To summarize our last blog post, Weibo is still most useful, and most used, for public posting of information, (think “Twitter”) whereas WeChat is more closely analogous to a mobile version of something like Google’s Gchat, a private channel for point-to-point communications or user-to-user and user-to-small group messaging.
Weibo posts can be publicly viewed by anyone, and each separate post has a unique URL which allows you to view and track posts just as you would in Twitter, Tumblr or any other public blogging or micro-blogging platform. For researchers this is considered an open source, much like Twitter. Just like private email or IM chat, WeChat interactions can’t be monitored by threat intelligence researchers, as they are between users in an essentially closed medium.
Undoubtedly, the increased privacy aspect of WeChat changes what information is open and available to the public. Although there are occasional Weibo posts asking, “Does anyone even use Weibo anymore? I always use Weixin,” most users are still actively posting on Weibo to remain connected to their broader network of co-workers, acquaintances, or fans and followers, since the majority of people don’t interact with each and every member of their social network on a daily or even frequent basis.
While Weibo and WeChat have areas of overlap, they both serve different and unique functions. At least in the short run, Sina Weibo is still arguably the most popular method of disseminating information to a mass audience. In the scheme of social media trends in China, the competition between WeChat vs. Weibo is perhaps more a competition between smartphones vs. PCs, or mobile apps vs. Internet platforms. But it may not necessarily constitute a zero-sum game where a “win” for one equates to the demise of the other. Whether or not users will all switch to Tencent WeChat in the long run remains to be seen.