Despite having the world’s largest population and the second-largest economy, social media in China hasn’t taken off as quickly as it has in other developed countries.
Part of that has to do with the Chinese government. Although it may not be as strict as it once was in terms of censoring the content it allows its citizens to view online, it still is far more restrictive than most European countries or the US. The Chinese government continues to be serious about cracking down on dissent and keeping tabs on those it considers to be enemies of the state.
Still, the Chinese are beginning to go just as crazy about social media as people everywhere else in the world. And the biggest name in Chinese social media today isn’t Facebook, Twitter or Google+. It’s a site called Weibo.
Popularity of Social Media in China
Weibo has exploded in popularity in recent years. It currently has 176 million active daily users and 503 million registered users. While that’s still only about half of China’s estimated 1 billion citizens, that represents a 36% growth over last year.
The site is used regularly by about 30% of Chinese Internet users. That’s about the same market penetration that Twitter has in the US, which has prompted Weibo to get the nickname “The Twitter of China”.
The site is only a couple of years old, having been founded in 2009 by SINA Corporation, which still owns 56.9% of the Weibo. Alibaba owns another 32% if the company. Stock in the website has been publicly traded on Nasdaq since last April.
Just recently, Oracle announced that its Social Cloud will provide the publishing, engagement and analytical support for the site. The purpose of the move is to boost Weibo’s usage outside of China, as well as to grow the site within that nation.
Oracle also will provide engagement and analytic services for Instagram within China. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and recently offered the ability to post 15-second videos as well as images and photos, is rapidly becoming one of the most popular sites among 18 top 24 year olds in that country.
Who’s Using the Site
Like Twitter in the US, Weibo allows its users to follow posts from their favorite celebrities, sports stars, political leaders, media figures, businessmen and religious leaders. Users also can share their own microblog posts with their own followers. It’s estimated that the Weibo’s top 100 users have an estimated 485 followers combined.
But companies and commercial interests both inside and outside of China are huge users of the site as well. More than 5,000 companies and 2,700 media companies are believed to use the site regularly.
Censorship on Weibo
One of the biggest differences between Weibo and western social media sites is that Sina cooperates with Chinese Internet censors, setting strict controls on the contents of its postings. Comments about politically sensitive topics, as well as those containing blacklisted keywords, are regularly deleted.
But when compared to other Chinese media, Weibo is relatively permissive. Criticism of the Chinese government, while not encouraged, isn’t as controlled on Weibo as it is on Chinese TV, newspapers or radio.
Where Its Name Comes From
In Chinese, the word for microblog is “Weibo”. Sina Weibo launched it as the service’s domain name in 2011. While other Chinese microblogging services such as Tenchent Weibo, Sohu Weibo, and NetEase Weibo also include the term, most people in China recognized Weibo as the leading social media platform in the same way that the term “Facebook” is synonymous with social media in the US.