Weibo is the leading micro-blogging website in China and the number of its registered users has been steadily rising over the past few years. Although Weibo no longer completely dominates China’s social networking space, it’s still growing rapidly (see charts below). What makes Weibo so successful? It combines the advantages of both micro-blogging and social media, in a highly effective package. There are also other features that make the site particularly useful for KOL marketing: it integrates with Tmall and Taobao, its ranking system makes it easy for businesses to find their ideal customers, and its integration with popular content sites like Twitter make it easy to stay connected with the growing Chinese market.
What makes Weibo so useful as a marketing platform? One aspect is its huge popularity with the Chinese internet user base – it’s very easy to find many different types of posts depending on whether you’re logged in to Weibo or one of the other popular micro-blogging platforms. The site also offers the distinct advantage of allowing the user to interact with the popular content types and get involved in the conversations they inspire. This allows the popular content to become viral, attracting more engagement than just posts on standard websites that don’t allow the same kinds of interaction. If the popular content on a site like Weibo is engaging enough, it can easily become a major driving force behind that site’s increased visitors.
How is this useful for business? Weibo offers some unique advantages over other social media platforms. Unlike other sites, it allows users to put up their own pictures or videos, and post original content. Because Weibo is a Chinese microblogging site, it also offers an excellent range of functional features – things such as instant replies and DMs, as well as the ability to post onto Weibo through a variety of popular Chinese microblogging services. While these are all great points, we noted one potential pitfall for business: when people started to post popular, controversial content, Weibo could very quickly become saturated with comments that were against local policies or norms. Weibo has now addressed this by allowing users to make announcements about their posts, which would appear to local users.
Is this a good strategy for Weibo Marketing? In theory, Weibo could be used as a platform where brands could create their own independent news and content. However, most Weibo users aren’t necessarily interested in commercial content and news, and it’s not clear how much appeal this has for the typical China fan. Most Chinese internet users are interested in current news, topics that touch on China’s rise to power, or stories that give insight into the personal lives of Chinese citizens.
A third alternative we saw during our research was the possibility for a brand to create an official Weibo account. An official Weibo account allows a brand to make their presence known to China’s social media users, but would require them to register as a company before they can upload any material. Weibo also has a censorship filter, so the accounts created by brands must be approved by the company before being shown to users. This makes Weibo a less-developed platform for marketing than even some of its immediate competitors.
While Weibo Marketing may offer opportunities for foreign brands to tap into a fast growing sector in China, it remains to be seen how long the platform will remain free of restrictions from Chinese authorities. For now, according to reports, the most popular form of promotion on Weibo remains the posting of promotional content. This suggests that the popularity of Weibo may be limited to what it can truly be: a platform where Chinese consumers enjoy more personalised content. The growing number of microblogging sites on the internet make Weibo an even more interesting prospect for Chinese online brands.