Toutiao’s microblogging platform Weitoutiao to take on Weibo

Toutiao has rolled out Weitoutiao, its new microblogging platform and short content publishing tool for users. Weitoutiao aims to enhance Toutiao’s social network and social media presence and functionality. Toutiao is China’s largest mobile platform for content creation, aggregation, and distribution. With this move, the company seems to be positioning itself as a direct competitor to Chinese social media giant Weibo.

Influencers flock to Weitoutiao

Toutiao has invited a range of high-profile individuals to join Weitoutiao, a strategy that has proven to be an effective and powerful approach to attracting new followers. Weitoutiao has seemingly played it well.

CEO of JD.com Richard Liu, for example, recently responded to a rumor on Weitoutiao, sparking a heated discussion about the increasing importance of Weitoutiao. Between the first of the month and December 26, Liu posted only two messages on Weibo compared to 19 messages on Weitoutiao during the same time frame. With the exception of information relating to his company, Liu thoroughly recorded his everyday experiences on WeiToutiao, for instance photos of Wuzhen’s night scene.

Beside harnessing the clout of influencers, Weitoutiao is reported to imitate Weibo in terms of its pattern of information dissemination. That is, writers can post photos and text at anytime, and followers can repost them as they like.

Weitoutiao differs from Weibo in that it has its own distinctive feature: smart recommendation. Smart recommendation utilizes advanced algorithms that can help to push a message to readers who may be interested in the content of that particular message, likely leading to the increased popularity of high-quality content. Smart recommendation is Toutiao’s strength by which it distributes sizable amounts of information to 120 million daily active users each day. The utility of smart recommendation and backing by influencers has raised the question of whether Weitoutiao could possibly exceed the market-dominating Weibo.

The launch of Weitoutiao and Toutiao’s social media strategy dates back to a few years ago to the launching of Toutiaohao, another of Toutiao’s products. Toutiaohao is a subordinate media platform aimed at helping firms, organizations, and self-publishers improve public exposure.

Screen shots from Weitoutiao in Toutiao app.

Prioritizing high-quality content

After the launch of Toutiaohao, Yiming Zhang, CEO of Toutiao, explained his opinions regarding self-publishers. The form of what can now be considered the self-publishing era, from his viewpoint, dates back to the advent of personal blogs. At that time, websites could not intelligently promote content to readers but instead relied entirely on editors’ choices. Hence, high-quality content might easily become submerged in a veritable ocean of information.

He said that Toutiao by comparison is a content distribution tool capable of understanding user’s interests and distributing content to targeted and niche groups of audiences. Smart recommendation technology, he says, has totally changed the way we access news and information.

The advantages of smart recommendation extend far beyond this. Zhang took WeChat official account functionality as an example. He said that they lack the mechanisms of recommendation based on the quality of content. Thus users need to subscribe to their favorite accounts on their own. Doing so may bring about negative effects: firstly, WeChat official accounts, while good at marketing, may overlook many content-based accounts. It is normal for many WeChat official accounts to amass a great number of followers simply by giving out prizes. Content-based accounts may be less well-known because they lack sufficient exposure. Secondly, newly-founded WeChat official accounts don’t have many advantages compared to public accounts founded earlier because the latter have already accumulated a large number of fans.

The application of smart recommendation helps the revival of high-quality content and creates new business opportunities for technology companies, Toutiao claims. Content-based media can attract loyal followers and thus presents tremendous possibilities for commercial realization. On Toutiaohao, accounts are allowed to publicize commercial advertisements and pursue other means of commercialization.

Weitoutiao is a supplementary platform of Toutiaohao. The former mainly focuses on the transmission of short messages and the latter is based on original, long articles. Both platforms are part of Toutiao’s strategy to penetrate the field of social networks in which WeChat and Weibo have thus far dominated with huge numbers of followers. The enhancement of social network functionality will enable Toutiao to enlarge its platform and influence. Moreover, the integration of social media with news distribution constitutes a technological development by which receiving and transmitting information ultimately will become more intelligent.

(Top photo from Toutiao)

Lena Zhang
Lena Zhang

Lena is our columnist. She is a Beijing-based educator who has previously worked as a finance reporter. Lena is passionate about the social sciences and curious about how technology impacts our lives. She holds a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a master’s degree in Communications from Jinan University.

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