Thursday, 14 July 2011

How to use Sina Weibo to leap the Great Firewall of China

Sina Weibo is being called the Chinese Twitter

That’s not quite right. It’s actually more of a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook.
You can do a lot more on it than you can on Twitter.
You can group related messages together as conversation threads, and post photos and videos directly within messages. It’s got emoticons too.
It’s a bit smaller that Twitter, at 140m users to Twitter’s 200m, and a lot smaller than Facebook, which has around 750m active accounts.
But Sina Weibo – Weibo translates as Microblogging -  has grown massively since launch in August 2009 and, according to Wikipedia, is the most popular social media site in China, with 90% of the market.
Here’s Penn Olson on what Twitter could learn from Sina Weibo:

Here's my presence on the site:

Open it in Chrome and you can get an English translation.
I'll be using my own experience of setting up, tweeking and using Weibo in the material that follows.
There’s been a flurry of publicity about Weibo recently, with English-speaker celebs including Bill Gates and Tom Cruise creating presences.
And Radiohead just joined, with an authenticated account, and just the one tweet (as I write) to say they were testing it. Which won them over 56,000 fans (which are what Weibo calls followers) last time I looked. Here's their page:

So why should you be interested?

Well, apart from the opportunity to build a community in China, which is fascinating in itself, if you want to reach this audience you can’t do it with western social media platforms.
Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are all banned, together with a lengthy list of lesser platforms. Here's Wikipedia's latest on what's not allowed.

How to do it

The main problem to overcome, if you aren’t a Chinese speaker, is how to follow the instructions to sign up to the website and iPhone app.
There were stories in the tech blogs that an English version is available.
There isn't, as far as I can see, but no worries.
An American doctor - Richard Saint Cyr -  living and working in China has blogged some really handy tips, and Bill Bishop has produced a 23-screen Google doc that takes you through all the features of the site. I've used their guides to establish my own account, and must give them all the credit for the tips you'll find here.

Next: Getting started. How to open an account and see the Weibo site in English

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