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How does marketing on Sina Weibo work?As we saw in some of our previous posts, the Asian market keeps on growing and evolve, forwhat concerns business models, and also the way companies are approaching brandcommunication.We covered the subject several times, talking about the Chinese social media ecosystem andalso analyzing the bigger picture, with an insight on what is happening in other Asian countries.The fast growth of web 2.0 in China is strictly related to the users’ need for real-time technologies,to gather and share any sort of info, and from the need of many European and Americancompanies to enter the Chinese economy using platforms that are suitable for the target.As an example, luxury brands have been able to quickly understand the importance of sharingthe values of the brand by getting closer to consumers – that are increasingly influenced by theonline brand reputation and always more prone to purchase products in the digital environment.Analyzing this infographic, we can see that Sina Weibo is one of the major digital platforms inChina. Weibo means microblogging (amongst the biggest competitors we can count TencentWeibo and Sohu Weibo). This relatively new social technology – that arrived in China after thehuge success of Twitter in the US – have been able to replace blogs in being the biggest digitalvenue for content production.Andrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net
The social network, owned by SINA Corporation, counts today more than 300 million users,acquired in a short span of time: in fact, Sina Weibo started in 2009, and has been able to attractmillions of people thanks to its features, and to the presence on the platform of major worldwideconsumer brands, together with a number of local and international VIPs.Among the first to interact with the millions of Chinese fans we can count Tom Cruise, suddenlyfollowed by many other celebrities: the NBA star Kevin Durant, the actress Emma Watson, andthe British rock band Radiohead, just to mention a few.We must not consider this rapid growth just as a temporary craze: Sina Weibo’s value on themarket is already considered to be around 2 or 3 billions of dollars.Sina Weibo has been initially presented as a response to Twitter and Facebook censorship inCina; despite this, the Chinese government is still trying to control the conversations on theplatform.Just a few days ago there has been a temporary block of the comments on Sina Weibo and otherlocal platforms – such as the main competitor Tencet Weibo – by Chinese authorities, officially to“clean-up” the rumors spreading on the network of a coup d’etat, reinforced by the eventualpresence of tanks in Beijing. The blackout generated strong protests online, with many peoplesharing satiric images on the social network – since comments were disabled:How does Sina Weibo work?Andrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net
Its structure is similar to the Twitter one: users can create their own profile and share info, thatare organized in a stream. They can comment updates and share them with their followers – anaction similar to “retweets”.Since the beginning, the Sina Weibo team started offering a wide range of services, in order tonot make the platform look like a mere “Twitter Chinese copycat”: they integrated some of theFacebook functionalities, such as the chat, together with the possibility to share more than 140characters and upload images and videos visible on the stream.Conversations can be related to a main subject, working the same way hashtags work; users justneed to include the text inside two # (e.g.: during a promotional event Adidas used #adidas is allin# as the official hashtag to let people comment and follow the live streaming on Sina Weibo).Despite the relatively young age, Sina Weibo could be easily compared to “western” social media,in terms of innovation. And there’s more, as this article by Tech in Asia says, insinuating a quiteparadoxal doubt: what if the recent Twitter redesign was inspired by Sina Weibo graphics?Other than that, Sina Weibo offers a full social gaming platform (game.weibo.com) on which ispossible to use a virtual currency, called Weibi.Who are Sina Weibo users?Who is the average Sina Weibo user, and how does he use it? Here’s a brief analysis of the SWuser base, taking in consideration both qualitative and demographical aspects: o Chinese users are not very likely to create original content; on the other hand, they show a really strong attitude for sharing and commenting contents created or posted by others; o they have a really high engagement rate with “content creators”: these can be influential friends, acquaintances that are considered “experts” in a certain field, celebrities or well known brands; o they are more and more connected via mobile devices: just a few days ago China reached a billion mobile users, 144 million of those connected via 3G; o most of them live in big cities, especially in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu (source); o 57% of them are male, 43% female (source).All these features lead us to think that Sina Weibo is the right place where to structure the brandcommunication with high possibilities of success in terms of engagement.Nevertheless, something that could potentially discourage the user base is happening: theplatform is asking users to use their real name through a “real-name system”, in order to bettercontrol what people talk about – and, of course, any sort of political info they share. Users will beforced to verify their presence to keep their profile active, and this could possibly endanger thegreat potential Sina Weibo has, as explained in this video.How does marketing on Sina Weibo work?Let’s get to the point, then: more than 130,000 brands are active on Sina Weibo, amongst themCoca-Cola and LVMH. According to Mindy Sun – account director at Sina Weibo – “it currently isthe platform that better lend itself to putting in a direct relation brands and consumers in China,creating deeper and stronger connections, and this is what consumers want and need right now.”Andrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net
There is not a proper business model for companies on Sina Weibo yet, though brands cancreate their own profile and take advantage of the advertising platform, with banners (on SinaWeibo and SINA home page) and promoted accounts. In the next future an advertising systemspecifically crafted around companies needs will be launched.The platform enables brands to create an official presence through a verificationsystem (verified account are marked with a “V”, very similar to the Twitter ones). Profiles can becustomized through the background and the possibility to share graphic elements such aspictures and videos. Here’s IKEA profile:Huang Chao – a social media consultant I’ve been collaborating with – told us that brands onSina Weibo can choose different content strategies. Louis Vuitton leverages on its history,announces its shows and cultural events, shares the outfits of stars, posts videos about catwalkbackstages, interviewas and product teasers.The high class wine producer Remy Martin mainly uses Sina Weibo to organize and promoteevents, talking to different targets through different accounts, each one dedicated to specificproducts.Amongst the most efficient activities to enhance users engagement we can count contests andsweepstakes, and we cannot avoid to mention the rewards e badges system: Nike chosegamification as the main strategy to make branded content spread around the platform,offering branded badges to those followers that “retweet” products and events info a lot.Andrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net
I also got the chance to work with Xiaobin Liang (project manager at the agency Same SameParis) on some projects dedicated to luxury products in China, and we realized how important isfor brands to find a consistent positioning in terms of contents.A good strategy is to create “micro-subjects” through specific hashtags (a tool that brands usevery often), as in the case of Lancome: they share interesting tips about make-up and personalstyle, and educate consumers on how to choose and use products to get the perfect look. LouisVuitton chose tho focus on high-standards, sharing high-quality videos, pictures and previewsof their classy events.Integrating Weibo with the Youku video platform (the Chinese version of Youtube that recentlyannounced the intention to buy the main competitor Toudu for a a billion dollars) Louis Vuittonhas been able to switch its positioning towards the world of first class traveling, through tips andmicro-documentaries about the best places to visit, shared on the LV City Travel channel.We can mention some simple yet very efficient examples of brand activities, such as the lowlactose milk ShuHua, that during the World Cup 2010 animated its profile with news and pollsAndrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net
And since we’re talking about sharing, we want to share with you this interesting tab foundon labbrand.com, synthesizing Sina Weibo’s features compared to the Twitter ones:I’m sure on the long-run Weibo will be a crucial asset for brands, not only for what concernscommunication, also for a new social business model enabling companies to attract Chineseconsumers through a localized experience (like events in Chinese cities); it will also be ananswer to all the needs Chinese Internet users clearly express (engagement and interest towardsinfluencers), and a big occasion to offer an efficient customer service.Andrea Colaianni (in collaboration with Guido Ghedin)Andrea Colaianni : @womarketing www.womarketing.comGuido Ghedin: @guido_ghedin www.youngdigitallab.net