Whilst it may have taken a few knocks over the last year or so with government crackdowns, Weibo is still a favourite with Western brands hoping to get their marketing message across in China. Weibo is essentially a cross between Twitter and Facebook but is one of the major social media players with over 300 million registered users.
The big threat to platforms like Weibo has been the government insistence on enforcing real name registrations. According to the BBC earlier this year:
“The new rule will stifle one of the few venues for free speech in China, many fear. Specifically, real-name registration could hasten the slow death of Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.”
Another problem for Weibo has been the rise and rise of its competitor WeChat that has had astounding success over the last few years. Recent statistics have also highlighted that only a small percentage (5%) of registered users actively engage with the platform, producing content for the vast majority of others to read.
Whilst it may be true that Weibo will have some issues to overcome, it may be too soon to write the platform off completely and it is still a force for good as far as marketers are concerned. For Western brands new to the Chinese social media arena there are a few key dos when setting up and using a Weibo account.
- An attractive front page goes a long way on Weibo and that means moving away from the pre-made designs to something more customized. It’s worth making the added investment to stand out from the competition.
- Optimizing the content on your Weibo page is not just about having the right key words but also making sure you don’t oversell – it’s much more about pushing the brand than pushing the product.
- As with most social media sites it is paramount that you post at regular intervals and adapt your timing to when netizens are most likely to see the content – for instance, many view their timelines whilst commuting to work.
- Hashtags are important in China too and using them effectively can help your brand reach a wider audience who may be interested in what you have to offer.
- Again, as with most social media both in the East and West, interacting with fans and answering questions directly and personally can go a long way to raising your popularity and standing in the online community.
- Gather statistics about comments and shares and analyse them to improve your performance. Weibo also has a private chat function where you can speak to select followers privately.
In truth, Weibo has struggled with threats of censorship ever since it began, mainly because it has been seen as a platform for those who wanted to be critical of the government. Whether this latest round of restrictions makes any difference to the survival chances of Weibo is a moot point, but for now it remains a valid channel for Western brands to market in.
But according to journalist He Chuan it’s not just the government crackdown that is a problem for the platform:
“Instead of mining the genuine demands of normal users, Weibo’s strategy revolved around wooing more celebrities and opinion leaders, or so-called VIP users, to expand their influence, but with the unbalanced environment, this minority has gradually controlled the source of news and the right to be heard. Normal users are now spectators with no ability to share or participate.”