Weibo. Unless you’ve lived in China for some period of time, I’d wager that this is an unfamiliar term for you, yet as a business professional, it’s time you two become acquainted. Weibo (微薄) is the stylized Mandarin term for “microblog”, a service native to China that in recent years has ignited like a wildfire across mainland netizens, akin to how Twitter has become so common-place in the United States. By “wildfire,” I mean the most popular Weibo platform, Sina Weibo (www.weibo.com), sees over 100 million posts per day (with 503 million registered users).
Since 2009, most “Western” social media platforms have been completely shut out by Chinese government internet censors, giving rise to homegrown alternatives, as has been seen in the advent of such services that replicate Facebook and Twitter almost verbatim. In a country with more people connected to the internet than the United States even has citizens, it is no wonder that great potential exists to reach new customers in a nation known for its booming consumerism. There is just one catch as to why this untapped potential resource remains untapped: you probably don’t speak Chinese, do you?My Weibo Account – Click for larger view
China is often attributed as home to roughly 300 million English “learners,” though this statistic is relatively misleading because it gives no affirmation as to what level of English proficiency is actually prevalent. From my time living there, I soon realized that the degree can vary rather significantly among young people. Schoolchildren are commonly taught English early on in their primary education and continue learning English throughout their secondary education, so it is a safe assumption that most Chinese under 30 years old (or so) have some grasp of English. While all too many schools put an unbalanced focus on reading and writing proficiencies, while neglecting speaking and listening skills. This only reinforces the potential for English-language content within a still-growing (and hungry) market, especially when considering that English will stand out among the homogeny of Chinese-language posts.
Initially, the learning curve may trip you up – after all, currently all the popular Weibo platforms are Chinese-only, so setting up and managing an account is not exactly a walk in the park. However, this is a small obstacle to deal with when considering what good may result from the potential exposure, and the audience you will be engaging with.
If you already use English-language social media platforms for your business, I would strongly urge you to consider branching out. What would it hurt? Whether you are a small business owner with limited domestic reach, or a growing business considering international expansion, turning away from the proposition of greater online visibility is a no-brainer from the perspective of any marketer. Weaving in just a little bit of Chinese with English-language posts can help to differentiate – remember, now you will be the exotic fish in the (essentially) homogenous ocean of Chinese Weibo content. You already take the time to create Twitter content 140 characters at a time, just post the same thing to your Weibo account and in doing so, you just expanded your potential audience three-fold.
Check back soon for my follow-up, a hands-on account of getting started with Sina Weibo. Cheers and 加油！