China Oniline Ecosystem 101: Weibo

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China Online Ecosystem: Weibo Is Weibo Still Relevant in 2018?

An explanation, for the uninitiated, of what Weibo (pronounced ‘way boar’) is can be made in one simple sentence: China’s answer to Twitter. Weibo, as in the case of many Chinese ‘counterparts’ to western apps and websites, serves very similar functions but comes with certain fundamental differences plus bells and whistles that are more fitting to Chinese user needs.

Essentially, however, Weibo is a micro-messaging social media platform used by the masses, KOLs, brands and organizations. The question of importance now is not what Weibo is, but after just over 9 years of its launch and the emergence of competitors Wechat, Douyin and Toutiao, is it still relevant so social media marketing?

The answer is a unanimous ‘yes’, as explained in great detail in a recent Walk the Chat social media marketing report, which can be read by those with a more burning curiosity (or maybe time) here. The following is our condensed version.

Weibo’s financial growth

In terms of social cachet and press Weibo is somewhat old news now.In spite of appearances the company is experiencing a significant financial growth. So what we are witnessing is far from the death knell of a social media giant a la Myspace or Renren Since 2014 Weibo has been experiencing steady growth of its revenue, with an increase of 76% in 2017.

This somewhat surprising success can be attributed to increased marketing revenue. Its main rival, Wechat was conceived as a primarily a messaging platform and has much higher barriers to entry in terms of advertising costs for online marketers.

Weibo’s age demographic

China’s youth market is notoriously fickle and very fast to reject trends favored by older internet users. A significant proportion of Weibo’s users are below the age of 18. This suggests that its appeal is more than generational, in contrast to the once popular mish-mash, arts and culture website Douban. Users of Douban (depicted in brown in chart below) aged 19 or below in 2017 accounted for only 5% of its demographic, suggesting that the format does not appeal to the post millennial generation.

In contrast it appears that Weibo’s format appeals to the teen market as they make up a significantly larger proportion of its demographic.

Weibo’s Strengths

Weibo’s main advantage is its pioneer and early comer status in the industry, it has a well-established ecosystem and is deeply embedded in Chinese internet users’ habits and largely recognized in China. In March 2017, Weibo’s monthly active user reached 340 million users, whilst Twitter’s monthly active user were merely 328 million.

Additionally, Weibo successfully spotted the three major trends in China in recent years: the Wanghong economy (网红 meaning internet famous, which is similar to ‘insta famous’), live videos and short videos. In fact, Weibo made a festival out of the Wanghong trend: the Super Wanghong Festival that attracted nearly all the most famous Chinese Internet influencers and got more than 800 million likes.

As for the short video industry, Weibo has achieved impressive results: in 2017 Q3, year on year growth of Weibo video views increased by 175%. During the 2018 World Cup, the views of football related short videos was over 17.06 billion, and the views of topics around the World Cup reached 93.15 billion.

Are Weibo and Twitter on the Same Trajectory?

Its very reasonable to assume that due to their similarity in format Twitter and Weibo are set on the same trajectory- at present a downward arc in popularity. The data available seems to point to the contrary.

First of all, Weibo has seen a much steadier growth of its Monthly Active Users, and surpassed Twitter in 2017. Although growth for Weibo is slowing down, it remains much stronger than its Western competitor.


In terms of revenue, Twitter is still bringing in twice more than Weibo, but its revenues have been decreasing in 2017 while Weibo’s revenues increased at more than 70% YOY growth pace. It is likely that Weibo’s revenues will soon catch up with Twitter. Critics suggest that this divergence in the path of the two platforms is in all likelihood due to Weibo’s continued innovation and adaptability. Weibo opened up the 140 words limit, introduced the possibility of posting 9 photos and brought in videos and live videos on the platform; whereas Twitter failed to seize these opportunities which gave room for Instagram to take market share in photos sharing, while Youtube became its own video-centered social network. T

Though the fate of one of China’s strongest social media platforms is far from certain, it is still the best way to reach target and niche audiences, making it an essential component of the China social media marketing tool kit.