BEIJING: Brand owners including Louis Vuitton, Unilever and Coca-Cola are using Sina Weibo, a microblogging platform, to engage Chinese consumers.

Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Coach, Burberry and Longines all have a presence on this service, deploying it for purposes ranging from promoting their products to publicising new stores.

Nike, the sportswear giant, L'Oréal, the cosmetics specialist, Coca-Cola, the soft drinks group, and Starbucks, the coffee house chain, are just a handful of the other organisations pursuing the same approach.

"A lot of our brands which are growing in China, the multinational brands we work with see Weibo as an immediate opportunity to set up a stake in a way that they then have a voice directly to their consumers," Zaheer Nooruddin, from Burson-Marsteller Greater China, told Reuters.

Unilever, the FMCG manufacturer, is also active on Sina Weibo, and recently posted scans of safety test documents in response to claims from the Chinese authorities that its Tieguanyin tea contained toxic content.

"It's the quickest way to communicate with Chinese audiences," said Rand Han, strategy director at Resonance China, a digital agency. "People universally respond to honesty and true connection."

Research from CIC, the social media consultancy, reported Sina Weibo has 250m members, uploading 90m messages a day. Some 50,000 companies have signed up thus far, while 3,500 apps are available.

A 36.5% share of the user base falls in the 19-22 year old age-group and 39.5% are in the 23-30 year old demographic. Women make up the majority in these two categories, whereas men take on this role for older users.

"Sina Weibo is becoming the national watercooler of China," said Sam Fleming, the founder of CIC. "It's where people are sharing news, gossip. If you want to see what's happening in China, you open your Weibo account."

The wider appeal of Sina Weibo is shown by the fact Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, Tom Cruise, the actor, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and philanthropist, have all joined.

Sina's figures suggest 450,000 people in the US are registered on an English-language version of its Weibo service, a total including Chinese students in America. But Ed Lee, the mayor of San Francisco, has attracted considerable attention after doing so.

"Sina Weibo has not only built a platform for interaction between Chinese officials and the public, but Sina Weibo's influence has also extended abroad," the company said in a statement.

Data sourced from Reuters/CIC; additional content by Warc staff