Weibo vs. Weixin: who’s the real “Facebook of China”?

01 May 2013



‘Lost in Thailand’ by director Zheng Xu came out in December 2012, and marked a turning point in the Chinese film history.

For the first time a relatively low budgeted movie – 12 million yuan, about 2 million USD – has been able to overcome the massive historic/epic productions that usually win the Chinese box office, unexpectedly becoming the best-grossing Chinese movie in China of all times.



This road-trip comedy about modern Chinese society reached the astonishing figure of 1.2 billion yuan in the first couple of months in theaters.

1.2B yuan are 200 million USD, which means about 100 times the budget.

But what we want to underline here is something else: if you watch the movie, you will realize how Weibo is an essential part of the plot.

“Why did you tag me on that picture?” “Because you have more followers than I do!” – is just one of the many Weibo-related dialogues during the movie.


The “Wei War”

Long story short: when you want to properly portray Chinese nowadays society, you can’t keep from mentioning Weibo – although they do not specify whether it’s Sina Weibo or Tencent Weibo.

From the marketig standpoint – which is what really concerns us – Sina Weibo is (still) the most important social media platform in China.

But over the last 2 years Weixin, a mobile IM app launched by Tencent, began attracting millions of users and hundreds of brands, thus generating a curious situation that someone defined as the “Wei War” – one of the main topics at our Eye on China event in February.

Although we must add that the two platforms can also be seen as complementary services, rather than competitors.

Anyways, after this long premise, let’s take a look at what the biggest fish in the Chinese social media market – the two WEIs – are currently up to.




Sina Weibo: the unstoppable social machine

Over a year ago we published a post called How does marketing on Sina Weibo work?

A lot of things have changed since then: users are now over 400M, and Sina Weibo still seems to be in a strong growth phase, attracting an everyday bigger worldwide attention, and a handful of global brands willing to communicate to the Chinese Internet masses.

Basically every international consumer brand has a presence on Sina Weibo. The most incredible promotional activity – as far as we recall – has been the SMART initiative to sell 600 Chinese New Year special-edition cars right on the social media platform, for about $12K each.

Over 80% of luxury/fashion brands are now on Sina Weibo; quite surprisingly, Italian fashion magazine GRAZIA has over half a million fans on the Chinese microblog:


GRAZIA Sina Weibo


Recent news was made by the 586 million USD investment by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in order to get 18% of Sina Corp.’s microblog. Which means only one thing: Sina Weibo is ready to evolve into an integrated social-commerce platform.

But there’s not only marketing, of course: Sina Weibo is still the best place to go when you – as a normal human being – want to get your message spread, be it related to private life or political topics.

Let’s consider the fact that Chinese internet users are extremely active in the social/political discussion – always finding new ways to overcome the government censorship to talk about what they want – and Sina Weibo is still the best medium to do so. Be the subject political electoral tournaments or ridiculous air-pollution levels.


Weixin/WeChat, the Chinese app going global

At the moment n. 1 competitor for Sina Weibo is Tencent’s Weixin, a mobile app we’ve extensively talked about on this blog.

Here you can check out an interesting talk about the “Wei War”, in a video made by Shanghai-based marketing company Thoughtful China:



Basically the focal point is that Weixin has a series of features that are helping the mobile platform in quickly gaining popularity among both users and brands. Here’s what we think are the most relevant:

  • It’s well integrated with QQ, Tencent’s massive IM platform used by everybody in China.
  • Possibility to enhance existing CRM activities, through geolocation features.
  • Brands get the attention of 100% of fans, since it’s a one-to-one communication.


Especially the last point is directly related to the “Wei War”: one of the main problems Sina Weibo is facing now is the overflow of information on users’ newsfeeds, with millions of both personal and promotional posts, and a massive amount of advertising. A bit like Facebook, actually, which is now starting losing users in hyper-saturated markets.

And considering that Tencent is still figuring out how to monetize Weixin, there’s another aspect related to the potential switch into a full marketing-friendly platform: the more brands are active on it, the harder it will be to protect users’ experience.

Although we’re still far from having explored all of its marketing potential, quite a few brands already have interesting case histories to show. As we’ve recently seen, a bunch of Hollywood stars jumped aboard to talk with their Chinese fans.

The ice-breaker has been Starbucks – towards the end of 2012 – with a campaign to promote the newly launched Refresha drink: a QRcode applied to cups (in real life) enabled users to connect with Starbucks’ Weixin account, suddenly receiving a little welcome song and customized promotions.

Probably the brightest example is what Nike did during the Shanghai Festival of Sports, showing the full potential of such a mobile-native app:



And the app is still evolving: it will soon launch a mobile-wallet system for payments, together with an its-own mobile gaming platform – what a surprise, huh?

But there’s more: last year Weixin has been rebranded as WeChat in order to be competitive in different markets, and Tencent is heavily investing in promoting the app in countries like Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Singapore, and also looking at the Western world.

Here’s a nice WeChat commercial featuring Taiwanese celebs Rainie Yang and Alan Luo Zhi-Xiang:



After all, just a few days ago we interviewed the Communications Manager of LINE, which is probably the strongest WeChat’s global competitor at the moment. And they’re following a similar path, pushing the mobile app through events and TV ads all across the globe, Europe included.

Speakin’ of, here’s a map of Weixin/WeChat global expansion so far. As you can see, the Americas are probably going to be Tencent’s next big preys:


wechat global


But… how about RenRen?

Ok, we talked about Weibo and Weixin as the potential “Chinese Facebook”, but let’s not forget that actually China was the first country in the world to have an its-own version of Facebook, long time before the two WEIs even existed: RenRen was launched back in 2005 – just a year after Facebook was born – quickly becoming the most popular SNS among Chinese youngsters.



Over the last years it started losing its appeal, mainly for two of reasons:

  • The platform didn’t evolve that much.
  • Weibos and mobile IM apps took over the digital habits of Chinese netizens.

Despite this, RenRen still have some 150+ million active users – especially in tier 2/3 cities – which is not so bad.

And most importantly – as reported by Tech in Asia – the boy seems to be back in the battle ground, with a brand new Weixin-stlyle and dating-friendly mobile app called TongXueShuo:




Ok, we’re done with our analysis of the state-of-the-art of Chinese social media marketing landscape.

Actually, there’s one more thing left to say: while users and brands are busy figuring out what will become the definitive “Chinese Facebook”, I suggest you to take a couple of hours of your time to watch ‘Lost in Thailand’. It’s hilarious.

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.


2 Responses to “Weibo vs. Weixin: who’s the real “Facebook of China”?”

  1. [...] As the one of the largest SNS platform in China, Weibo attracted billions of users, including both Chinese and international users. Users not only post their feelings, stories and jokes online, advertising and marketing themselves already become a popular trend for more and more people. We use words, audio, image, videos and links to update posts in anytime and anywhere. More importantly, with the help of timely updating system, everybody can potentially become a journalist, a paparazzi and a “Broadcasting Station”. [...]

  2. [...] This is quite interesting if compared to what was reported on a previous post: Weibo vs. Weixin: who’s the real “Facebook of China”? [...]

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