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Will WeChat Replace Weibo?


By Chi Yi
May 28, 2013

WeChat or Weixin (微信) is a popular cross-platform smartphone application in China with over 300 million users. With its rapidly expanding user base and growing number of functions, some think it could pose a serious challenge to Sina Weibo – China’s most popular micro-blogging service with over 500 million users.

WeChat is most often used to send text and voice messages among friends. It can compare its database with phone numbers in a user’s contact list so they can add people they already know. Users can also share articles, pictures and videos through the “friend circle.” But perhaps the most unique features WeChat offers are location-based services for users to meet new friends. The most famous is the “shake” app, which lets users shake their phone and see the information of other nearby users doing the same thing.  

But now the app’s developer, Tencent, has greater ambitions. It’s hoping to expand WeChat’s social networking and media functions – fields currently dominated by Weibo.

So will WeChat eventually replace Weibo? In short, probably not, but it will likely become a major medium for news distribution.

In August 2012, WeChat introduced its “public platform” allowing users to follow media and brands just like they do on Weibo. Media accounts can even send different contents to different users based on their age, gender and other traits. But because the barrier to have a “media” account is quite low, many individuals have started their own “we media” (自媒体) accounts.

One major advantage WeChat has over Weibo is the fact that it’s rooted in mobile communication. Since all accounts need to be bound to a cellphone number, it makes it very difficult to create zombie accounts on the platform. Another important feature of WeChat as a media tool is that followers of a certain account on WeChat’s “public platform” are more precisely targeted than on Weibo, so readers are more likely to click for the details on stories that pop up. 

There are also clear disadvantages. Connections on Weibo are open, which mean you can follow anyone you want. The RT (retweet) function is designed to make information go viral. So for spreading news quickly, there’s no way WeChat can be more efficient than Weibo. Another inescapable fact is that Weibo was the first mover, so many businesses have already established famous Weibo accounts and have large follower counts. WeChat is unlikely to ever catch up in that regard.

So WeChat probably won’t replace Weibo, but it certainly has its own market. Allen Zhang, the director of WeChat and vice-president of Tencent, was once asked why he was running the “public platform” on WeChat. 

“I hope WeChat can help individuals,” he replied. “Any individual with some unique thoughts can get 100 readers. And someone who can’t see can still use WeChat to find 100 customers and make a living. He can have his own brand.” 




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The Economic Observer's editorial staff are always on the look out for interesting, fresh and high-quality China-related content. Whether it's the latest buzz on Weibo, links to insightful articles or updates on the latest books and reports, through China Buzz we'll keep you in the loop about what's going on in the world of Chinese politics and economics.

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