A new deal is likely to raise Weibo's profile as a promotional vehicle for social media-savvy businesses.
Almost a year ago, I wrote that the Chinese social platforms Qzone and Weibo were of limited interest to enterprises that are primarily Anglophone or don't focus on the Chinese market. But Weibo hasn't been standing still.
Its owner, Sina Corporation, just sold an 18 percent stake in Weibo to the Alibaba Group, with the option to increase the holding to 30 percent. The deal reportedly values Weibo at over $3 billion, and caused a sharp jump in Sina Corportation's US-listed shares.
Champagne all round: but what are the implications for Weibo, and -- more importantly -- for enterprise users?
Weibo is a micro-blogging site, often referred to as the "Chinese Twitter." Its 300 million members make around 70,000 posts per minute (a headache for state censors), and the site appears consistently in the top 30 global Alexa rankings. Weibo may lag behind Qzone in China -- a platform more like Facebook or MySpace, with a large gaming component -- but it's favored by brands and celebrities as a mass communication channel.
What's more, Weibo is already reaching out to the Western business community through its English language version of Enterprise Weibo, which it bills as "the most complete social media marketing platform in China linking its members to over 500 million verified unique users, running over 900 million registered accounts."
Alibaba, a private collection of e-commerce portals, brings heavyweight sales know-how to the mix. Rated this year as the world's largest e-commerce company, it's expected to announce details of its IPO later this year. There are high expectations that Alibaba's involvement in Weibo should boost not only advertising revenues for the social platform, but income from social marketing sources too.
Enterprises outside China with any aspirations to find a toehold with this huge audience should be following developments at Weibo with great interest, not least because Facebook and Twitter face significant problems building bridges into a highly regulated market, which heavily favors local Internet companies (only a local Chinese company can obtain an Internet Content Provider license, for example).
Weibo may not be the only game in town when it comes to finding a social channel to connect with Chinese consumers, but this week it's looking like by far the most promising option.
— Kim Davis , Senior Editor, Internet Evolution