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.