Social Networks in China
Want to explore your social media presence in China?
As the second largest economy in the world, China shows significant potential in purchasing power. Therefore, it is of absolute importance that American brands entering the Chinese market take the time to learn how to successfully connect with Chinese consumers through social media. Although many social media strategies work across global markets, China deserves a targeted approach because of its unique social media landscape.
If you are thinking about the most popular way to make your company noticed in China, the answer is Sina Weibo.
Here are couple numbers you should keep in mind when exploring the social media landscape in China. (Source: Sina Weibo Users Development):
- 368 million users, 82% of them are young people born after 1980
- 80% of Weibo users have high school degrees or higher
- The total income of Weibo users is 1.6 trillion RMB, which equals the GDP of Italy in 2011
- Weibo users purchase 54% of the goods and services in China
- 55.1% of them are SINGLE, which means great consumption potentiality in the foreseeable future
Weibo vs. Other Social Networks in China
“Weibo” (微博) is the Chinese word for “microblog.” It is one of the most popular sites in China, in use by well over 30% of Internet users, with a market penetration similar to what Twitter has established in the USA. It was launched by SINA Corporation on 14 August 2009, and has 503 million registered users as of Dec 2012. About 100 million messages are posted each day on Sina Weibo.
Additionally, Sina Weibo has 56% of the market share for users of micro blogging applications and 87% share of the market in terms of browsing time. You can find more stats on Weibo here. Moreover, according to TechRice (see chart below), Weibo’s users skew a bit older compared to other Chinese social media networks, and live in bigger cities.
While Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, an interesting comparison below shows the comparison of users’ major source of information that highlights some of the key differences between Weibo users and those of Twitter and Facebook. Weibo users use the Internet and mobile devices as the major information source, while FB and Twitter users watch more TV than Weibo users to find information.
At first glance, Weibo has the qualities to be the leading social media platform to run marketing campaigns in China. But what are the differences between Weibo and US social network such as Twitter? What objectives should we achieve on Weibo? How can you measure success? Let’s dive in!
Differences between Weibo and Twitter
Weibo used to be quite similar to Twitter: 140 characters in post (140 words in Weibo), social network functions, ideas of “follow and unfollow” and so on. However, as time went on, Weibo has evolved gradually into a social network that combines Twitter functionality with other social sites, such as Facebook.
- Twitter follows the rule of “simplicity” (one of Twitter’s 10 core values) while Weibo follows the rule of “enrichment.” Weibo is an integrated social media platform of various social services and solutions. Influenced by its parent company Sina, Weibo has integrated with other services from Sina such as Email, Website Apps and games.
- Weibo is more than a traditional social network – Weibo is a microblogging site, which encourages both comments and retweets. (E.g. Posts like “Who has a dog at home?” may have thousands of retweets and comments on Weibo, but that’s inconceivable on Twitter, which keeps it to “reply” or “RT”). The commenting on Weibo feels a bit like Twitter merged with Facebook. Comments to a post can be shown as a list right below the post, the commenter can also choose whether to re-post the comment, quoting the whole original post, to commenter’s own page.
- Weibo developed a very “socialized” system to encourage retweets and make people notice a certain discussion or topic. On the contrary, Twitter is more driven by news and trending stories instead of the emotions around them. Additionally, users are allowed to insert graphical emoticons or attach own image, music, video files in every post.
- Twitter has developed an advertising model, which selectively recommends the ads where they are most likely to be interesting. Weibo has a different approach to monetization. Weibo has developed the idea of KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), who have millions of followers. Weibo has successfully commercialized those KOLs so that their posts become advertisements. While Weibo has promoted ads too, KOLs make Weibo hard to make a profit like Twitter. Moreover, engineers of Twitter think, banner ads on Weibo will harm customer experience. (Source)
Marketing Goals & KPIs on Sina Weibo
Short term: the aim of Weibo marketing is to improve PR, impressions and promotion. The key performance indicators are:
- PR: the number of retweets.
- Impressions: the number of visits, clicks and video view (if there is any)
- Promotions: the sale of products and customer coverage
Long term: the aim of Weibo marketing is brand building. Through accumulating and nurturing the followers, a brand is able to raise the profile and create the word of mouth.(Source) The performance of brand building on Weibo can be measured by several data related to followers:
- The number of followers.
- The quality of followers, including percentage of active followers (as compared to zombie fan), percentage of KOL followers, average comments number, and average retweet number.
- You should pay attention to quality before quantity though on Weibo. The zombie fans are useless to your business. Actually, many zombie fans on Weibo, similarly to Twitter spam, will disappear after the promotion activities. You can use a website called Weiboreach to analyze your post and see how many active followers and zombie fans you have.
- About the zombie fans, who essentially are “empty accounts” (usually generated automatically by Hacker software). Zombie fans are the product of Weibo commercialization. In order to fulfill the vanity, people utilize zombie fans to increase their followers at the beginning. Right after that, some people began to sell zombie fans online. Then the industry chain formed. Some KOLs pay for increasing their followers to make themselves “influential” so that they can charge more in the commercial activities. Zombie fans have certain levels. Lower-level zombie fans are famous for “three NO”: No head portrait, No followers and No posts. Advanced zombie fans can follow other real accounts and update post termly to be “active”. All these make themselves look more “real” and escape Weibo’s anti-spam detection. Zombie fans can also retweet and comment your post according to your bid. (Source)
10 Marketing Tips for Using Sina Weibo
Know your content objectives and get the right theme for your posts on Weibo. Generally speaking, Weibo marketing resembles content marketing in that you need understand and profile your audience connecting them with the right content through Weibo posts. A brand should apply its content positioning to Weibo and get a proper theme for its posts. For example, a fashion company may want to have posts like fashion week, celebrities, discounts on luxury goods, beautiful places to go and so on. Stay within your theme so that you can get the followers you want.
Take advantage of your KOLs and build deeper relationships. Key Opinion Leaders are extremely helpful for retweets and help you to achieve your goals. They have a large amount of followers, and they guarantee the quality of their posts and retweets because they are somehow well known by people in the real world. Generally speaking, KOLs’ posts attract lots of impressions and retweets. KOLs on Weibo are marked with a capital “V” after their names. Different colors stand for different user types. For example, the orange “V” means individual user while the blue “V” stands for group user (companies, organizations, media and so on).
Applying for “V” requires a certain amount of followers and post as well as the ID and certificate of employment. We consider the names with “V” as the KOLs on Weibo. A company should apply for its own blue “V” in the first place building relationships with KOLs. Set up a KOL objective for your PR guys and engage them. If you have enough KOLs on your list, remember to @ them (on Weibo the “@” means mention) in the post. At the beginning, you may want to spend some money to “make friends” with them, however as your post are highly qualified and your awareness rise, the cost will decrease.
Here is the list of the top KOLs on Weibo:
Make your Weibo website attractive. How can you make your own website stand out when tons of competitors are updating their posts every day? Make your company attractive, give your followers a positive first impression. Weibo has offered some free formats for users, including several different styles and themes. More complex and demanding formats may cost you some money. If you are confident enough in your IT guys, ask them to make a unique one for your company. It is open-source and relatively easy to make. (Source)
Optimize your content on Weibo. Many different factors decide the success of your post. One of the most prominent ones is your content. The right language style, funny copywriting and rich content will give you immense extra credit. Make sure you hire a decent editor or copywriter (maybe a Chinese guy) for this. And you should keep in mind that too many promotional posts do not build a powerful Weibo account. (Source). Weibo is not a simple advertising platform so you need to be more engaging with your content. Keep your content funny and meaningful. At the same time, you should keep an eye on the public voice to see what the hottest topic is at the time and adjust your content accordingly. Here is a funny example of Weibo marketing making use of public event:
Case Study: Durex Weibo Campaign
July 21th 2011, a rainstorm hit Beijing. It was off hour, but tens of thousands of office workers were kept in their offices because the subway was closed and public transportation was a mess. They had nothing to do except checking out Weibo and killing time. At this time, Durex Official Weibo posted a message and changed everything. Durex suggested people use Durex condoms as shoe covers and stay dry in the bad weather. 20 minutes later, this post rocketed up to the 1st place in Weibo’s popular list. The retweets of this post covered 50 million Weibo users and Durex became one of the legendary cases of Weibo marketing (Source). Following is the picture of that post:
Update your post at regular intervals. When you are running or exercising, you know it’s easier to keep at a certain pace. So does Weibo. Creating new content regularly will help you increase active followers because they know when you will update posts, and you never let them down. There are some apps on Weibo such as t.pp.cc which can help you schdule your Weibo posts. All you need to do is to put your content into the app and set up the clock. The app will post automatically when time is up. This way, you don’t need to stay online 24/7. Timing is also crucial. For example, people normally read posts on their way to work or after work, so make sure you schedule your Weibo content at the right intervals.
Use #Hashtags effectively. Just like Twitter, Weibo uses the symbol “#” to create topics. When we click on the content between hash tags, we can see all posts related to this topic. A smart company should know how to use hashtags. By using the hashtag, we can measure the volume of posts and use it to create buzz. Of course, you can create and promote your own hashtag if you have an audience big enough.
Monitor your own posts. Besides the quality of your posts, it’s also very beneficial to know how your posts work towards your marketing goals. Sina Weibo has its own data engine available to check the performance of your posted topics, including the ranks of your posts. You will have a clear idea of how many comments, how many retweets and how many people mentioned you in a certain posts. Take a record of your post, analyze them, find those high-value posts and ask why: Did I choose the right topic? Is it because of the copywriting? Which KOL plays an important role? Any new KOL found in the comments or retweets? More information can be found in this analysis, don’t miss it.
Reply to comments selectively. Replying to comments means interaction and keeping the followers engaged. Also, replying comments show respect to the followers. However, a popular post may often have thousands of comments, and if there are too many of them, you just cannot reply to them one by one. In this case, you should reply selectively. Several kinds of comments merit close attention: comments from KOLs, negative comments, questions and funny connects that make other readers comment. You should make different strategies and deal with them accordingly. There are different options when replying to comments. For example, you can choose to retweet and comment at the same time. This strategy can be applied to the KOLs’ comments, and the influential ones to create even more buzz. As to the questions, answer them shortly and precisely. You may want to be polite enough to those negative comments no matter what. Remember, never lose your temper. Be polite, be reasonable, be patient. Badly answered comments are worse than not replying at all and don’t let things go public. If you feel you were offended, ask Weibo administrator for help.
Case study: Xiaomi smart phone.
MI (Xiaomi smart phone), famous for its low price and high configuration, is one of the most popular smart phones in China. MI is also a successful example of Weibo marketing. The senior executives of MI, including its CEO, Leijun, are good at Weibo. When MI was developing MIUI, its own Android system, MI collected suggestions directly from Weibo and updated its system weekly according to the feedback. Last year, the followers asked on MI Official Weibo about the launch date of new Xiaomi phone. Li Wanqiang, the VP of MI replied “We will launch in the middle of March, but only black phones.” This reply was retweeted 4,000 almost immediately. Some people were disappointed: “Why not silver phones? We love silver!” After a short meeting with factories, Li Wanqiang posted on Weibo: “Add 20,000 silver phones.” Weibo helped MI catch up with market needs in a short time. (Source)
Utilize the private message. Weibo has private message function between the users and followers. Private message is secret enough, and it can protect the privacy of the followers. When running raffle events, you can choose private message as a tool to inform the winners. This way, followers feel respect and trust us; and since the private message is personalized and has high open rate, some companies use it to deliver promotion info just like direct mails.
Keep the event info real and transparent. When running events or raffles on Weibo, keep in mind that post the winning list on time live up your word. Make the event just fair and open to earn followers’ trust. Sync your post on Weibo and your official website and make follow-up posts to attract more participants next time.
Weibo is a window to the Chinese market, and it’s huge and still growing. If your company is serious about winning over Chinese consumers, take Weibo seriously and craft a targeted social media strategy for Weibo.
These tips and data are collected during my internship at Bomoda, a fashion company targeted Chinese market. Drop a note in the comments section if I missed anything. Looking forward to your feedback.