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Weibo marketing strategy: What brands should know

Sina Weibo is a micro-blogging social media platform that was launched in 2009 by Sina Corporation. It sees itself as a leading social media that combines the means of public self-expression in real time with a powerful platform for social interaction, content aggregation and content distribution. Weibo is an essential tool for social media campaigns in China.

It is one of the most popular social media platforms in China, ranking fifth after Wechat, Douyin, QQ and Baidu Tieba. The platform also ranks 10th worldwide. According to Weibo’s 2022 report, its Monthly Active Users (MAUs) were 582 million in March 2022 (95% of which were mobile users). This showed a net increase of approximately 51 million users on a year-over-year basis. Average Daily Active Users (DAUs) were 252 million in March 2022, a net growth of approximately 22 million users on a year-over-year basis.

weibo in 2022
Source: Weibo, designed by Daxue Consulting, Financial report 2022

Marketing on Weibo is such a prominent topic that academic research exists on its usage, for example, on microblog marketing. According to the above-mentioned report, advertising and marketing revenues were 427.1 million USD in the first quarter of 2022, an increase of 10% year-over-year.

The reason why Weibo is crucial for marketing is because the platform is firstly a space for open communication, and is an essential tool for digital advertising in China. The main activity of users is posting text-posts and commenting under posts of other people and companies, which allows for high engagement and effective communication. The platform is more open and easier to access than Wechat, which also facilitates interactions.

Weibo’s main features

Its closest comparison is usually said to be Twitter, because both platforms focus on users’ text posts and trending topics. Indeed, Weibo allows users to upload videos, audios, music, photos, gifs, and attached URLs. Users can also follow other people and celebrities, send and receive messages, and use keywords. However, Weibo offers a much wider variety of functions.

Unlike Twitter, Weibo allows users to post longer texts (with a 2,000 character limit) and add up to 9 images per post. It also allows livestreams and stories to be posted, as well as articles. There are opportunities for partnering with Taobao, and an important feature is the in-app e-wallet, known as Weibo Hongbao. Such e-wallet gives users the possibility of paying inside the app, thus making social media campaigns more effective.

The payments can be made for any item that someone shares or links in the app. Users can also pay for loans, insurances, buy movie tickets, or even book a doctor’s appointment online. These functions are available after a user links their credit card or Alipay to the Weibo account. Weibo even makes New Year campaigns offering users to participate in a mass exchange of red envelopes – the most popular Chinese gifts for special occasions.

Weibo’s campaign for New Year’s Eve 2023
Source: Weibo, translated by Daxue Consulting. Weibo’s campaign for New Year’s Eve 2023

User interaction turns your Weibo marketing strategy into a powerful tool for creating buzz

The platform is useful not just for entertainment or advertising, but also for gathering information on markets and consumer trends. Consumers often use Weibo to understand a company’s status and popularity, as well as check their latest news and offers, while businesses can use it for social listening – to understand their clients opinions and requests, as well as the overall trends in their industry.

Analyzing users’ interactions can be fruitful for companies. For example, researchers explored the different correlations between tweeting and commenting on the platform, and found that females retweet more often than males. This information can be used for more effective message transmission. Other research showed that users are mostly motivated to use Weibo for enjoyment or for information-seeking purposes, which can also help companies develop their marketing strategy.

The most important quality of Weibo is the intense communication between users that it generates. Comment sections generate a lot of interactions, and hot topics receive a lot of attention. Weibo is a very important platform for businesses in providing communication between clients and firms. Companies are not just given the chance to interact with consumers, but are expected to be highly involved in the communication.

Commenting sections are so important on Weibo that some studies investigate the ‘storytelling’ effect of comments to be a cause of social media addiction. Interaction under Weibo posts is rich and absorbing, offering social communication and more information on a post’s topic.

Apart from facilitating communication between businesses and customers, Weibo can be important in B2B communication. The platform creates trust between companies by allowing them to project a certain image and facilitates their discovery of each other by placing them into relevant categories.

Weibo’s features that companies should pay attention to

One of Weibo’s most important marketing features is its ability to generate viral content. Because posts are often commented on, it increases engagement and discussions online, which is very useful for marketing purposes. Users also often address companies directly and expect responses from businesses. 
An important step to keep in mind for every company is the verification function on Weibo. Verified accounts create trust in clients, and give access to a wider variety of instruments. Verification costs more for foreign companies than for those registered in China, but is available for all businesses. Firms must pay a fee and submit official documents to the platform, and after these are checked, the account receives a tick beside their name.

Digital marketing on Weibo is important for any firm, and different instruments can be used for it. Weibo offers a wide range of ways to advertise companies: paid hashtags, search promotion, banner ads or fans headline and fans tunnel. Weibo is also a useful substitute to email marketing in China, because the latter is not highly developed in the country.

An essential part of social media campaigns in China is Key Opinion Leader (KOL) marketing. It stands for collaborations with online influencers and celebrities, and is an important part of brand marketing on Weibo, because KOLs have massive numbers of followers on the platform. KOLs are very effective in promoting commercial products, and can be useful in targeting more specific consumer groups. Not only is the targeting more accurate, but collaborations with KOLs provide brands with a more loyal audience, especially among the Gen Z consumers.

kOL marketing growth in China
Source: Statista, designed by Daxue Consulting, KOL marketing growth in China, 2021

How can brands use Weibo to connect with customers?

Weibo has been employed as an effective marketing space by companies for a long time, and there are numerous cases that can be learned from. For example, Gucci not only generated hot topics on Weibo, but increased their audience’s engagement. The company posted short films with open endings and invited users to participate in finishing the stories.

Weibo is also known to be a stage for social movements, for example, feminism. These can also be employed in marketing strategies in different ways. That was the case of Neiwai, a homegrown underwear brand that launched a body positivity campaign to better engage with value-driven consumers.

Not only does Weibo follow social trends, but also helps promote new ones: during the pandemic, it gave rise to a lot of financial influencers. It changed the finance market, with more and more people leaning towards receiving advice from influencers rather than traditional investment managers.

Gucci's marketing strategy on weibo
Source: Weibo, Gucci. Ouverture of Something that never ended

Why brands Weibo is far from dead

  • Weibo is an important instrument for building a brand’s image in China.
  • It is a useful platform for companies that want to emphasize their communication with consumers and other businesses.
  • Weibo creates high levels of interactions between users, which is beneficial for brands, allowing them to have a better understanding of the market’s needs.
  • The social media platform lets companies participate in social trends and affect consumers’ interests.

Author: Sofia Tishchenko