Is Weibo still the best choice for young Chinese when it comes to social media platforms?

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/15 18:33:39

Weibo's daily active users reach 165 million, and a vast majority of its users are people under 30. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Quickly browsing through comments during his short work break, Perry Li is trying to find out the next turn of events on the latest online drama. "This girl openly dissed (put down) her ex during the concert. What happens next?"

Work is incredibly busy for Li, 30, a sales manager in IT, but his leisure time is spent following hot issues on Weibo. One event he followed was about a young female audience member who openly dissed her ex-boyfriend while she was attending the famous singer Jay Chou's concert. The video went viral on social media, with Net users cheering for her revenge. Later, many Net users found evidence that she was deliberately trying to cause a disturbance in order to market herself as a model.

"Those turns were so exciting. I was caught up in the moment and it was all I wanted to know about and talk to my friends about," Li said.

"[Looking back,] it seemed very time-consuming and quite meaningless. I think social media has encouraged Net users to indulge in these things."

Social media has evolved from a new, emerging form of communication to a necessary tool that many people cannot live without.

There are more choices now. What people take an interest in and what advertisers are after is changing, and the keywords have changed from internet celebrities and live-streaming to short videos and paid content.

Meanwhile, the social media giant Weibo is facing challenges from a lot of other rising platforms, which divides up users' limited time and attention. In addition, there have been discussions from critics about whether Weibo will survive. But its rising stock prices and financial reports are reminders to people that it is still alive and thriving. Its daily active users in September reached 165 million, with a year-on-year increase of 33 million.

The Metropolitan has talked to social media users to see how they use Weibo and for what purposes, their feelings about new features and if they will continue to use it as a social media platform.

Do you still use Weibo?

Li uses Weibo on a daily basis, at least one hour on the subway to and from work, and he finds most of his friends do as well. "There have been times when people say that they don't have the time, but I think when there's a trending topic, it takes them right back because they are curious," Li said. 

Chen Shuxin, 22, has been highly addicted to her smart phone, spending a lot of time on mobile games and browsing through all sorts of apps for gifs, videos and articles.

She has been using Weibo since 2009 when the platform debuted. But her user habits on social media have changed a lot since then.

Chen recalls that she used to spend hours on the app, reading all her friends' updates on Weibo as well as the hottest topics of the moment on the platform, sometimes even during classes. But now she prefers longer articles, usually from the public accounts that she subscribes to on WeChat.

"Now I feel as if a lot of the posts are generated by a machine, with the same patterns and titles that are full of gimmicks to attract people's attention," she said. "I like to find content that I really care about. A lot of the Weibo 'top searches' seem to be commercials."

However, despite her complaints, Chen said she will not quit Weibo. "I started to use it because everybody else did. Just like the hottest mobile games, all these apps deliver a social purpose. It's important to interact with people. For the most popular platforms like Weibo, I would stick with it until a more popular one comes up."

However, Chen Shuxin's friend Chen Xiaolan, a 23-year-old graduate student, uninstalled her Weibo app in 2013. The major reason was that social media is too time-consuming and she had to make a choice.

According to Chen Xiaolan, unlike herself, the majority of people her age use Weibo and many other social media platforms. She is the only one who does not among the four girls in her dormitory.

"The downside is that I am not caught up on discussions of the trendiest topics," she said.

With more social media platforms coming out, Weibo faces challenges to keep their users loyal. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The young and active consumerist

According to Weibo's user demographic report of 2016, a typical Weibo user is young and well-educated. About 30.1 percent of the users are between 18 and 22 years old, and 38.7 percent are between 23 and 30.

Yu Guohuan, 24, cares the most about politics, celebrities and sports when it comes to getting information on his smart phone. He finds a lot of related content on Weibo, but now his focus is shifting to, a sports forum. And one of the reasons is that he feels Weibo is too "young" for him, and he especially does not like the comment section on Weibo.

"Many of the comments are absurd, and you can easily tell they come from younger users," he said. "There are some serious people on there, but the majority of them are still too young for me."

Many of Weibo's young users are spending not only time but also money.

According to newly released data, Weibo has made $320 million in net income in the third quarter of 2017, 81 percent more than the same period last year with a majority from advertising.

Weibo also announced on November 8 that it has issued a new service - exclusive memberships to the "Big Vs" (referring to popular bloggers), which allows users to see exclusive pictures, videos, articles and live-streaming content.

Twenty-one famous bloggers, including popular doctors, nutritionists, economists and magazines, have already started using the service, whose annual membership costs anywhere from 88 yuan to 6,498 yuan ($13-$980).

Many comments under the post about this new feature created by Wang Gaofei, CEO of Sina Weibo, complained about how users will not be able to afford using the app anymore. As paid content becomes more and more common, people's thoughts about Weibo's new feature vary.

Chen Shuxin pays for memberships on music and video-sharing platforms for member-exclusive rights and content including new albums, films and TV series. But she said she could not imagine herself paying for information, jokes or interactions with the Big Vs on Weibo.

She has several favorite singers and writers on Weibo whom she follows closely, but she would not accept it if they decided to sell memberships to fans just to make a profit.

Yu disagrees. "If you are a fan, then you should buy memberships and invest in people you like. It's a matter of copyright for knowledge," he said.  

Keeping it alive

"It is not news that the average Weibo user is younger now, and it's reasonable," said Wei Wuhui, expert in new media and professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University.

"Weibo is now all about entertainment, and it certainly wants to attract the younger crowd. It's hard to say that the average age will become younger and younger, but Weibo wants to keep a young user base for a long time," Wei said.

Wei told Metropolitan that there is a market for paid content on Weibo, especially when it comes to fans. "Fans want to pay to show their loyalty to their idols [through paying for content]," he said.

He added that the intention of the new Big V membership feature is about giving more rights to bloggers who pay for Weibo's services and not so much about the users.

"If the bloggers don't buy services from Weibo, no matter how many millions of fans they have, their content can't reach their followers well," he said.

Li welcomes new features from Weibo and thinks it is still the best choice for him to keep updated on various topics. "People nowadays rely on an instantaneous culture," Li said.

"If there is something happening, social media users have to know, and they have to know instantly after it happens or even while it's happening."

Newspaper headline: Where do I fit?


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