Executives at Chinese Web firm Sina have long acknowledged that the growth of Tencent-made WeChat affects the amount of time users spend on its Weibo microblog service, and now it appears to be testing a feature to rival WeChat for the attention of brands.

Sina is adopting the ‘can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach with its own ‘Public Platform’ feature which a report from TechWeb — via Tech In Asia — says is being piloted internally by staff. The platform gives brands, media and advertisers a dedicated channel — and space in excess of 140 characters — to reach its 500 million registered accounts with messages.

That’s almost identical to WeChat, the 300 million user-plus service. In addition to supporting user-to-user messaging, WeChat has a direct channel for media and brands to reach users directly. Users sign up to follow their chosen brand account and messages with content — be they deals, articles or just news — are pushed to them in due course.

Sina is focused on building advertising and promotional revenue streams for Weibo, but WeChat’s strategy is a key rivalry. WeChat’s direct approach, which focuses on a smaller segment of users that opt-in to receive messages, is a more qualitative approach than Weibo’s Twitter-like promoted message services which target its userbase as a whole. Launching a similar service could give Weibo advertisers both options.

The WeChat system includes an outbound link to drive traffic to a site, but  early glances at the Sina channel suggest that, in its current form, it doesn’t support that, instead offering buttons to share on Weibo. Were it to be released in that state, it may not sit well with brands since their content would remain on the Sina Weibo service, rather than driving traffic to their own pages, as WeChat does.

Here’s a comparison of the purported test service from Weibo, and three screenshots of Tech In Asia (yes, I’m a fan and regular reader) via WeChat, showing the message received, the click-through screen and outbound link. We’ll have to wait on whether the piloted Weibo platform gets released and, if so, what it looks like — it is too early to be sure.

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