Global Practices

Friday5: Twitter vs Sina Weibo



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Sina Weibo, a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, dominates the microblogging industry in China with 300 million users, while Twitter is leading the western microblogging world with 500 million users. Despite the user base difference, both sites are very influential in their respective markets and shape people’s social media lives in a many ways, such as how people keep in touch with their friends and consume news, etc. In this edition of Friday5, I’d like to discuss five differences between Twitter and Sina Weibo.

1.      Multi-media content

Sina Weibo and Twitter welcome different types of multi-media content, but this content is displayed differently on the two sites. In addition to pictures, which can also be attached to a tweet on Twitter, cartoon expressions, videos, music and polls can be attached to a tweet on Sina Weibo without any plugin required. Sina Weibo offers more than 400 emoticons for users to use in their tweets for free, which is very popular among its users. Recently, Twitter’s focus has been on incorporating online media sites to deliver a wide range of stories, images and videos that can be previewed from within tweets.

2.      E-commerce.

E-commerce sites more closely embrace Sina Weibo than they do Twitter, because Sina Weibo is directly tied to sales. For example, a Weibo-based online travel product, which provides users with travel information and a complete reservation system, launched last year. Additionally, several e-commerce sites such as have already partnered with Sina and added their e-commerce site shopping experience to their branded Sina Weibo site. This approach is crucial for e-commerce companies to boost commercial success by incorporating Sina Weibo. When you think of Twitter, making sales isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind. Twitter sales are typically tied to general word of mouth and content sharing. Usually, the easier it is to connect with a target audience, the better for a brand to drive commercial success. Sina Weibo is currently leading the scene with regard to sales when compared to Twitter. Therefore, for a company that plans to drive brand awareness and boost sales in China, Sina Weibo is a good choice.

3.      Censorship

Twitter was set up and exists in a free and mature market, while Sina Weibo was set up and exists in a less free and growing market. Censorship levels on the two sites reflect these differences. According to the Twitter Rules,“We do not actively monitor users’ content and will not censor user content, except in limited circumstances, which includes unlawful use.” According to the temporary Sina Weibo User Contracts,”unlawful use” is also included in the censor range. But the major difference is that the U.S. and China have different legal systems, which leads to tighter censorship on Sina Weibo than there is on Twitter. While this doesn’t usually have a significant impact on a branded account, it’s worth knowing the platform and its censorship system, for it will help a brand to understand the behavior on the platform.

4.      Business model

Making money is one of the key eternal pursuits of every company. This is also true of Twitter and Sina Weibo. But how to make money varies on these platforms. According to Dr. Gang Lu, founding editor of a China tech news site Tech Node, Twitter’s answer is sponsored tweets, promoting trends, data analysis for enterprise accounts and hashtag pages. Sina Weibo’s business model is based on interaction, precision ads, instant search, paid content, e-commerce, privilege membership, social games like Farmville and a wireless value-added service. Knowing how a platform makes money can help a brand to navigate the social media buy investment strategy on this platform to maximize the ROI.

5.      Users

It is important to engage with audiences where they already are. Sina Weibo users are slightly different from Twitter users with regard to age, top locations, mobile penetration, etc. For instance, 90 percent of Sina Weibo users are between 18 and 35 years old, while 42.3 percent of Twitter users are between 30 and 49 years old.

In order to successfully engage on Sina Weibo as a brand, it’s important to keep in mind a classic Chinese saying, “Precise knowledge of self and precise knowledge of the threat leads to victory (知己知彼,百战不殆).” Therefore, before diving into Sina Weibo, please make sure to do comprehensive research about the brand itself, the industry and the competitors.

Cathy Yue is a senior account supervisor in Edelman Digital. She is currently on a fellowship in the Chicago office, from Beijing.

Preview image credit: jonrussell

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