In China, It's the Sina Weibo Olympics

Chinese Indulge a Love of Spoofing, Photo Shopping Opening Ceremony to Look Like 'Lord Of The Rings'

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While much has been made about this being the 'Twitter Olympics,' it should be noted that China has its own version called Sina Weibo (meaning "microblog" in Chinese) that is making a strong case to call this the "Weibo Olympics" as well.

While Twitter counted almost 10 million tweets during the Olympic opening ceremony, which was more than during the whole of the Beijing games, Sina Weibo counted 119 million opening ceremony tweets. What makes these numbers even more impressive is that Twitter has half the users of Twitter, but generated over 10 times the number of comments, writes Sam Flemming, Shanghai-based president and founder of social business intelligence provider CIC. Mr. Flemming will be one of the speakers at Ad Age 's conference Market to Watch: Building Brands Beyond Tier One in China on Sept. 5 in Shanghai.

Weibo Olympics
Weibo Olympics
Such numbers should not be surprising to China watchers. Though started by portal giant Sina two years later than Twitter, Weibo now claims over 300 million users, which is more than half of China's 538 million Internet users. These users publish upwards of 100 million posts a day, which supports Forrester's Technographics study showing that 76% of Chinese netizens create original content on social media (compared with just 24% of Americans).

Though Weibo is often called a Twitter clone, there are are key differences: the Weibo tweet stream allows comments to be attached to tweets in the thread, tweets that can show pictures and video directly in users' news stream without the need of shortened URLs taking you off-site. This media-rich, real time conversation creates a compelling, vibrant and more viral immediacy to the platform.

Playing into the hands of the more creative Chinese netizen (a Forrester study states they are more than twice as creative as their American counterparts), Weibo's facility for imbedding multimedia means that not only is there a lot more cool stuff to retweet, there's more to make, too. For example, "spoofing" is a well-established pastime amongst Chinese netizens. They like to engage with a topic by tweaking and transforming it into an original expression.

Mentions of "Lord of the Rings" serve as a good point for comparison. On Twitter, there were many tweets about the similarities between Lord of the Rings and the opening ceremony's idealized view of agrarian Britain. Chinese netizens went further, Photo Shopping screenshots to illustrate the comparisons.

Chinese brands wasted no time in seizing an opportunity; being fast and funny is central to a good spoof. Beer brand Tsingtao Photo Shopped a beer bottle into a Mr. Bean sequence. Dating site Jia Yuan did the same with their brand when they saw him pick up his mobile phone, potentially looking for a date. Spoofing gives brands the chance to hijack the hottest events and in so doing, the chance to create a meme that inextricably links them to their brand (whether this is legal or 'brand appropriate' is another conversation).

International brands also engaged consumers on Weibo. International brands like Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble localized their respective "Move to the Beat" and "Thank you, Mom" campaigns, and Nike localized its "Find Your Greatness" platform. Throughout the games, in response to events and results, Nike has been posting creative and inspiring creative around the slogan in light speed fashion. For example, minutes after Chinese hero hurdler Liu Xiang stumbled, netizens went to Nike 's official weibo page to wait for the Nike reaction, a moving response that inspired well over 20,000 comments and 123,000 retweets.

While Sina Weibo may have begun as a clone, this 'Weibo Olympics' has demonstrated that it has evolved with more engaging features and a more engaged internet populace. With this, it has achieved something that Twitter has not: absolute primacy versus local competitors and central cultural relevancy in the biggest internet market in the world.


Sam Flemming is the Shanghai-based president and founder of CIC, a leading social-business-intelligence provider.

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