Redefining Weibo for Brands

How Weibo is re-creating itself in the face of WeChat.

July 14th, 2015

Whats Weibo good for?

WeChat has clearly moved into the prime position of China’s social media landscape. WeChat is the key social media interface for audiences in China. During the rise of WeChat, Weibo has seen a sharp declined in regular audience engagement.

While its daily/monthly active user numbers are only a fraction of WeChat, Weibo serves a critical function as the platform that audiences turn to when events and news break.

When news hits about celebrities getting married, or about a big international event (Oscars, NBA finals, a new movie release…), Weibo sees a rush of audiences back to the site. Its the best place for audiences to fully gauge the importance of a headline.

For brands, its this real-time, fast-breaking value that makes Weibo useful now. And for brands with creative that’s powerful enough to capture mass attention, its the best distribution platform in China.

WeChat with its tight friend-to-friend connections is potentially more powerful for linking content with service and sales. But its not possible (currently) to fully measure the effect inside of WeChat. Weibo for all of its faults with fake/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, its easier to build follower numbers inside of WeChat but its easier to measure broad awareness inside of Weibo.

Weibo is no longer the centrepiece of audience attention in China. And, audiences who are not paying daily visits to a social site, don’t follow (add) brands as “friends.” For a platform thats more about real-time events/memes, views should matter more than follower numbers (for brands paying attention). Weibo is becoming more of a viewer focused site. Its somewhat similar to Youtube in this way. The last video I watched on Youtube had 3.0m views but only 2,000 “subscribers.”

So, why are brands still focused on follower count as the primary measure for Weibo success?

How to measure Weibo success?

Back in 2011-12 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. There were also a lot of fakes created at that time, but follower growth was also pervasive …and accounts all grew quickly. This excitement has now shifted to WeChat.

Weibo needs to educate the market on how to measure success inside its platform. Most brands focus on Fan Growth as the key metric inside of Weibo. However, this is the wrong way to evaluate success in Weibo. Fan growth in Weibo is extremely difficult now (audiences arent following), and for most accounts, fan/follower totals are shrinking (Weibo is clearing out some of the fakes/non-actives). So, how should brands evaluate success in Weibo?

Whats Weibo doing to its environment?

Weibo has recently tried to re-create itself in the face of the changing social landscape in China (the rise of WeChat).

At some point, they had to start cleaning up the environment. Its been a “false social economy” for too long and brand expectations are so far beyond reality. Brands who built their accounts up back in 2011-13 all had/have very 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.

Weibo is focusing on three key things to clean up its environment:

  1. Cleaning out fake/non-active followers from the system
  2. Policing the efforts of KOLs/paid influencers and the systems built around zombie accounts
  3. Building up their own tools/systems for brands to promote themselves

In the last six months, there have been some accounts which have seen their numbers cut in half by Weibo’s effort in eliminating fake/non-active audiences. And as a counter-balance to this, Sina Weibo have 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/follow the brand. In our initial tests with this tool, its proven to be successful, allowing brands to find real followers and because its ‘opt-in’, the followers have 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 meme’s 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 is 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.” For all of its efforts in cleaning up, Weibo should be careful about selling out critical functions like this to brands.

Posted in Weibo