Internet users in China are apparently so eager for a taste of Facebook, which is banned in their country, that more than 80,000 followed a Facebook Inc. page on Chinese social network Sina Weibo. Unfortunately, the page turned out to be fake.
The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog reported that the since-deleted page on Sina Weibo appeared earlier this week, with content including a story about twin sisters who found each other via Facebook and the foxes that have been spotted on its campus in Menlo Park, Calif., as well as a photo of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg holding up a sign in Chinese wishing users a happy Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. The Zuckerberg photo was actually from 2010.
A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed to Digits that the company had nothing to do with the fake Sina Weibo account.
Readers: Will Facebook ever be allowed into China?
How can marketers leverage Weibo and what is the future of Weibo for Marketers? This article will take a look at how Weibo is changing and help explain the future of Weibo for marketers. In order to find out more about the future of Weibo and how it will affect marketers, we first have to look at the recent IPO.
According to the Next Web, “Weibo, the micro blogging firm known as ‘China’s Twitter,’ made a less than impressive public bow on the US markets after raising $ 286 million in an initial public offering in New York on Wednesday.” That is right, on April 16, 2014 Weibo held their IPO, which was highly anticipated but fell flat according to most analysts. The company, much like Twitter, has been operating at a lost throughout most of its existents, but with the IPO, Weibo will need to find new forms of income. With shareholders expecting and demanding a return on investment, we can expect to see new forms of advertisement available in the coming months or at the very least, a new focus on existing revenue streams. The next sections will take a look at: How this will affect Weibo for marketers?
The future of Weibo for Marketers
Weibo for Marketers: Past
In the past, many marketing companies flocked to Weibo hoping to provide new value to their clients and offer new services to potential clients, but Weibo offered little value in terms of marketing. This lead many companies to create fake “Zombie” account in order to fulfill their clients desires of number of followers, likes, and shares. These fake accounts created more perceived value, which in turn attracted more brands and more zombie accounts.
About ten million users generated 94 per cent of all messages on Sina Weibo, according to one study by Fu King-wa, assistant professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, while some two hundred million other users mostly just “re-tweeted” those posts.” – South China Morning Post
Brands and marketers looking to leverage Weibo in the past had few options. The service is similar to Twitter allowing users 140 characters per post. The most common process was setting up an official account and posting articles, pictures, and interesting content. But measuring engagement has always been hard because of the lack of original content created and the amount of fake accounts. Weibo was not interested in culling the fake accounts because that would diminish their perceived value and cause brands and marketers to abandon the platform. One of the main reasons for low user generated messages is the censorship of Weibo. Users are unwilling to post original content because they are afraid of being censored or worst.
Weibo for Marketers: Present
With the above said, the platform is not doomed or should not be avoided by brands looking to interact with potential customers, but the strategies used should be tailored to the unique sharing habits of Weibo users. Today, many brands are active on Weibo and the platform should be seen as a way to increase brand awareness in the Chinese markets. Many users will happily share your branded posts, if it adds value, and you will be able to reach large numbers of users (500K -1 million +) on a regular bases. According to the China Business Review, “The latest Fendi collection has generated 3,840 reposts and 1,495 comments in one week. Another post during the campaign highlighted the color blue and generated 205 reposts and 66 comments, which reached 884,073 Weibo users.” This example shows that although the reach on Weibo is enormous, the engagement is rather low. Marketers that are looking to get in the game with Weibo should take a page from Burberry’s powerful Weibo strategy. Social media marketing, like all marketing, is best executed when there is a clear and simple strategy created before diving in. With the recent IPO, marketers are looking forward to the future of Weibo and in the next section we will talk about some of the new features and possible changes to Weibo.
Weibo for Marketers: Future
The future of Weibo is partly cloudy with a chance of sunshine. The platform will need some major restructuring but if Weibo is willing to take the necessary steps, it can become the dominate platform again. In the recent IPO, Alibaba increased its stake in the company to 32%. This increase shows a strong desire for Alibaba to increase their presence on social media in China and may provide Weibo with the much needed support to restructure the platform. According to Rand Han and China Internet Watch, Alibaba is looking to integrate Weibo and Alibaba services in 8 key ways:
1. Sina Weibo and Taobao accounts will have one universal sign-in. 2. Products and functionality will be integrated between Alibaba and Sina Weibo 3. Sina Weibo will have an enterprise account that integrates Taobao stores. 4. Weibo Wallet and Alipay will merge. 5. Purchase of Taobao through Weibo mobile will be enabled. 6. Advertising will be integrated across the platforms. 7. The two will partner to build complementary businesses. 8. Two two will leverage data to enhance service and experience.”
If Alibaba and Weibo can integrate their services, the potential for marketing products directly from Taobao will create new interest for marketers but one of the main problems will remain: fake accounts. The platform will need to restructure and slowly eliminate fake accounts to provide an accurate and honest user count. These developments along with renewed focus on revenue creation could transform the platform. The new stake holders, including Alibaba, will expect the company to perform in the coming months, which could create new value and interest for marketers in the future.
The outlook for Weibo is strong; this can be a turning point for the company, if they choose to take the necessary steps to revive the platform. The IPO illustrates it best: investors are undervaluing the company because the future is unclear. If the company can reenergize the platform and provide new features and real value, it can easily reclaim the top spot in China’s social media landscape. For marketers looking to expose their brand/service/product to the Chinese market, Weibo is still the best platform for reach but for marketers looking to sell products/services than WeChat is more valuable for engagement. It will be interesting to watch over the next year how this social media giant will evolve. What are your thoughts on the IPO and future of Weibo?
About the Author:
This monthly Chinese Social Media column is contributed by Miguel Roberg. Miguel is passionate about marketing and advertising, currently lives in Beijing, China and is actively pursuing a career in the advertising industry. He is currently a content marketing coordinator at a Chinese social media marketing agency and a contributor at Advertising@chinaSMACK. Feel free to contact him about social media marketing in China and other business related to the Chinese Markets.