China's big four microblogging providers (Sina Weibo, Tencent, Sohu, and Netease) are to officially start enforcing users to register with their real identities by March 16 this year. This official policy designed by the Chinese government will stop registered microblog users who have not verified their real identities from posting any new weibo and forwarding weibos that other users have previously posted.
Before the release of the microblogging policy, users that reside in China have already been blocked from accessing many non-China based social network sites and microblogging sites including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Google+. The blockage has rather allowed growth opportunities for many Chinese local social network sites and microblogging platforms including Sina Weibo, Renren, etc.
The new policy will expect to raise both difficulties and new opportunities to existing Weibo users.
Who will be affected? And who won't be?
So which type of Weibo users will be affected most, and who will not be affected at all?
Previously verified users with a "V" symbol – These users have previously been verified with their true identities, so they will be able to use Weibo as much as before.
Partially affected, but not critical:
Previously not verified users without a "V" symbol – These users will lose the capability to post any new weibo and forward any weibo that was posted by other Weibo users.
People who own multiple weibo accounts – They will have to choose one account for identity verification and stick with this one account from then on. As long as one of their accounts have the "V" symbol, this account will have full capability, while their other accounts will be mute to post new weibo and forward other users' weibos.
One example for people with multiple accounts: these may be users who actually run social media marketing campaigns for the brands on Weibo. With multiple Weibo accounts, they could have been cross-posting and cross-forwarding through their multiple Weibo accounts in order to amplify the "buzz" for a single topic relating to their brands. This way, these accounts together would create an impression to other users that a brand has been repeatedly discussed by many people.
Creating exaggerated buzz may become more difficult without multiple accounts.
People that have been selling "fake followers" for cash – Some brands do hire third-party companies/agencies to work on social media marketing campaigns. One of the objectives would be to grow the quantity of followers for a brand (a Weibo account).
Before the policy is enforced, the agency would work on the fake accounts by regularly posting weibos, creating an impression that these fake Weibo accounts were actually registered by real people. However, with the policy being enforced, the fake Weibo accounts will all become mute, or the agency will have to find ways to verify the accounts with "fake" identities.
Update: However, Chinese IT/Internet blogger William Long announced recently that Chinese local identity card number can be used multiple times for identity verification for multiple Weibo accounts. If this is the case, then people who are using multiple accounts for the purpose of social media marketing and people who have been selling fake Weibo follower accounts may not be affected.
Those loyal Weibo users who never want to reveal their real identity will become much less active than they once used to be. Well, Sina Weibo may even lose these users to other online social networking sites.
Many foreign users (who do not possess a Mainland Chinese identity card) will not be able to verify their Weibo account at all. They will lose the capability to post new weibo and forward weibos.
Agencies/companies that participate in social media marketing through Weibo may find ways to "buy" identities from real people. So this new business model of trading identities will rise and may well also create the "middle man" layer – people who will act as the buying-selling agents of real name identities between Chinese citizens and social media marketing agencies.
Foreign Users - Official Ways for Weibo Identity Verification
Non-Mainland Chinese citizens can verify their Weibo accounts in one of the following ways:
Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau citizens are also required to go through the above verification process.
Weibo Talent Accounts
One alternative to verify your identity is to upgrade your Weibo account to a Weibo Talent account.
Requirements to qualify for a Weibo Talent account:
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Gordon Choi has paid search experience in Google AdWords and Baidu since 2003; Yahoo/Bing since 2002 and SEO and web analytics experience since 2005 across China, Asia, U.S., U.K. and Australian markets. He gathered China Internet experience through working in-house at Ctrip.com and Alibaba.com and now specializes in setting up SEM/SEO strategies, managing online campaign operations, and implementing web analytics solutions for clients.
March 19, 2014