Yesterday at the Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai, Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei revealed that 70 percent of the company’s daily active users access its service on a mobile device, reports Mobile World Live.
That statistic ought to not come as a shocker when one considers that mobile devices tend to get more attention from their owners than PCs these days. But it’s one worth making mental note of as the company continues to evolve beyond from its legacy as a desktop-first social network. Pundits once accused Facebook, another desktop-first social network, of having a “mobile problem” before it revealed in late 2013 that its mobile ad revenue went from almost zero to US$656 million – about 40 percent of its total revenues – in the course of one year.
Former Weibo parent company Sina has embraced a “mobile-first” strategy since late 2012, but at least from a user experience point-of-view, the mobile app always felt cramped and cluttered compared to its desktop counterpart. Yet the growth of mobile internet access in China will inevitably make smartphones and tablets a key focal point for Weibo’s evolution.
“Since more than half of China’s total population is still not on mobile internet, Weibo will focus on capturing the big growth potential in the domestic market for now,” Mr. Wang said. “Third- to fourth-tier cities are important for Weibo’s future growth as they account for 60% of the country’s population.” said Wang Gaofei, reported by WSJ. “Third- to fourth-tier cities are important for Weibo’s future growth as they account for 60% of the country’s population.”
Weibo’s future mobile plays look set to resemble those of WeChat and other messaging apps. WSJ reports it will launch subscription plans for certain celebrity accounts, giving users increased access to their favorite movie stars and musicians. China Daily states that Weibo will dive into gaming, with plans to release one or two games every month. This latter move might be the company’s best hope as it competes with Tencent’s WeChat for user attention. Mobile games reinforce stickiness in social apps, as evidenced by the monster gaming revenues from Kakao in Korea and Line in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. The stakes are high for Weibo to acquire users and earn profits following its IPO in March.
As WeChat continues to expand its reach in mainland China, some observers have questioned Weibo’s ability to remain relevant to the country’s mobile phone owners. In January, an academic report claiming a 43 percent decline in Weibo users that posted “more than 40 times a day” surfaced online, marking the best evidence to date of a mass exodus of users from the site. However, even in the face of WeChat’s popularity, Weibo can maintain a strong use-case: unlike WeChat (and like Twitter), its posts are open to all users by default, which makes information easier to track and spread virally. Last month Wang told TNW that this differentiation will ensure it co-exists with WeChat, stating, “We don’t want to compete with Weixin in absolute amounts of time. But we want to make sure that people turn to us when they want to access public information.”
Editing by Terence Lee, top image via Flickr user @N07