Feature Image: Driving Sales Campaigns with Weibo

For our China-based readers, Tuesday was a particularly auspicious occasion: Chinese Valentine’s Day (or the 七夕 ‘Qixi’ Festival). For those who follow China’s news, it was hard to miss Balenciaga’s campaign, which was all over the news for all the wrong reasons. It was received so poorly, that the hashtag 
#Balenciaga’sTastelessQixiCampaign quickly amassed 210K discussions and 170M views on Weibo. 

Dolce and Gabbana also found themselves in troubled waters yet again. This time for adding the ‘Qixi’ label onto an otherwise unrelated campaign featuring two virtual avatars at the beach. Netizens went as far as to criticise Weibo for allowing the post in the first place.

It’s no secret that hitting the right notes in China can be challenging. Education and understanding are paramount if you want to truly resonate with your Chinese audiences. With that in mind, this week we’ll take a close look at Weibo and explore the ins and outs of Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Weibo: A Crash Course for Westerners

In case you’re unfamiliar, Weibo is China’s second largest social media platform. Launched by Sina in 2009, Weibo sees 100 million daily messages shared amongst its 500+ million monthly active usersSimilarly to Twitter in the west, Weibo rose to popularity for its short-form post format. From a user’s perspective, this approach created a seemingly never-ending feed of engaging and tailored content: including user posts, news articles, videos, live content, eCommerce links etc. However, while Weibo is most frequently likened to Twitter, it’s important to understand that the platform has evolved significantly over recent years. With each year that passes, the comparison becomes less accurate as the similarities between the two continue to diminish.

Having a strategy for Weibo is a must-have for any business working in China’s Cross-Border eCommerce (CBEC) space. Not is Weibo friendly with Alibaba’s tech-ecosystem, but it has also emerged as a major touchpoint for Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and Celebrities. In other words, it’s potentially a major source of traffic for your Tmall, Kaola, VIP, Suning and Little Red Book stores. For businesses in the general trade environment, you can now also take advantage of Weibo’s new eCommerce feature.

Weibo's User Experience

While there are literally dozens of features and ways to use Weibo, the following key functions are some of the most common.

Weibo User Interface

Weibo Accounts Explained

👤 User Ranking

Each account displays a designated ‘user level’. This aims to encourage users to be active and to share engaging content/media. You build your level by completing milestones (i.e. sharing X posts, following Y accounts etc.). This ranking isn’t visible to the public, but it does affect your search visibility.

  Account Verification

Addressing concerns over impersonators and fake accounts, Weibo provides badges for ‘verified’ users. Once verified, accounts benefit from advance page and design customisations amongst a number of other benefits

🎖️ VIP Status

Weibo also leverages a paid VIP ranking system, with tiers ranging from one (lowest) to seven (highest). VIP accounts gain access to a variety of exclusive tools and benefits. These include access to Weibo’s customer support teams, ‘invisible follows’, greater blocking functionality, customisable banners, exclusive banner placements and page templates etc.

'Super Topics'

Super Topics are frequently used by influencers. They function kind of like hashtags, gathering all related posts to a certain topic. However, unlike hashtags, Super Topics have their own pages moderator teams.

The 'Discover' Feature

Weibo’s discover tool provides a comprehensive search engine of hot and tailored content. The ‘Hot Search’ feature is a particularly popular way for users to quickly find 

Weibo Discover Feature Overview

Popular Ways to Boost Impressions, Engagement and Increase Followers

  1. Engage with KOLs and Celebrities. This is the primary way you’ll be wanting to drive engagement. For insight into how to go about this, check out our Little Red Book article.
  2. Create a hashtag. While these can be posted free, paying for rankings is a much more effective way of achieving exposure.
  3. Paid Posts. Pay to have your posts featured at the top of your followers’ timelines.
  4. Programmatic Exposure. A targeted, but expensive way to expose your posts/activity to new, targeted audiences. Targeting can be based on interests, location, gender, purchase behaviours, mobile device etc.
  5. ‘Search Promotions’. Weibo’s allows paid SEM for sales promotions. These are often driven by celebrities in combination with hot topics, super topics and/or hash tags.
  6. Welcome Screen Banners and Display Ads. 
宋茜 Victoria Song Weibo KOL Promotion
宋茜 Victoria Song's Weibo post for Kiehl's amongst others

Using Weibo over the Qixi Festival

For anyone interested, Dao Insights provide a very comprehensive guide on how best to run a successful Qixi campaign [link here]. In essence, success for western retailers in hinged on having:

  1. a deep understanding of the romantic story of Qixi;
  2. an understanding of the subtleties surrounding China’s approach to Valentine’s days (consumer habits) relative to the west, as well as;
  3. an integrated sales and marketing approach which expresses romantic notions in original, poetic and subtle ways.

YSL's Qixi Campaign on Weibo

YSL provides a great reference point for ‘best practice’ Qixi marketing on Weibo. First and foremost, they developed a limited edition Qixi gift boxes containing two lipsticks. It was promoted under the campaign headline #YSL七夕限定#The Weibo post links users directly back to YSL’s Tmall product page.

As the product is a gift, YSL makes the point to target both men and women on the platform. This is largely achieved through their use of various tools and traffic centres. The campaign is reachable via banners, ‘hot topic’ searches, search promotions, paid posts and KOL endorsements.

One of their key campaign KOLs is actor Ruoxuan Chen. Boasting 10 million+ followers, his post for YSL has garnered over 110K engagements.

Limitations of Weibo

Unfortunately, the Weibo platform is notoriously prone to data manipulation. For one, it is notoriously easy to pay black-hat agencies to boost your followers, views, clicks, likes and conversion rates. In a 2017 whitepaper released by AdMaster, it was estimated that 69% of KOL-related statistics had been ‘marked up’ to make said KOLs more appealing to prospective brands. In the same paper, Admaster estimated that up to 58% of Weibo’s on-site traffic comes from bots and web crawlers.

In other words, before signing on with any Weibo KOL, you’ll want to do some due diligence on their account first. Abnormal activity / data tends to reveal itself quite quickly. For example, if a KOL with a million followers receives only a few dozen likes on a post, something’s fishy.

Tackling Challenges with Regulations

In order to address some of these challenges, Weibo intermittently release new regulations and procedures. Here’s a list of some of the major regulations and policy updates released since 2015:

  1. All posts with external links are to receive a 20% algorithmic exposure penalty.
  2. As of August 1st, 2020, only pre-approved sites will be allowed to have their URLs posted on Weibo. Non-Alibaba eCommerce links must link directly to product pages.
  3. KOLs must seek permission prior to promoting multiple brands in a single post.
  4. Posts containing plagiarised content will receive a 50% algorithmic exposure penalty.
  5. Posts with large images will receive an algorithmic exposure penalty.
  6. Accounts whose activity depends solely on reposting will receive an algorithmic exposure penalty.
  7. Posts with QR codes will receive an algorithmic exposure penalty.
  8. Posts mentioning WeChat will receive the maximum algorithmic exposure penalty, limited to 10% of total visibility.
  9. Accounts suspected of being built solely for marketing, sales, or advertising will receive an algorithmic exposure penalty.
  10. It’s mandatory that ‘lucky draw’ campaigns use Weibo’s official lucky draw tool, or risk receiving an algorithmic exposure penalty.

Article Compiled by Alexander Kelso for RooLife Group, August 2020

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