BEIJING: Sina, the Chinese internet giant, plans to boost the investment behind its Weibo microblogging platform in a bid to gain ground in this rapidly-expanding market.

Speaking on a conference call, Charles Chao, Sina's chief executive, reported that its outlay on this service rose by $14m across the last quarter, and should grow by at least $100m for 2011 as a whole.

"We intend to make significantly more investments in Weibo this year to further solidify our leading position," he said.

Sina Weibo boasted an audience of 140m netizens in April, a 40m improvement since February, during which time the number of monthly active users climbed 30%.

Consumers logging on to the site every day typically spend an hour sending messages and browsing its pages.

"Sina Weibo is in a comfortable leading position in terms of active users and user engagement," said Chao.

Looking forward, Sina hopes to have over 200m members by the close of this year, and will give Weibo an integral role in its wider evolution.

"We plan to leverage Weibo as a centrepeice of our growth strategy, and make a significant investment this year to grow the platform more rapidly," Chao said.

Chao argued the internet, both in China and globally, is becoming more social, local and mobile, as well as increasingly being shaped by an "open" approach to application development.

"The nature of our Weibo product, which allows users to share information and content anywhere, anytime and at any terminal, together with our open platform strategy, fit that trend very well," he said.

A defining characteristic of the Chinese online arena is particularly intense competition, as the rivalry between firms like Tencent, Netease and Baidu accelerates.

"At the current stage, we believe there is still a huge untapped market for social media in China. We shall be more focused on product user experience and on marketing to make us more dominant," said Chao.

"Given the nature of China's market, we don't believe that only one Weibo platform will survive ... Different companies may have different objectives and strategies in developing their Weibo platforms."

Alongside augmenting staffing levels and purchasing equipment in anticipation of higher traffic, communications will receive a meaningful lift in funding.

"There are so many players in this space, we need to spend more marketing dollars to out-perform others and gain more market share more rapidly, especially for the untapped markets in different cities," said Chao.

"So marketing will be a very important part of incremental costs for this year, and hopefully we can recruit more users more rapidly and build up a scale quickly."

Chao suggested that other major web operators were splashing out greater sums on this area than Sina at present.

To differentiate its own service, Sina recently introduced the new web address, and added both voiced-based and location-based tools.

Scheduled future additions include instant messaging facilities, a broader range of applications, games, ecommerce and various group features enabling members to more easily connect with one another.

"We plan to launch several different versions of Weibo to capture younger demographics," said Chao.

The company is also considering six monetisation models, such as targeted advertising and real-time search, but is prioritising boosting its audience first.

Data sourced from Sina; additional content by Warc staff