Weibo addict: The effects of Chinese social media

By Dongying Zhang, Ning Zhu

Translated by Xiaofeng Li

Sina Weibo (micro-blog), the China’s equivalent of Twitter and also the most widely used form of social media in China, has become the most favoured online platform for sharing information and social interaction, with a total of over 300 million registered users.

In last year’s report, The Chinese Weekly explored the secrets of some Weibo celebrities living in the UK and discussed the reasons for their success. A year has passed and the popularity of Weibo, along with the online environment, have both drastically changed.

Questions such as how they have handled the balance of commercial factors and followers’ loyalties have drawn our attention. The condition of these micro-blogs surviving in the face of fierce competition has also attracted public attention.

Business Development

“Something About Britain” (英国那些事儿) hit 390,000 followers this year. In the beginning, the account user knew very little about techniques used to increase popularity, knowledge that comes with experience over time. Now, he collects information from British mainstream newspapers and news websites and then personalises the content into his own style. “Some storytelling has been integrated into my posts.” He said.

The “Red Scarf” (日不落下的红领巾) is maintained by Pauline and her team. A website came hot on the heels of the success and prevalence of their Weibo account among Chinese students studying in the UK.

“We screen information and share some of the most appealing posts with our followers every day. The revenue generated from the website will help continue our Weibo account and ensure no commercial promotion and advertising appear on our Weibo page. ”

Weiyi Qu, the man behind the “British shopping expert” (英国购物专家) has collaborated with LOCOG marketing Olympic Games souvenirs on Weibo during this summer. He spoke frankly to TheChinese Weekly, “Commercial profit should not be a taboo. We make sure our subscribers get the better discounts on buying goods and in the meantime promote our participating merchants. It’s a win-win.”

British enthusiast

It is also noteworthy that a growing proportion of newcomers consist of British politicians, universities and business enterprises.

“Chinese students seldom use Facebook and Twitter. So I opened my sina Weibo account in order to build up relationships with them and encourage them to participate in school activities.” said Andrew Bromley, international student support officer in Sheffield Hallam University.

Dafydd Green (林亚德), account executive at Incuna Ltd, said Weibo provided a platform for him to find like-minded individuals. “I have a strong interest in Chinese Tea Culture. But here in the UK, I have no access to the related information in real life. Using Weibo compensates for a lack of information. ”

Max Sleigh-Parrott (梁悦信), recent graduate of SOAS University in London, finds Weibo useful for practicing and improving his Chinese, making new friends and believes that, with enough fans, a user can become highly influential.

He says that his fans grew most rapidly after appearing on Chinese job-seeking TV programme 'zhi lai zhi wang' (《职来职往》). With regards to learning Chinese via Weibo, Mr Sleigh-Parrott commented that he could learn slang, many of which could not be found in standard Chinese learning textbooks or on Chinese learning websites.

He said: “there are many phrases on Weibo intentionally misspelt for a certain effect, possibly to sound more cute or cool, or maybe just because it has become the norm online.”

Compared to Twitter, Green found Weibo more functional and recreational. “You can check how many people have re-posted and replied to you. Some plug-in applications like ‘music zone’ are also very interesting.”

Weibo’s innovation with image and video sharing also makes it stand out. However, a common concern was raised by many foreign users that language was the biggest hindrance. Green suggested that Weibo should better prepare itself with diversity and international vision.