Will Sina Weibo growth see US celebs flock to Chinese microblogs?

It may not be long before the majority of US celebrities open Chinese microblogging accounts to complement existing Twitter accounts if Sina Weibo – China’s leading microblog – can maintain its explosive growth and execute on plans for international growth.

Thanks to a continued surge in users, China’s microblogging celebs are fast catching their US counterparts in follower numbers according to a recent article from the UK’s Independent.

The article specifically looks at the example of Chinese actress and singer Zhao Wei whose total of 6.89 million followers on Sina Weibo – China’s leading Twitter-like microblogging clone – sees her overtake US talkshow host and comedian Ellen Degeneres‘ 6.86 million Twitter followers.

Indeed, a look at the most followed users on each service reveals the scale of China’s top microblog and its level of interest in celebrities:

Amongst the interesting comparisons in these stats, Chinese basketball star actress Yao Chen now has more followers on Sina Weibo than US President Obama does on Twitter. While there are Weibo accounts in the name after some of the US celebrities listed, none have substantial follower numbers to suggest that they are genuine.

What is key to note is that not only does Sina Weibo have an impressive 140 million registered users in just one market compared to Twitter’s global 175 million – making Weibo audience in China greater than Twitter’s in the US – but it is growing at a rapid rate.

From the Independent:

Asia’s (sic) hugely successful Weibo service is gaining new users at a ferocious rate and these new users are avidly following their favorite Asian celebrities on the social network.

If Weibo’s top users continue to gain followers as fast as they have been over the past couple of years, it won’t be long before Twitter’s Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are fighting over the top place with Yao Chen, Dee Hsu and Kevin Tsai.

Actor Tom Cruise (2.08 million Weibo followers) and singer Sean Kingston (138,000 followers) are two notable US celebs already making use of Weibo, and it seems like only a matter of time before others follow, given the potential of the lucrative Chinese market.

Western celeb engagement would very much tie into the work Sina Weibo is doing right now. It is barely out of the news having just announced plans to develop its first English language version which looks set to see the company focus on markets outside of China.

It isn’t just that Weibo is looking abroad, it is the manner in which it is growing particularly given the uncertainty and patient progress Twitter has plotted over plans to monetise its service.

In contrast Weibo’s plans keep coming. As I blogged before it is looking at so-called lite-blogger, Tumblr-tyle, while it has just announced plans for enterprise features, no doubt to encourage greater adoption from brands, and with that potential monetisation and of course more users and regular usage.

As Francis Tan at the The Next Web Asia comments, “Sina Weibo has far surpassed the U.S. microblogging service in terms of features”, and these features combined with huge celebrity followings and incentives for business could give Sina Weibo a decent chance of success outside of China.

Getting more US celebs on board would certainly  boost Sina Weibo’s chances of international recognition however clearly language and culture issues, not to mention censorship and content, will be a challenge to growth plans outside of China.