Last Friday, Sina Weibo quietly announced that it would be entering Thailand thanks to a partnership with Thai company Jiaranai Entertainment. Weibo Thailand is aiming to break even within six months and generate more than $1 million in revenue in its first year. It aims to have 1.6 million active users in Thailand by the end of the year.
Admittedly, I am not all that familiar with the Thai market, but this sounds like an absolute pipe dream. Generating some revenue is one thing — Thailand is a popular destination for Chinese tourists and I’m sure some Thai businesses will appreciate the chance to get in closer contact with their customers — but 1.6 million active users in a year seems like a stretch, especially for a service that (as of this moment) doesn’t even have a Thai language option. (In fact, the service didn’t even have English until earlier this year).
Twitter, which has been in Thailand for years, currently has between 1.5 million and 2 million users in the country by most counts, and I don’t see any reason why Sina Weibo is likely to be any more popular or pick up users any faster. That is especially true given that Jiaranai’s strategy seems very focused on picking up corporate accounts that want to interact with Chinese users, not on getting regular people to use the service. Are there really 1.6 million Thai businesses that are aching to microblog with potential customers in Chinese?
More broadly, I have to wonder what the hell took Sina so long. Baidu has been expanding into Southeast Asia and researching there since last year. Tencent’s WeChat is all over the world map and has already racked up 40 million overseas users. If Sina wanted Weibo to go international, they should have made this move years ago while the concept was still trendy. I still believe that aside from the censorship, Weibo actually offers a superior service to Twitter. But why give Twitter years to get entrenched in Southeast Asia before finally dipping a toe into the Thai market at a time when microblogging seems threatened by the rising popularity of mobile chat apps?
If Sina was going to go global, the company should have moved much faster and much more decisively, especially into Southeast Asia. This is not to say that there is no opportunity at all for Weibo outside China, of course, but Sina has taken so long to take the market outside of China seriously that its hard to imagine the company having much success there at this point even if it did throw its weight behind a global push. (And since Jiaranai is only looking to spend about $300,000 marketing Weibo Thailand, it certainly doesn’t seem like Sina’s full weight is even behind this Thai push).
China’s market is huge, of course, and it’s possible to make a lot of money without ever stepping outside it (although historically Sina Weibo has struggled to make the kind of money one might expect from a platform with so many users). But I have a feeling that a year from now, Sina’s executives are going to be looking at a less-than-ideal situation with Weibo Thailand, and perhaps wondering how things might have gone differently if the company had taken Southeast Asia more seriously earlier in the game.
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