How Can Weibo Be Used For Marketing?

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 16:11

Weibo logo

Sina Weibo, commonly known just as Weibo, is often compared to Twitter. Indeed, to help Western marketers understand Weibo it is often termed ‘China’s Twitter’.

The platform is similar to Twitter in that users can only enter 140 characters per post. But really this is incomparable because 140 Chinese characters can convey so much more meaning that 140 English letters, punctuation and spaces.


Weibo in numbers

At its height in 2013, Weibo claimed 600 million registered users with over 60 million daily active users. Today registered users stands at 400 million owing to the fact that at the end of 2013 Sina culled many so called ‘Zombie fans’.

According to Enfodesk, Weibo monthly active users (MAU) were 157 million as of June 2014, an increase of 30% YoY. Daily active users (DAU) currently stands at 70 million. In March 2014, the numbers of Weibo’s total reached users on desktop and mobile was 290 million and 106 million respectively according to iResearch. In the latest CNNIC report from June 2014, usage on Weibo is 275 million on desktop and 189 million on mobile.


Marketing on Weibo

So, how exactly can Weibo’s massive user base be utilised for marketing? The platform should be seen as a way to increase brand awareness in the Chinese market. Brands looking to interact with potential customers should use a Weibo marketing strategy that is tailored to the unique sharing habits of Weibo users.

Many users will happily share branded posts with their followers. Marketing brands on Weibo, if done correctly, can be very efficient and cost effective.

In August this year, Weibo claimed it had become the biggest video platform for User Generated Content (UGC) with the peak value of daily plays reaching 150 million. An example of this was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral on Weibo.

If a brand intends to tap into Weibo’s potential then a Weibo marketing campaign involving two new marketing channels on the platform is worth considering. To use the comparison I previously used, think Twitter’s promoted tweets.


The challenges of Weibo Marketing

There are three challenges to marketing on Weibo:

  • Having a low quantity of followers affects the reach of shared content
  • Not all of the content shared on the Weibo News Feed is seen by followers
  • Weibo lacks a proper way to gain potential followers


Sina has developed two new ways for marketers to fight these challenges and make a successful Weibo campaign. 

  1. Fan Connect (粉丝通)
  2. Brand Share (品牌速递)

Essentially these two new channels are in-stream media ads that appear in the Weibo News Feed. The News Feed ads appear in the flow of a microblog stream, as opposed to display ads that are fixed on a website in a particular position.

According to Sina the affect of Feed ads was 10 times greater than display ads on Weibo in 2013 (link in Chinese).


Fan Connect

The Fan Connect Feed ads were first promoted on Weibo in 2013 with the aim of targeting a particular user’s existing followers and any other potential fans. Based on Weibo’s data about user’s attributes and social relationships, the Feed ads will be widely delivered to the target users.

What happens is a particular post on the News Feed is promoted in the top three posts of the target users Feed for seven days on desktop and mobile.

For example, a brand wants to promote a new product but only to women aged between 20 and 30 in a particular province. That particular post will be seen by all of the brand’s targeted followers as well as followers connected to the targeted fans, thus extending the reach of the brand to potential followers.

For existing Weibo followers the ads appear in the News Feed with the ‘promoted’ sign (推广) appearing in the bottom left to indicate it is an ad.


Fan Connect Feed ad

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For potential fans of the brand the ads appear in the News Feed with a follow icon (加关注) under the brand portrait and the ‘promoted’ sign in the top left corner above the brand portrait.


Fan Connect Feed ad add fan link

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Only when users view the ads or interact effectively with them do you have to pay for the cost of the ad. You can also set a daily budget to control the ad cost.


There are two pricing structures:

  • CPM (cost per mille), which is priced at 5RMB per thousand impressions.
  • CPE (cost per engagement), which is priced at 0.5RMB based on number of interactions with the ad (clicks, forwarding the ad, following the advertiser and saving the ad). This model uses a bidding system similar to Google AdWords.


Brand Share

This is another News Feed ad channel, introduced in August this year, and connected to the Fan Connect service. Brand Share works like Fan Connect, tapping into Weibo’s 400 million registered users.

The service can target a brand’s potential followers by demographics, location or age and is then spread by user’s friends.

For example, after a target Weibo user views the ad and interacts with it in a specified way, the ad will be shared amongst their followers increasing the spread and interaction of the ad and exposure of the brand in general.

The media-rich in-stream ads can be in the form of videos and graphics and will be displayed in one of the top three positions of the microblog News Feed. If a user follows the brand directly then the ad will be placed in the first position, otherwise the ad will feature in the other two positions.

In the image below the desktop ad is shown on the left and the mobile ad is shown on the right.


Brand Share Feed ad

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The great feature of Brand Share is that a brand fan can be invloved in the process of advertising, helping to spread the ads based on brand advocacy and relatsionships between friends.

There is only one pricing method with Brand Share, CPM. The cost per thousand impressions is 35RMB.


Benefits and comparisons

The benefits of each marketing channel are varied and both serve slightly different purposes, although inherently linked.

Fan Connect and Brand Share have a massive potential reach of all 400 million registed users on Weibo. The Feed ads could be seen by brand followers as well as many potential fans who follow the targeted followers.

The delivery of the ads is very precise. The targeting of the ads is very accurate, helping to reach followers and potential fans by geographic location, age, gender, interests and other attributes of users.

Fans of a brand can help the brand to connect to other potential fans, which is sure to maximize the affect of the adverts.

When compared to the Fan Connect service, Brand Share is more expensive, but more straightforward. There is no need to bid for positions in Brand Share as it’ll always have priority over Fan Connect.

There is more scope for bigger and better ads as Brand Share can display larger images and videos in the News Feed.

The example below is from a mobile News Feed. On the left is the Fan Connect Feed ad and on the right is the Brand Share Feed ad.


Comparison of Fan Connect Feed ad and Brand Share Feed ad

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Finally, when a brand follower forwards a Brand Share Feed ad the information from the ad will be displayed at the top of that particular follower’s Weibo page. That fan becomes a brand advocate and the potential for that ad to spread to other brand advoactes is huge.


Title image courtesy of Flickr - Julien GONG Min

Do you use Weibo’s marketing channels? What do you think of these two services? Please leave a comment below.



Great! What you think about targetings? Can we exclude mobile, for example?

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