, videos, right down to the location in Greater China from Guangdong to Hainan including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas.
Keyword Suggestion, Deep Search Under Groups and Activities
Weibo also offers keyword suggestions when you enter your intent. For instance, when I typed Nike, a number of suggestions that pop up include Nikerunning, Nike sports challenge, and Nike sportswear autumn line among others. As the platform is primarily in Chinese, your search results will be much richer when searching in the local language.
Under the group category, you can narrow down the search by province, interests, celebrity, or number of group members, etc.
For brands that organize many events, you can also track Weibo activities by looking at which ones have started, are in progress, or have ended as well as by the city or activities that offer prizes. On the right column, it tracks the hottest events for the past 24 hours including suggestions you might be interested in.
Voting is worth a mention since brands can ask Weibo users to vote on the specific products they like and in Nike's case, a user has created a question for people to vote whether they prefer Nike or Adidas. Therefore, Weibo search serves as a good tool for competitor intelligence too.
As it is more common for companies in China to hire the water army to spam your brand, Kun Tang, business development manager from The Egg agency advised companies to defend their brand terms or risk being spammed later.
From Sina Weibo's search engine, it doesn't look like the company is offering paid advertising on the site and it is unlikely that current search budgets for Baidu will shift to social very soon.
Sara Ye, MD for GroupM China search/digital lab said while Sina Weibo has potential due to rapid traffic growth, search on the microblog has yet to prove that it has a mature monetization model. This is because the nature of social media is based on relationships and not specifically on intent, Ye explained.
Many senior marketers in China also view Sina Weibo as a good tool for PR campaigns instead of embracing social as part of marketing, she added.
Meanwhile, Tencent launched an English version of its microblog service to woo English-speaking users ahead of its rival Sina Weibo as reported by local press.
It will be an interesting space to watch when Sina Weibo eventually makes its site available in English and how it may compete with Twitter or eventually search players like Baidu or Google for ad dollars in the near future.
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Adaline Lau, ClickZ Asia editor, oversees day-to-day editorial operations covering digital marketing from search to social media, mobile to analytics in the region. Before ClickZ, she was senior reporter at Marketing Magazine and has worked as a journalist for The Singapore Marketer and Asia Pacific Broadcasting. Connect with her @adalinelau or Google+.
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