Corporate China

Weibo: Tencent's Pony gets promotional, Alibaba spins Cameron

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 3:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 3:14pm

Spin doctors from Chinese tech titans Tencent (0700.HK) and Alibaba have been hard at work these last few days, doing their best to promote their products and add positive interpretations to news involving their companies. Tencent chief Pony Ma was actively hyping up several of his company's products and services, while an Alibaba executive was touting a visit between founder Jack Ma and visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron. Tencent also got a helping hand from restaurant ratings giant Dianping, whose low-key founder was hyping a new tie-up between Dianping and the payments platform on Tencent's wildly popular WeChat instant messaging service.

I've been writing this Weibo column for several months now, and am quickly discovering that executives from the big tech names often use their microblogs for clumsy attempts to promote their products and brands. Sometimes the results have a certain charm due to their lack of marketing-savvy, but more often they just look like poorly conceived product plugs. That's certainly the case for Tencent founder Pony Ma, who may be a brilliant Internet visionary but whose marketing activities could use a little more imagination.

Pony was never very comfortable in public roles, though he attended a series of events last month that looked aimed at raising his profile. Pony was also never a very regular poster on his Tencent Weibo microblog account, which is why his series of three posts in the past week looked like he discovered a new talkative streak. But a closer look at the posts is rather disappointing, as all seem to be his clumsy and relatively uninspired attempts to promote some of Tencent's various products and services.

One of those talks up Tencent's new experience research center, while another promotes Tencent's news service. My favorite is a post where he lightly pokes fun at a humorous new ad for the speedy delivery service from Tencent's Yixun e-commerce site. The ad itself is quite amusing, but Pony's critique seems a bit insincere as it's almost identical to a similar post he made about another Yixun advertisement several weeks ago. Keep trying, Pony!

Meantime, Tencent got a promotional boost in the microblogosphere from another equally low profile Internet executive, in this case in comments from Long Wei, co-founder of Dianping. Long has quietly built Dianping into China's leading restaurant ratings and group buying site over the last decade, attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment along the way. But like Pony, Long isn't known for his charismatic style and prefers to maintain a low-profile, behind-the-scenes role.

His plug for Dianping's new tie-up with WeChat is quite brief, and looks like it could simply be a reprint of an advertisement offering free prizes and wishing the new partnership success and good luck. In a slight embarrassment for Tencent, Long makes his posting on the more popular Sina (Nasdaq: SINA) Weibo microblog site, instead of on Tencent's own microblogging service. But this attempt at promotion is so feeble and lacking in imagination that perhaps it's better that it doesn't appear on Tencent's own microblogging site.

Lastly there was Alibaba, whose PR chief Yan Qiao was putting the company's own spin on a high-profile meeting last week between Alibaba founder Jack Ma and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Media reported that Cameron personally appealed to Jack to make Alibaba's highly anticipated IPO in London rather than New York or Hong Kong, which are the two main preferred locations. 

Yan Qiao focused on a different angle, saying Cameron was lured by Alibaba's dominant place in China's e-commerce market. Yan said a growing number of British companies were turning to Alibaba's popular TMall platform to peddle their products to Chinese consumers, selling everything from tea to unusual clothing. Perhaps that's true, though I do suspect the IPO -- which is likely to be one of the world's biggest next year -- was probably Cameron's bigger purpose for the visit.

To read more commentaries from Doug Young, visit