Sina Weibo

China’s Weibo leverages star power to profit from huge youth following as oldies lose interest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 10:40pm

Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site which hosts accounts from most of the country’s celebrities, is now well positioned to cash in on the huge number of young people following star gossip on its platform, but that has come at the expense of older users who have left the site because it no longer fits their interests.

On Sunday, a post by a popular Chinese singer and actor paralysed the social media platform for an hour and a half as fans and internet users swarmed to the site. Lu Han’s news that he was now in a relationship with Chinese actress Guan Xiaotong was only online for 30 minutes before the crash happened. It took 90 minutes for Sina Weibo to get the site back up and running.

Within 24 hours, the post had been forwarded more than 870,000 times, receiving 2.2 million comments and 4.7 million “likes”.

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However, not all Weibo users got caught up in the frenzy. Zhang Yi, a Shenzhen father in his mid-30s, did not hear the news until Sunday evening when some friends circulated it in a private WeChat posting.

“I have the Sina Weibo app on my mobile phone but rarely open it these days. There used to be some interesting accounts [on Weibo] that I followed closely, but many have either been shut down or stopped updating in the past few years,” he said.

Unlike the older generations who care more about social issues or health information, many younger Chinese born after 1990s – who form most mobile social platforms users in the country – are keen on entertainment and gossip news. That makes Weibo a virtual playground for youth, and also a lucrative advertising platform for Weibo’s owner Sina, said Ouyang Liangyi, an associate professor of Peking University’s HSBC Business School.

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Ouyang, who was born in the 1970s, was also shocked to learn that such celebrity gossip could spread so rapidly on Weibo.

Sina Weibo has seen huge growth in traffic and user numbers after it transformed from a real-time information platform to one with more recreational content.

An earlier report released by the Weibo Data Centre revealed that over 80 per cent of Sina Weibo users are below 30 years old, with 13.2 per cent younger than 18 years old. That compares to 11.7 per cent for users aged between 30 and 40, and 6.3 per cent for above 40.

Entertainment stars are now the most favoured accounts on Weibo. Of the top 20 accounts in terms of followers, 19 are from the entertainment industry such as movie stars, singers and hosts, with the remaining one being a well known Hong Kong writer.

Heart throb Lu, who has 41 million followers, is not even in the top 20.

Apart from entertainment stars, the surging number of internet celebrities and marketing accounts on Sina Weibo that focus on fashion, cosmetics, animation, and movies have helped it attract and retain younger users.

While most accounts with large numbers of followers are using Sina Weibo to promote products or sell goods directly, topics related to celebrities can easily attract more than 10 billion clicks a month, Sina Weibo said earlier.

In the first quarter of this year, Sina Weibo outstripped Twitter’s 328 million users, with 340 million active monthly users.

Currently, active monthly users on Sina Weibo reached 361 million in the second quarter of 2017, up from 282 million in the same period last year, the Nastaq-listed company said in its quarterly earnings report in August, adding that 92 per cent of users access the platform via mobile devices.

The Chinese company also revealed that overall income in the second quarter was 1.73 billion yuan (US$260 million), of which advertising income accounted for 1.49 billion yuan, up 78 per cent year on year.

“Sina Weibo is now basically an advertising platform,” said Ouyang, who added that he stopped using it more than three years due to the overwhelming promotional content on the platform.

“Not only Sina Weibo, Tencent [operator of the WeChat messaging app] is also trying to cash in on its social media platforms via games and advertising. There is nothing wrong with this as investors are trying to monetise through the huge traffic on the platform. Even the younger generation will grow up, and they will choose to leave or stay,” said Ouyang.