An introduction to Sina Weibo for journalists

Sino Weibo is one of the world's biggest social media platforms. For any journalists that are unfamiliar, here is a short introduction to all things Weibo.

What is Weibo? Pronounced as “way bor”, it is the Chinese word for “microblog”. And it is also the name of one of the biggest social media platforms in China.

There are many microblogging sites in China, but Sina Weibo is the most popular one –  it currently has more than 376 million monthly active users.

It was launched by Sina, a Chinese technology company, in 2009, when internationally popular social media platforms were blocked in mainland China. And as Weibo is a micro-blogging service, it is often referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But actually Weibo is more versatile than Twitter, and its functions are more like a combination of Twitter and Facebook.

Weibo explore page

The advent of Weibo in China has created a new digital public sphere and users feel like they have gained more freedom of expression. As a result, the microblogging service has become an important platform for journalists to report news and gather sources. Below we’ve put together a few introductory tips on how to use Weibo as a journalist.

How to use Weibo to report news stories?

Expandable posts
Weibo posts
Weibo’s text box. Credit: Yueer Wang.

Like Twitter, Weibo used to have a 140-character limit but in 2016 it dropped the cap on the number of characters, numbers and symbols in a single post. This change allows users to write longer messages, and it means journalists can now produce longer articles for Weibo and report stories in more detail. But only the first 140 characters will be shown to readers and they have to click on “full text” to see the rest of the content, so journalists should make sure that the shown part of a message is succinct and engaging enough for readers to want to click through.

Hashtags, locations and mentions
Weibo hashtags
Hashtags used in a Weibo post. Credit: Yueer Wang.

Unlike Twitter, Weibo uses double hashtags – for example, #LondonFashionWeek#. Readers will be directed to a page with all the messages which contain the topic by clicking the hashtag. So journalists have to ensure that they choose the right hashtags to add to a post, and then the hashtags will enable the posts to be found by readers who are interested in the topic.

Add location to a Weibo post. Credit: Yueer Wang.

Weibo also allows users to add the location to a post – similar to hashtags, when a user clicks on the location it will lead them to a page which has other messages posted from the same location. For example, we can add ‘London’ as a location to a post on London Fashion Week.

Mention Jessie J’s Weibo account in a post. Credit: Yueer Wang.

You can mention other Weibo users by using “@”. This function can be used when a post is relevant to another Weibo account. When you mention relevant users in your content, a post will reach more people who search for the particular accounts or users. You can see in the example above how a mention can be effective for increasing reach – by including the singer Jessie J’s Weibo account in a story about how she overcame language difficulties on a Chinese TV talent show, the post reached thousands more Weibo users and received more than 1,200 likes.

Weibo Stories. Credit: Yueer Wang.

Following in the footsteps of both Snapchat and Instagram, Weibo launched Weibo Stories in 2017. This new function allows users to upload a 15-second video or photo to a ‘story’, which then disappear after 24 hours. Similar to Instagram stories, Weibo users can add text, hashtags, location and stickers to their stories. People can view stories from the Weibo accounts they follow, and they will also get recommendations for popular stories from other accounts.

How can I use Weibo to find news stories?

Most searched for topics AKA Hot Search (热搜 Re Sou)

Weibo has a trending panel called ‘Hot Search’, which updates every minute and shows the top 50 trending topics users are discussing. Journalists can find out which topics are popular via Hot Search, and they can also link or adapt their content to hot topics to gain more traffic.

Location explore page
Location function. Credit: Yueer Wang.

If you allow Weibo to use location services, you are then able to open an explore panel showing posts from the same location as you. Weibo also allows users to choose cities to see what stories are posted in other locations. Based on the function, journalists are able to find stories in a particular city.

Try it yourself!

If you’d like to give Weibo a go and you haven’t yet registered, you can do so here using your mobile number.

Still want to know more about Weibo? Just let us know in the comments!

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