Weibo may have lost market share to the more private communication platform WeChat, but it still has a role to play for brands.
Is Sina Weibo still important for brands? That’s a good question.
With over 500 million monthly active users on Tencent’s mobile messaging channel WeChat, Weibo has been facing some serious competition as users move to the app’s more intimate and private settings.
But while Weibo’s daily/monthly active user numbers are only a fraction of WeChat, Weibo still serves a critical function as the platform that audiences turn to when events and news break.
Whether it is celebrities getting married to big international events like the Oscars, the NBA finals, or latest movie releases, Weibo sees a rush of audiences back to the site.
It is still the best place for audiences to fully gauge the importance of a headline.
For brands, it is this real-time, fast-breaking value that makes Weibo useful today.
And for brands with creative content powerful enough to capture mass attention, it is the best distribution platform in China.
Here is an example from Chinese car rental company Shenzhou, mocking Uber with its “Beat U” campaign followed by brand reactions from L’Oreal, Uber and Durex.
Topic view numbers for the period between late June to early July reached almost 67 million. Total engagement reached 129,000.
This post in May by Chinese celebrities Fan Bingbing and Li Chen announcing their relationship with the simple hashtag #Us sent Weibo into a frenzy.
Total topic views between late May and early June were 830 million.
WeChat with its tight friend-to-friend connections is potentially more powerful for linking content with service and sales, but it is not possible (currently) to fully measure effectiveness inside of WeChat.
Weibo for all of its faults with fake and non-active followers has a critical advantage in being open to data analysis, allowing brands to fully measure the effect of its efforts.
In short, it is easier to build follower numbers inside of WeChat but it is easier to measure broad awareness inside of Weibo.
Real Time Engagement
For a platform that is more about real-time events, views should matter more than follower numbers. And Weibo is becoming more of a viewer-focused site, somewhat similar to YouTube in this way.
For example, the last video I watched on YouTube had 3 million views but only 2,000 “subscribers.” So, I find myself asking, why are brands still focused on follower count as the primary measure for Weibo success?
Measuring Success on Weibo
In 2011 and 2012 when Weibo was in rapid growth mode, it was easy for brands to gain tens (often hundreds) of thousands of new followers with a single campaign. At that time, there was real enthusiasm for Weibo and a lot of interest for audiences in making connections to be a part of something big.
Weibo had proven itself as the platform of choice for top celebrities, brands were creating excitement with fresh campaigns and audiences wanted to participate.
On the other hand, there were also a lot of fake accounts being created around this time, but follower growth was also pervasive, and accounts all grew quickly.
This excitement has now shifted to WeChat. Weibo faces a challenge. It needs to educate the market on how to measure success inside its platform.
Many brands focus on “fan growth” as the key metric inside of Weibo. However, I believe this is the wrong way to evaluate success on this real-time platform.
Fan growth on Weibo has shifted and audiences are no longer engaged in the exercise of “following”, so for many accounts, fan/follower totals are shrinking. This can also be attributed to a Weibo effort to clear out fake and non-active accounts.
So, how should brands evaluate success on Weibo? Those brands who built their accounts back in the heyday between 2011 and 2013 remember a time of high fan counts and very low active user numbers.
Companies who have more recently started building inside of Weibo have found that fan growth efforts are extremely tedious – and despite high-quality efforts they have much smaller follower counts.
But as Weibo attempts to re-create itself in the face of the changing social landscape in China, specifically, against the rise of WeChat, its decision to clean up its user base should be a welcome move by brands.
Weibo is focusing on three key things to clean up its environment:
- Cleaning out fake/non-active followers from the system
- Policing the efforts of key opinion leaders (KOL) and paid influencers and the systems built around zombie accounts
- Building up their own tools and systems for brands to promote themselves
In the last six months, some accounts have seen their numbers halved by Weibo’s efforts. But as a counter-balance to this, Sina Weibo has launched a new tool allowing brands to lobby for new fans.
The tool, called “Fan Pass” is a performance-based tool where Weibo sends alerts to audiences giving them an option to join or follow the brand.
In our initial tests with this tool, it has proven to be successful, allowing brands to find real followers and because of the ‘opt-in’ element, followers joining have a genuine interest in the brands they choose to follow.
Another interesting feature which has recently gained attention, is the hot/trending topics alerts/ listings for audiences. Given the rising importance of real-time, fast-breaking news, events, and memes for Weibo, listings and alerts for “Hot Topics” is a no brainer.
Weibo should in fact be doing even more to support this if it wants to protect its current positioning. And, it turns out that brands who want to gain attention as a rising trend can pay Weibo to be listed as a “Hot Topic.” But for all of its efforts in cleaning up, Weibo should also be careful about selling out critical functions like this to brands.