Sina Weibo, a social microblogger that has sometimes been referred to as China’s “Twitter,” has rolled out an English language interface, widening marketing possibilities that could extend the service to more international markets.
A Sina representative told Tech in Asia, “Countries in Southeast Asia [can] pick English or Chinese – this isn’t opened globally yet,” though the Asian tech publication noted its own tests showed the service working in the US for some users.
With over 400 million registered users, Sina Weibo offers a platform similar to Twitter in China where Twitter’s services have been blocked since 2009. Twitter has about 18,164 active users in China. Until now, Sina Weibo has been Chinese only, and this latest English rollout should better poise the company to compete against the likes of Twitter.
Plus, the English interface will help international brands better market to Chinese consumers.
Sina Weibo manages to survive in China because it consents to Chinese censorship, which as Tech in Asia pointed out, severely dampen its prospects in international markets. The Asian tech publication pointed out that censorship issues will naturally have to be addressed as the company reaches beyond China’s borders.
“How much faster would Sina Weibo grow in Taiwan if it was uncensored? How big could WeChat be if it didn’t have the stigma of political censorship draped around its neck like a dead albatross?” C. Kuster of Tech in Asia wrote. “For most overseas users, censorship of China-related topics is going to be a little-noticed minor annoyance, but it is absolutely terrible for marketing and branding. That is doubly true if the companies are also not transparent about what is allowed and what isn’t, which is often the case on Chinese content platforms.”
A video recently emerged online supposedly made by a Sina Weibo censor asking for public understanding of its censorship practices.
“The people need Weibo to project our voices, but when the hand behind weibo wants to manipulate the discussion, something has to be sacrificed,” the poster who claimed to work for Sina Weibo stated in the video. “We live in a country full of special and sensitive barriers and we have to operate within a set of rules.”
Brad Pitt opened a Sina Weibo account earlier this month, hinting he would be visiting China earlier this month in his first post, which has since been deleted likely out of censorship.