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Twitter appeals to Chinese companies to tweet for global reach

At a keynote during CES Asia, Twitter's Shailesh Rao avoids mention of being blocked inside China and focuses on how Chinese brands can use the platform to go global.

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Twitter's Shailesh Rao, vice president of international operation, speaking at a keynote at CES Asia. Aloysius Low/CNET

SHANGHAI -- It was Twitter's turn to take the big stage on day two of CES Asia and Shailesh Rao, vice president of international operation, made sure the social media company's keynote address danced right past the elephant in the room.

Twitter is a blocked social network, as is Facebook, inside the world's second largest economy, but there wasn't any announcement of Twitter being made available in China. Indeed Rao, a former Google employee, avoided any mention of Twitter usage inside China.

Instead, Rao took to the stage to deliver the social network's case for getting Chinese companies to hop on board the platform when they venture overseas to, as Rao puts it, "reach audiences around the world."

While Rao would probably love to see Twitter launch in China, the next best thing is to get Chinese companies on the platform. It has been part of an ongoing strategy for Twitter, which opened a Hong Kong office last year with an eye on the mainland's advertising dollars.

On stage, Rao made reference to companies like Xiaomi, Alibaba, Haier and China Airlines as Chinese brands who have embraced the platform as part of their global strategies.

"So the moment is now, to take advantage of the tremendous communication capabilities for Asian and Chinese companies who have ambition and aspirations to reach world markets and audiences around the world," Rao said on stage. "Twitter can be an effective platform to help you do that."

China remains off limits to two of the world's largest social networks. Facebook has made some efforts in getting unblocked, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg picking up Mandarin for a Q&A session in Beijing, but that hasn't yet opened any doors.

Twitter's move to headline the second-day keynote at the first China-based version of the Consumer Electronics Show could be part of its efforts to try to get a toe into this large market, but China remains a tough nut to crack. Particularly when Chinese versions of global players take root.

Take for example Baidu, a search engine that took a leadership position in China when Google was forced out of the country. The Chinese search giant has come up with its own versions of Google Maps, cloud storage services, Wikipedia and a mobile operating system based on Google's Android called Yi. It has even recently announced CarLife, a in-car system that works with mobile phones in similar ways to Apple's CarPlay or Google's Android Auto .

For Twitter, if it was ever to be unblocked in China it would have Weibo to contend with. China's leading microblogging platform reaches over 500 million Chinese users and even integrates a payment platform into its service. Importantly within China, it also plays by the rules and regulations imposed on web services, such as the use of real names for social networking accounts and censorship around sensitive political discussions.

For now, it seems Twitter is eager to focus on a pitch to business in search of reach beyond Chinese borders. But seeing Twitter taking part in the first CES Asia shows it definitely sees opportunity here in one way or another.

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