Twitter launches Hong Kong office to court mainland Chinese firms

Social media giant says Hong Kong office will connect companies to the world and that it is not seeking to overturn mainland block

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 March, 2015, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 11:30am

Twitter is launching a Hong Kong office as the US social media giant attempts to court Chinese firms - even though its website has been blocked on the mainland since 2009.

The company's first office in China will be tasked with finding mainland businesses seeking to attract and communicate with overseas customers.

"This is the first market we've gone into where we're targeting outside of the country," Peter Greenberger, Twitter's sales director for emerging markets, told the Post.

The main targets will be "big advertisers looking to reach overseas", Greenberger said.

READ MORE: Twitter opens Hong Kong office for closer ties with Chinese businesses

Twitter has around 288 million monthly active users who send more than half a billion tweets a day.

Greenberger sees this as a huge opportunity for Chinese firms looking to connect with an overseas audience and expand beyond the mainland market.

"We're very strong in markets that Chinese companies are targeting," he said. "We think this office will help connect Chinese companies to the world."

Greenberger explained that while the company had worked with Chinese firms in the past, "it's largely been reactive".

"Working with some Chinese advertisers already … led us to the conclusion that we need to be here," he said.

"There's a huge opportunity in being closer, allowing us to build these relationships."

One key existing client is Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which recently unveiled its challenge to the Apple Watch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week - the company's first entry to the wearable technology market.

"[Twitter] provides us with global access - we can tweet around the world and reach an international audience," said Huawei's Tan Rahman.

Huawei has been aggressively courting overseas customers in recent months. In Barcelona, the company's global brand director Amy Lou said they aimed to become "one of the world's most loved brands".

Greenberger emphasised that it was "not our intention" to re-enter mainland China, where Twitter has been blocked since 2009. For this reason, he said the firm did not view Chinese microblogging and messaging services as competitors, as they were targeting different markets.

"Our ideal customer is someone who is advertising on Weibo and wants to do the same for an international audience," he said.

While Twitter would struggle to operate in the highly competitive mainland social media market, even if Beijing lifted the ban, "they can still win Chinese companies' business and help them grow outside of China", said Wang Xiaofeng, a Beijing-based analyst with Forrester Research.

"[Companies] have to use a different approach because Chinese social platforms are unique, and they're used to targeting Chinese consumers," she said.

Wang pointed to the success of mainland tech companies such as Lenovo and Huawei in connecting with overseas customers via social media.

Another sector that has embraced Twitter wholeheartedly is mainland state media. Despite the platform being banned on the mainland, state news agency Xinhua, the People's Dail y, Global Times and CCTV all have Twitter platforms on which they publish content in several languages.