Social Media 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 weibo social media china 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.

social networks in china

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.

1 2 3

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.

what is weibo

    • 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.

weibo emoticons

      • 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 somehowweibo KOL 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 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.

20 replies
  1. Dan Lee
    Dan Lee says:

    Thank you for the informative post! I really like the concept behind Weibo. Often times ive found myself frustrated trying to squish my thoughts into 140 characters on twitter. I think that Weibo is a lot more engaging and the communications between users is more efficient because of the microblogging feel. Definitely great for networking.

    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      Thank you for your support. In my opinion, Weibo users are easier to be active because Weibo encourages discussion and transmission. However, Weibo has its problems,too. For example, Weibo users are more likely to follow KOLs blindly and zombie fans often exaggerate the real efficiency of a certain campaign. Let’s keep in touch for further communication : )

  2. michael Michelini
    michael Michelini says:

    I love your blog post and I love your name!!! My friend on twitter sent me this article and I think its great you’re sharing Chinese social media strategies in Nyu.

    Usa really needs to bettee embrace chinese social media and not think of it as a twitter copy…I am happy to meet you

    As an American in china doing a social media startup I hope to know you more


  3. Rhonda Drake
    Rhonda Drake says:

    Conan, great content I have learned a great deal about Weibo from you. Thanks for that! For someone that wants to conduct social listening on Weibo, and have an account for that purpose is it possible? Secondly, are their tools to aid in translation in the event that you are not fluent or conversant in Chinese? Thanks.

    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      Good questions. Firstly, of course you can have an account for social listening even if you don’t post anything on Weibo. Actually Sina Weibo has its official news system which posts latest news everyday. Or you can just follow some KOLs for interesting news. Secondly, Sina Weibo has its North America Website which has completely English interface. Although many of its contents are still Chinese, you can post easily on Weibo. However, Sina Weibo itself has no official translation tools for non-Chinese users. Earlier this year, Sina cooperated with a professional translation tool named Youdao (belongs to NetEase) and provide translation service for users. This service is targeting for Chinese users who need Chinese translation from posts of foreign stars such as David Beckham. As foreign users become larger, I believe the mutual translation will develop. But if you are targeting Chinese customers, I do suggest to hire some Chinese guys (like me haha) just like Bomoda did.

    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      In my experience, the language difference is not a big problem. The company I intern now called Bomoda, its founders are American, but its employees (including interns) are almost Chinese. We send Chinese newsletters everyday and it works well. Now we are launching new app targeting Chinese customers. You know, in NY, Chinese guys can be found everywhere. I’m sure you can find guys both good at English & Chinese to help you. Also, Sina Weibo will keep updating its English version/ platform to make it easier for foreign users. I hope this will help you : )

  4. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    Hi Conan,

    We are looking at a way to target an audience based in China, but also in the rest of APJ from China. The tool chosen would be Weibo, however it does not seem to be accessible outside of China. Any tips to find a tool similar to Weibo / twitter that would be accessible from China and other countries in APJ (with English interface).

    Thank you in advance.



    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      Hi Audrey,

      Weibo is no doubt a good choice for your audience in China, and for the rest of APJ from China, you can definitely choose Twitter. Twitter is very popular in Japan and other areas. Besides, I recommend WeChat for your Chinese audience. This app is becoming crazily popular in Chinese mobile market (and increasing users in other areas) and it has entirely English backstage interface.
      The translation service of Sina Weibo is limited and unidirectional right now (there is news that Sina Weibo is testing its new English website recently), but you can still find English interface here:
      Although it’s a little hard to register and use for non-Chinese users, you can set up the English language in the options after you logging in. Google translation will be helpful at this moment.
      Thanks for asking!

  5. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    Hi Conan,

    Thank you so much for your quick reply.
    Just a detail on the rest of APJ from China, how can they communicate via Twitter if they cannot access it from China?

    To explain a bit more the situation, the employees targetting their clients outside China are based in China, this is where our issue comes from. They are not able to set up a twitter account in China. Thus, which tool should be used that can be accessed and managed from China to target the rest of APJ?

    Thank you in advance for your answer.


    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      Hi Audrey,

      I got what you mean now. So you have some guys now in China and they need to communicate with audiences outside China because China has “great wall” against Facebook/Twitter, right? Hum, this is interesting. As far as I am concerned, WeChat is not so commercialized right now like Weibo, and it’s usually used as a communication tool among friends. However, as I said, WeChat is still an option because now you can have an “official account” publishing news and advertisement on WeChat. (Now only 1 post everyday)Some international brands such as Cadillac or Dell are now on WeChat.

      That is just mobile channel. If you want to try social network marketing, I would say just “go over the wall” with VPN. Just ask your IT guys and they will show you how to do it. With VPN, you can easily get access to Facebook/Twitter in China and it’s legal.

      I would like to say Weibo, but Weibo is not so influential in Japan actually.

      I hope this is helpful.


  6. Seah Wendy
    Seah Wendy says:

    Thanks for your information. I have just started my weibo recently & only yield about 15followers. Even though my chinese kinda sucks but can still make do with simple “hanyu pinyin” plus many help from my chinese speaking friends. 🙂 As a user of twitter, I find it really boring as more wordings than visuals. I had now abandoned Twitter but facebook still remains for family & friends. I am playing around daily in weibo but one thing I find it hard to get to their mutual platform yet, I saw people that will retweet my original post (I really did blog though many wrong words) but I will like to know how to get to the platform where they saw my postings. Recently I got in touch with a charity org & offered my free graphic services & were discussing how to market in weibo. So it is really glad for your help to aid me in doing the marketing. 🙂
    My weibo acct:
    Love if you can feedback me. Thanks.

    • Conan Guo
      Conan Guo says:

      Hi Seah,

      Very interesting Weibo and I love it. So your problem is, you know people are retweeting your post, but you don’t know where they saw your post, right? Actually, retweeting on Weibo is like a chain. Remember the famous theory? There are only up to 5 person between you and any other stranger in the world. People saw your post because someone “connected” you and them. Pay attention to the people who retweet you and you will find someone following you did the retweet at the beginning, and his/her followers pass on the torch. So if you want to make your post popular, you should follow people who have huge followers and make them retweet your post. Use “@” function properly.

      Furthermore, if you want to know exactly who retweet your post, you can utilize a tool called Weiboreach ( which I mentioned in my post above. It can help you analyse the “travel path” of your certain post.

      You said a charity org is collaborating with you recently, that is cool. Actually I have done a case study about using social network to help charity org when I was at school. We can talk about it further next time.

      I hope this is helpful. Thanks

  7. Seah Wendy
    Seah Wendy says:

    Thank you so much Conan! You are my life savior! Hahaha…….. I should start to source for the Key Opinion Leaders to follow. Recently I had also started to post some writings at but realize that it refreshes daily & thus my writings cannot be found after. But it is fine, I shall learn to explore it slowly. 🙂

    If I can engage your help, that will be great! Initially I told the charity that we will need to get a copywriter to do several languages on the site & then we link it to weibo & other chinese communities. But the problem is to keep it as a zombie account or someone who can help to monitor for us. If you do have friends who are willing to do so, please contact me & let me know. And I hope I can also get someone to help translate English to chinese (you)?

    This is the charity that I’m working with:

    You can add me via wechat: freespiritwenz or qq id: 2633208218 if you have time & can help. 🙂

  8. Dongping Li
    Dongping Li says:

    Hi Conan,

    This is a great article about Weibo. I am using it everyday but not so sure how to promote my site using it. Weibo is a very important social media platform but Zombie fans and too many paid ads sometimes make people difficult to trust information on Weibo.

  9. says:

    Heya exceptional website! Does running a blog similar to this require a great deal of work?
    I have virtually no understanding of computer programming however I was hoping to start my own blog soon.
    Anyhow, should you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off subject but I simply had to ask.

    Appreciate it!

  10. Shenoy Mathew ( Author)
    Shenoy Mathew ( Author) says:

    Hello I am a business fiction writer, my first ebook is on Amazon now. The book title is ‘Chucked Out-An Anatomy of a Resignation’.

    The work explores; Experience of lossing livelihood, Family as a source of strength, Survival of the fittest in organisations, Leadership and People behavior under stress, Passion and Smartness in organisations, Subtle discriminatory tendencies in Organisations and Answering the Enterprenuerial Call.

    Like India I see China as the other big market for the ebook. How can I get this accross through weibo?

    Search in Amazon with ASIN b00ias0kya


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *