Why Are Western Celebrities On Sina Weibo Instead Of Twitter?

Have you seen Iron Man 3 yet?

It opened in North America on May 3. But Robert Downey Jr. fans in China got to see the blockbuster film starting May 1.

Indeed, Hollywood has been making a major play for the Chinese market. According to a recent report by the Motion Picture Association of America, China is now the second-largest box office market in the world. Not only that – last year, more than half of the country’s box office profit was from foreign (read: American) films.

So, naturally, the American entertainment industry recognizes how crucial it is to “play the crowd” in China. A focal element of that strategy is developing an online presence for Western celebrities on China’s Twitter, Sina Weibo.

To wit: Robert Downey Jr., who doesn’t have a Twitter account, took to Sina Weibo starting April 24, proceeding to tweet messages promoting Iron Man 3, declaring his love for “all things Chinese,” and expressing his condolences for victims of the earthquake in Sichuan Province.

Whether he continues the China love or not after the movie’s run, Western celebrities’ presence on Sina Weibo is definitely a notable trend of late.

Larry Namer, co-founder of E! and Metan Development Group, a China-focused programing company, told Reuters,

“In the U.S. you got to have a Facebook or Twitter; in China it’s the same thing, only bigger.”

There’s even a company, called Fanstang, dedicated to managing Weibo and other Chinese social media sites for Western A-listers (including Robert Downey Jr., NBA star Dwyane Wade, Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder, Tyra Banks, Selena Gomez, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Paris Hilton).

“Managing” the presence of those stars on Chinese social media often just means translating their tweets into Chinese. But it’s an important tactic, nonetheless, in cultivating the Chinese market, especially in a time when the business of American filmmaking is as topsy-turvy as everything else in media.

And as for why certain celebrities, like Downey, wouldn’t adapt their newly honed social media skills to their home country’s platforms, that may be because Western stars have a plethora of other ways to connect with their Western fans, outside of Twitter. Or, you know, Marvel and its Chinese partner, DMG, made Downey join Weibo for marketing purposes.

Do you have any interest in exploring Sina Weibo? With Google Translate, the language barrier is surmountable. It would be interesting to see if the cultural divide was, as well.

Bonus: check out the Top 25 Celebrities On Chinese Twitter (Sina Weibo).