Weibo: Xiaomi's Gaffe, Baidu's Crawl To Brazil

Includes: BIDU
by: Doug Young

Smartphone maker Xiaomi's co-founder Lei Jun is a marketing master, but his lightweight status as a technology expert landed him in the middle of an embarrassing gaffe in the microblogging realm over the past week. I normally would sympathize with someone caught up in such a gaffe, as such mistakes are usually harmless even if they're somewhat embarrassing. But in this case I don't feel too much sympathy for Lei, who is such a tireless promoter for his company that this kind of stumble was almost inevitable.

Meantime, the number "2" seems to be a magic one for leading search engine Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), which made a rare appearance in the microblogging realm to trumpet the formal launch of its new search service in Brazil - its second major foray outside China after a dismal first effort in Japan. In this case, Baidu isn't really trumpeting the "2" element of its Brazilian story, even though it took more than 2 years for the launch since reports first emerged of its plans for the site.

Let's start our weekly microblogging round-up with Xiaomi, which seldom goes more than a week or two without appearing in the headlines due to the constant stream of hype coming from the company. Much of that hype comes from co-founder Lei Jun, who is always looking for new ways to make even the most mundane news about his company and its products seem exciting.

Lei was at his usual games this past week, touting the fact that Xiaomi's upcoming fourth-generation model would be revolutionary for its use of a material called 304 series austenitic stainless steel. (microblog post) Among other things, Lei, in his usual hype, trumpeted the fact that the material not only resists corrosion, but also has good plasticity and is extremely tough. Frankly speaking, his post looks like it was taken directly from marketing materials or possibly from a manual about the material.

Lei almost immediately ran into trouble after putting out the post, which was probably inevitable given his lack of knowledge on the subject and the huge number of followers who read his microblog. As a former reporter, I can testify that this kind of thing happens regularly to junior journalists who try to write authoritatively about complex unfamiliar subjects. Such articles get wide circulation, which inevitably draws derision from industry experts and other insiders who write letters and blog posts deriding the writer for his ignorance.

In this case, Lei's post drew derision from Huang Zhang, CEO of a smaller smartphone maker called Meizu, who pointed out that his company had been using 304 series austenitic stainless steel in its phones since 2012. (microblog post) He Xiaojun, the CEO of another smartphone maker called IUNI, also derided Lei's post, and added that the hollow boast emphasizes the new Xiaomi new phone will have nothing special to offer. (microblog post) Even Lei himself later admitted to his gaffe, and tried instead to play up the unique appearance of the new phones, which could be formally unveiled later this week. (microblog post)

From Lei Jun's gaffe, let's look quickly at Baidu, which for years has been looking for growth opportunities outside its heavily censored and highly protected home market in China. The company made its first overseas foray into Japan many years ago, but never made any headway there. Reports emerged in early 2012 that it was making another play at the overseas search market in Brazil, a fellow BRICS country that shares many qualities with China.

Now more than 2 years after those reports, Baidu wireless executive Yue Guofeng announced on his microblog that the company has formally launched the site, which is at (microblog post) I suspect the site was probably ready for launch at least a few months ago, and probably was in the beta testing phase before that, since Brazil's native Portuguese is quite different from Baidu's native Chinese. What's more, the launch last week was almost certainly timed to coincide with a visit to Brazil by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Still, a 2 and a half year lag between a project's inception and its formal launch seems like a very big window, especially in the Internet world where new products and services often come and go in much shorter periods. Hopefully Baidu will get some success in Brazil after spending so much time developing its local search engine, though it will probably face stiff competition. Perhaps the experience will also help it be faster to market with its newer initiative announced last fall to enter Thailand.

Disclosure: None.