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Twitter to tap China market from Hong Kong office

Microblogging site Twitter will set up an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve Chinese users and advertisers, the company said last week. The move is aimed at tapping the world’s largest internet population, even as censors in mainland China have shut out the American company from that market since 2009.

Twitter has good reason to be bullish on China: despite the ban, a little more than 95 million Chinese internet users — over a sixth of the country’s total internet population — visited the site in November, revealed a GlobalWebIndex study.

Twitter, however, said the Hong Kong office would mainly house its sales business, and hoped to “help advertisers reach the global market”. The decision came within months of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s first visit to China — a “personal” trip — in March.

Although Twitter is not currently present in China, it gets advertisements from Chinese firms such as Lenovo for its other markets.

By deciding to set up an office in Hong Kong, Twitter has joined Google and Facebook, both of which opened offices there in 2011.

China currently has its own Twitter-like microblogging site, Weibo, a subsidiary of internet company Sina that is part-owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba. Like Twitter, the Nasdaq-listed Weibo is a social platform where people can post 140 Chinese characters as real-time messages. It has more than 144 million active monthly users, which is more than half of Twitter’s global user base. Digital research agency China Internet Watch recently noted that Weibo’s overall user base — those operating through desktops or mobile phones — had reached 400 million.

China’s huge internet user base presents itself as an attractive proposition for Twitter, whose monthly user base grew only 5.9 per cent to 284 million at the end of September this year from 271 million at the end of June. Besides, three-fourths of its total global user base were from outside the US, while the Asia-Pacific region emerged as the fastest-growing one for it.

LinkedIn, the only American social-networking platform that has so far managed to crack the Chinese market, in February unveiled a site in Mandarin to cater to the market better. It also has a different brand name for the country — pronounced ‘ling ying’. Its target is to get about 140 million professionals hooked on to LinkedIn’s Chinese version, established in a joint venture with Sequoia China and China Broadband Capital (CBC).

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