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From behind the great firewall of China .... Sina Weibo

From behind the great firewall of China …. Sina Weibo

Hardly a day goes by without Facebook appearing in the news and almost always in a negative light. So, we ask what comes next? What is a post-Facebook world going to look like?

According to monitoring company, SocialBakers, 600,000 customers stopped being users in December 2012. All sorts of reasons are being put forward, including that the social media market is already full, but is the writing on the wall for Facebook, at least in the UK?

There are far fewer bad stories about Twitter, but perhaps it’s early days. And many pundits reckon that just as huge things like steam trains and cast iron, retail giants like MFI, Woolworths and Comet and bits of our social fabric like telephone boxes, serviced petrol stations and documents through the post that you didn’t have to print off yourself, so Twitter will eventually become a line on the pages of history.

For a time at least, it looks set to be overtaken by an online presence in China.

The Bad News Keeps Posting

First, let’s take four stories from a random week in January about Facebook. In one, two teenage girls in Kent posted themselves throwing a cat round a bedroom onto the social media pages, which led to them being prosecuted for animal cruelty!

A nurse in Essex is facing being struck off the Nursing and Midwifery register because she is alleged to have neglected caring for a critically ill child just to check her Facebook updates!

In south Yorkshire a driver was jailed for posting on Facebook a request for anybody to take his speeding points when he was caught on camera. He found someone – who does not even hold a driving licence – and paid him £250 to do it!

And the Department of Health is claiming that many alcohol companies are undermining  the code to keep drinking within sensible limits to which they agreed, by promoting themselves through ‘likes’ on Facebook.

Now, it’s possible to argue that such tales are inevitable given the enormous popularity and scope of social networking and they shouldn’t tarnish the entire medium. It’s also possible to claim that the media are unduly interested in the Facebook phenomenon which has always been controversial.

Bring on the New ‘Twacebook’ or ‘Face-itter’

In China Facebook and Twitter are banned by the regime. Instead Chinese people and advertisers keen to reach them have their own hybrid. Sina Weibo is the biggest by a mile with 368 million users who post over 100 million messages each and every day.

Weibo (it’s pronounced as ‘way-bore’) means microblog. It seems to get round the Chinese administration’s strict censorship laws allowing users to devise puns and disguised words to talk about topics that wouldn’t slip through the authoritarian regime’s systems otherwise. People become inventive online, that is what happens.

Like Twitter, users are confined to 140 characters. But Chinese characters pack far more punch than our language, so Bryony Gordon of the Daily Telegraph (9 Jab 13) reckons each one is worth ‘three and a half tweets’.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

The interesting part of the news of Sina Weibore, according to Gordon, is how western companies and celebrities are jumping on to broaden their appeals. ‘it is the right place to be right now to build brands overseas’.

She quoted Jon Hoel of We Are Social, a social media agency, in describing Sina Weibo as ‘like Twitter on steroids, a mixture of Facebook and Twitter’.

Companies such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Coca Cola and Unilever are actively using the site to reach new customers. These are firms already with some presence in the oriental marketplace, but clearly where on corporation goes, others follow.

Equally, Gordon described certain celebrities who cannot resist being admired in the huge enigma that is modern China. She said that Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Emma Watson and, amazingly, Radiohead have all leaped forward with weibo profiles and endless messages.

She quoted one sparkling one from Paris Hilton: ‘Just finished getting my hair cut. I haven’t had my hair short in such a long time! Love it!’

The Wonder of the World

Makes you wonder what her wide-eyed fans make of that.

You might also wonder how these companies and these celebrities happen to have a working knowledge of Mandarin in order to post? Well, there are companies that do that for them. One that Bryony Gordon mentioned was FansTang based in Los Angeles.

And in case you’re wondering when there’ll be an English language version of Sina Weibo….? Not long. It’s on the way! And that because they are trying to ward off competition from Tencent Weibo which added English interface in September 2011.

How many hours are there in a single day to keep up with everything?

Links:

The Daily Telegraph, Bryony Gordon, ‘Twitter of the east’, 9 January 2013

TechCrunch, Catherine Shu, 9 January 2013, Chinese Microblogging Giant Sina Weibo Adds English Interface

All That Twitters is No Longer Web Gold, 3 September 2012

Does Facebook Have Friends in All the Right Stores? 30 August 2012

Who Actually Owns Your Social Media? 19 June 2012

Image: sina.com

tags: sina weibo, China, facebook, twitter