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Of Sina Weibo’s 500 Million Registered Users, Are 90% Actually Zombies?

Steven Millward
Steven Millward
9:55 pm on Feb 22, 2013

Sina Weibo 450 million zombie users

As we explained way back in 2011, if someone wants to boost their popularity on Sina Weibo, they can buy new followers. But those will be zombies – soul-less Weibo accounts that post no original content, run by the shady individuals who take your money in exchange for these new ‘fans’. Now that Sina Weibo has surpassed 500 million registered users this week, we need to take a closer look at the active user numbers also revealed by Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) a few days ago.

Sina, in its post-report earnings call, said that it has 46.3 million daily active users. That’s just under 10 percent of its registered user-base. Also, it admitted that over the course of a year, nine to 10 percent of users are active. There’s that number again. Surely it means that 90 percent of Weibo users are zombies.

Or perhaps, even worse than being zombies – in social media terms, not in the context of a horror movie – is that these users are dead and gone. They came, they saw, they posted a couple of times, and they left. At least zombies – or spammers, of which there are also many on Weibo – would be defined as “active” sometimes. But, the sad fact suggested by these new numbers is that Sina Weibo is kept alive by a very chatty and social core of 50 million users, and everyone else has vanished.

Anyone alive in here?

Indeed, of those 50 million left over, how many are actually real people? If it’s still true – as we wrote last year – that half of all retweets on Weibo are from spammers, then the actual genuine, honest-to-goodness human user-base on Weibo could be as low as 25 million, which is not much more than the population of Shanghai.

That’s speculation of course, but the 500 million figure seems to be an empty shell. The active numbers also make a mockery of Sina’s claims that its implementation of ‘real name’ registration, which was pushed by censorious authorities in March of last year, would help cut down on fake accounts. To be fair, we observed the activity on trending Weibo topics after the real name deadline and found that the real ID requirement did not impact user-ship of Weibo – but it also didn’t seem to solve the problem of zombie and spammer accounts

While Sina Weibo is a fun and full-featured social network – which started out as a Twitter clone but is now as expansive as Facebook – it must be worrying for Sina that so few on Weibo are that active over the course of a year. Things always fall out of fashion, so there’s a risk that Weibo might have reached its saturation point, and could soon fall out of favor despite the $280 million that the web company has invested into Weibo in the past two years – and without seeing much financial reward for all that monetization.

Sina also knows that it must monetize more and put more of its features onto mobile, which is surely the only way to bring in more genuine users to the service. While it doesn’t have any very similar competition that might usurp it – just as Twitter seems fairly solid in its place right now – the messaging app WeChat is fast becoming a rival, allowing its users to do things that they’d previously enjoyed on Weibo, such as sharing photos and following brands and celebrities.

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Have Your Say
  • Lok

    Zombie platform. We need plants!

  • SD

    That’s not really how you calculate active users on a social network. You have to take into account that their retention is likely in the 20%-40% range, so the DAU number is a constantly changing mix of “loyal” and new users. All these numbers suggest is that they are having a hard time keeping the users on the site, and if they can change that they would continue growth if their new user acquisition is steady.

  • Lestertee

    You need to understand Mandarin to articipate in their activities. They are Chinese, ya know, and English activities are naturally low in volume.

  • jaykchen

    “46.3 million daily active users”, it’s not bad because not everyone use Weibo on a daily basis, like myself, I check in on Weibo every 3 or 4 days to look for new things. People like myself don’t contributes to Weibo’s user count, but don’t contribute much to its viewing traffic and posting. Among Weibo users, there are heavy users and light users, do you agree? For such a large user base, there are a lot of reasons for quite a portion of them being not very active, i.e. wireless only users who wouldn’t spend much on data traffic, too busy to spend time on Weibo regularly.

  • Kevin

    Sorry if I’m missing something, but when / where did Sina admit that “that over the course of a year, nine to 10 percent of users are active”? Is it in the earnings call? I tried to look for it in the transcript but failed miserably.

    Transcript:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/1205341-sina-s-ceo-discusses-q4-2012-results-earnings-call-transcript?part=single

    Thanks!

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    My reaction, or question, is “Compared to whutt?”

    I recently got a bit of spam from LinkedIn congratulating me on being in the top 5% of their users. I am not a paid member, and use their unpaid services only to answer their members who write to me or to read news which some people distribute using the LinkedIn columns as their medium. In other words, If ‘m in the top 5%, there gotta be an awful lot of zombies on any reasonable assumptions about the distribution curve of activity.

    So Weibo’s 10% may in fact be extraordinarily high. I don’t know.

    -dlj.

  • http://www.mozilla.com aka

    oke