On the 8th March 2014, Malaysia Airline announced they had lost contact with a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. There were 239 people on-board the aircraft, of which 160 were Chinese nationals. Weibo and Wechat, the two biggest Chinese social media platforms, both played an important role in spreading the news of this incident.
As can be seen from the timeline above there is a difference in the way information and spread, the speed at which it is spread and the accuracy of that information between these two social media platforms.
1. WEIBO IS A COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA TOOL WHILST WECHAT IS A SOCIAL TOOL
Weibo is a communication and media tool whilst Wechat is a social tool. On the very public platform that is Weibo anyone can publish news and voice their opinions, and anyone can listen, comment and criticize. However, in the private party that is Wechat, only the people on the invite list are can share their opinions, if you are not a friend of mine then you will not be able to comment on my Wechat moments timeline.
My Wechat moments are therefore filled with likeminded people, who are more likely to share my opinions and beliefs (because they are my friends). Due to the concept of Face (面子) even if a Wechat friend does notice that something I posted is wrong, they are unlikely to actually correct me. Due to Weibo being a more public platform however, the problem of Face is less prevalent, because you may not personally know the person that you’re commenting on or correcting. Sometimes, critical comments can even help spread correct information. This demonstrates how rumours about the missing Malaysian airplane stayed on Wechat much longer than on Weibo.
2. WEIBO FOCUSES ON SPREADING INFORMATION WHILST WECHAT FOCUSES ON POINT-TO-POINT COMMUNICATION
A useful and informative Weibo post can achieve massive traction through the engagement of Weibo fans, and this is especially true for posts from Weibo accounts that have garnered a significant following, as these accounts can form peoples opinions and have some level of influence over their followers. Jimmy Robinson (One of our directors published a post on Weibo to help Chinese people pick a name, and that article was read over 3 million times), he was inundated with name requests for weeks afterwards.
In contrast, instead of spreading information, Wechat focuses more on building that connection with a small group of friends and closes itself off to outside influence. There are no limits on the contents of a Wechat post, but it can only been seen by the people who are inside your social circle. Wechat also does not allow repost activities through personal accounts, so no matter how useful and informative your post is, people who are not in your Wechat contacts will not be able to see it. However Wechat garners more trust than Weibo because the communication style on Wechat is based on real life social groups and therefore people tend to believe in the information posted on Wechat.
3. WECHAT AND WEIBO ARE VERY DIFFERENT
As we mentioned earlier, Weibo is a media tool, therefore it has been designed to encourage users to forward and share information.
If you see anything of interest on Weibo, all you need to do is simply repost the information to share it with your followers. This simple step turns a user from an information receiver to an information giver. This is a feature has been widely used during the recent missing Malaysian airline flight, and also with other major events as well. However sometimes there can be too much information, and a users experience can be greatly affected by an influx of “spam”.
Wechat on the other hand pays close attention to its user experience, and limits the information flow; it has set up many limitations on information sharing. For example, the information we post on Wechat Moments cannot be easily shared with other people, if my friend posts an interested article I cannot simply share this with my friends in Wechat, slowing down the transmission of information between different peoples accounts. Another example is that Wechat subscription accounts can only send out a group message once a day which means when a huge event like the missing Malaysian airline accident first happened the subscription accounts cannot post updates on the latest news as and when it happens, they have to be more thoughtful on the content being posted. Users has noticed this, and they have seen the quality of content now being offered by subscription accounts in Wechat casing a sharp increase in Wechat usage over the past year.
Both these social media giants have their pro’s and con’s, and both provide useful outlets for information and communication, but the style in which one must approach these is very different, especially in order to leverage all these platforms have to offer.