Ali Yong, a marketing head at Sina, revealed at the DCCI Adworld 2011 advertising conference that Sina's Twitter-like service is currently growing at 10 million users a month, and the company estimates that Weibo will exceed 150 million users this year. The company also said it now has more than 60,000 verified accounts, which are known to consist of celebrities, sports stars and other VIPs. The top 100 users now have over 180 million followers. Furthermore, Sina said that more than 5,000 companies and 2,700 media organizations in China are currently using Weibo.
I've been followng the Sina Weibo story closely for about six months now. On October 20, it announced that it had exceeded 50 million registered users afer just 14 months of operation. To put this in perspective, it took Twitter three times as long to reach that total. At that time, Sina said that it was seeing over 25 million "tweets" per day and had thus far generated over 2 billion tweets.
Since its beta-launch in August 2009, it took Sina 66 days to reach 1 million users. By the eight-month mark (April 2010) it had reached 10 million users. It then quickly popped to 50 million users by October. I estimate that it now has 80-90 million users.
Sina is benefiting from a tremendous amount of viral "word of mouth" growth in China as a result of Weibo. When someone signs up for Sina Weibo, they naturally want to promote their own account so they can add followers; as a result, famous people from all over China use every media opportunity they can to tout their own Weibo accounts so they can grow their own fan base. This in turn markets Weibo for free for Sina. This growth is snowballing on itself, and as you can see above, growth is ridiculously good. You've got to love life when you have 2,600 independent media organizations, tens of thousands of famous people, and 80+ million other people in China promoting Weibo to connect with their fans, family, and friends.
Facebook took six years to see 500-600 million users. It's taken Twitter just under four years to see 190 million users. To me it looks like Sina Weibo is growing just as quickly as Facebook and much faser than Twitter. On New Year's night, ex-Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) China CEO Kai-Fu Lee tweeted on Sina Weibo his congratulations to Sina CEO Charles Chao. He said he hoped to see Sina Weibo have 1 billion users someday. This could be a sign of things to come.
Another interesting catalyst Sina has working for it is that it will soon be announcing the launch of a new search engine or a new partnership with a third party search provider. Sina's CEO said during the company's Q3 conference call that he expected to see a resolution to this by the end of Q4, which has come and gone already.
If you check out the company's website, you will see how its search box essentially acts like an ad for Google and just pops open the Google.hk website and takes people off the Sina site. Sina has to be thinking big as far as trying to turn Sina into a search destination -- or at least I hope it is. I see a tremendous opportunity for Sina to actually run search on its own site within its own URLs.
Sina is a massively popular portal in China. I wouldn't be surprised to see Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) bid for a deal or maybe even try to buy out Sina, as its market cap is nearly 10 times as big as Sina's. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) also has very deep pockets and needs distribution for its Chinese search engine.
It is also interesting to note how cozy Sina has become with Kai-Fu Lee, who used to run Google China. He is currently running a venture capital firm in China called Innovation Works, which recently invested along with Sina in an application development fund for firms to build applications for Sina Weibo. Kai-Fu Lee was a big presence at the Sina Weibo developers' conference a few months back.
Disclosure: I am long SINA.