So what if China blocks U.S. based social media outlets? We’ll just use theirs.
Launched in 2009 by Sina Corp, Weibo is China’s most popular micro-blogging platform, with over 250 million users (that’s a cool 50 million more users than Twitter claimed as of May 2011). The Twitter-like service, allowing users to blog 140 character tweet-length posts and gather followers, is steadily gaining influence in China, and, perhaps paradoxically, abroad. As China routinely blocks access to U.S. social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Weibo, the Eastern So-Me alternative, is attracting the attention of influential users abroad.
According to a public relations representative, Sina’s Weibo now has 450,000 users in the U.S. — roughly .2% of total user accounts. Notable early Western adopters include Christine Lagarde (French head of the IMF), Tom Cruise (affectionately known as “A-Tang Brother” in China), Bill Gates, tennis star Maria Sharapova, Emma Watson (50 points for Gryffindor!!!), and even global brands like the Coca Cola Company & LVMH’s Louis Vuitton. With sophisticated social media strategies increasingly becoming necessities of modern-day marketing, and social media sites mining online data about their users allowing multi-national corps a direct link to their target markets’ vital stats, Weibo allows Western users to tap directly into China’s mostly educated, mostly white-collar, burgeoning middle-class to promote their corporate and/or celebrity brand-identities. No word on when hyper-social Bieber-san will open his Weibo account. Fingers crossed! /sarcasm
Okay, awesome. Now China has an online watercooler forum of sorts where hundreds of millions of increasingly enfranchised people can say, and are saying, what’s on their minds. Amazing, right? Well, hold on. Don’t forget your grain of salt. If this all sounds like one really big “small step” forward in the oft-closed, centrally controlled society, maybe it is. But to be sure, it’s no “giant leap.” Many features of Weibo still smack of the trademarked Chinese political brand of expressive control and censorship. For instance, anyone in the world can register for a Weibo account (Rocketboom did, with the help of Google translator, but a full-fledged English language Sina Weibo platform is in the works). However, in order to get verified, Weibo requires users to submit proof of identification, which sends a “watch what you tweet, cuz we know where you live” kinda message. China’s tolerance of Weibo so far is in part due to the willingness of Chinese Internet firms to self-censor :( But of course, Sina also employs “technicians” to censor content on Weibo that contains “politically sensitive keywords.” So, if you want to know what’s going on real-time inside China (at least the happy-happy good fun stuff), log in to your Weibo account and see
some ofwhat people are saying.
Follow Rocketboom’s brand new Weibo account!
(I killed the link because it was way too long, went nowhere, and, for some reason, weibo.com/rocketboom doesn’t exist.)