Hong Kong— Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo will launch in English, making it a potential rival to Twitter. The company’s big push this year is to commercialize its platform, starting with brands in China.
Sina Weibo, established in 2009, belongs to China’s largest Internet portal Sina Corp. The social site currently has more than 140 million registered users and is expected to hit 200 million by year-end. Weibo is the literal translation for microblog and often coined the Twitter-clone of China.
In terms of scale, Sina Weibo took less than two years to gain half the number of users Twitter has today (launched five years ago with more than 300 million users to date) and Weibo is only available in Chinese now compared to Twitter that rolled out in America, Europe, Japan, and Korea.
While 2010 represented a year of explosive growth and explosion, Sina’s national GM Li Xiang said 2011 marks the year to monetize its platform and one of its plans is to help businesses create commercial opportunities on Weibo.
More than 30,000 businesses are on Sina Weibo from McDonald’s and Starbucks to beauty and sports categories such as Maybelline, Clinique, Adidas, Nike, and even luxury brands like Burberry and Cartier.
In May, Unilever used Sina Weibo as its key activation platform to kick off a three-month campaign for Dove, targeting millions of Chinese women to share their personal beauty stories and inspire them to affirm their beauty by telling their friends on the microblogging site.
At SES Shanghai in late May, ClickZ Asia interviewed Li, Sina’s national general manager and Ai Yong, director of sales strategy on Weibo’s commercialization plans and social marketing opportunities on the platform.
Yong said Weibo has rolled out commercial features from display, location-based services, community, video, and apps, and will continue to launch more marketing tools for brand marketers to interact, manage, and acquire new fans.
Hong Kong is an important market for Sina Weibo and its subsidiary provides sales and marketing support in the city, he said. While some would attribute Weibo’s growth in China due to Twitter and Facebook being blocked in the country, Hong Kong is a good example of an open market where Twitter, Facebook, and Sina Weibo compete in one market. There are currently one million users in Hong Kong, and many overseas Chinese in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and even North America use Weibo. Many companies and celebrities in Hong Kong are using Weibo as a promotional platform, with some even using outdoor advertising to acquire new Weibo fans.
Social search will also be an important component for the Chinese microblog and Yong said there’s a difference between search that is based on algorithms to real-time search based on friend’s recommendations and experts you choose to follow. As a marketer, you won’t be able to use conventional SEO and SEM tactics on Weibo, he added.
Because there is a big difference using Weibo as a promotional platform compared to its parent portal Sina.com, Li hopes more innovative ideas will emerge on how to leverage the new platform through interacting with marketers.
Unlike other social networks, Weibo is an open platform, and it is keen to mobilize industry players to build an ecosystem to quickly bring matured business models to market.
Li said conventional media partnerships tend to focus only on marketing, advertising, and promotional activities, but operating a business involves many dimensions. Weibo not only offers them opportunity to connect directly with customers and industry partners but other function teams such as HR, e-commerce, and customer support, to fulfill their business needs. For instance, HR departments of big companies would organize recruitment exercise in schools, but now they could do that on the social blog, and this serves to amplify the effectiveness of traditional marketing and business operations.
In April, Sina launched a new domain name Weibo.com, including a new logo and branding efforts. Li explained the move aims to promote and develop microblogging as a key trend in China’s Internet space to drive social media use in the country. So far, it has worked in attracting new Internet users from the country’s tier three and four cities to use its platform.