When you see a brand on Weibo with a huge number of followers, you may assume that this automatically signifies that it has a strong social and digital presence. However, the picture like many other areas of Chinese digital marketing is much more complicated than meets the eye. The brand maybe leading their industry by having the top numbers of followers, but at the end of the day, it should not be about the quantity, but the quality of those followers.
But this quantity vs. quality argument needs a balanced position given Chinese generally deem large numbers of followers for a brand as a proxy for 'legitimacy and trustworthiness', quite astonishingly really as it is well known that Sina Weibo is plagued by a significant number of fake accounts. The very nature that a brand has hundreds of thousands or millions of fans should raise a red flag and before showing a blind faith in the brand's Weibo account - check out the levels of engagement as this may highlight a truer nature of the actual loyalty towards this Weibo account.
Sina Weibo is one of the most popular social media channels in China, with more than 130,000 brands active (at the end of Feburary, 2012) such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Durex and LVMH. These companies are motivated to have a Weibo presence given it reportedly has over 500 million users. With such significant numbers of Chinese users, this platform becomes the ultimate medium for introducing new products to their followers and additionally offering followers VIP programs, incentives and discounts.
Implications for the Social Marketer
So what does this mean for the practitioner? The Social Marketer that has to develop the strategy and plan to gain the maximum benefit for their company.
The biggest implication to establishing and managing a Weibo account is the short sighted key performance indicators (KPI's) set by the managers, or the client or various business leaders). Generally, the Social Marketer is measured on the success of their work by the number of followers they have 'acquired' for Weibo. (Note: "Number of Followers" is just one metric of many that should be measured). So given the importance placed on number of fans/followers the approach for Weibo management is often skewed to adopt poor practices such as buying fake fans or using Sina Weibo Events to create short term gains.
What does the Social Marketer need to do?
Fundamentally, educate the clients, or your managers and stake holders about the position, use and purpose of social media. Provide data and insights that reveal actual demographic and usage pattens. Talk about the nature of social media requiring 'time' for developing relationships and this investment is an on-going one as opposed to short campaign limited efforts. Moreover, remember it is the actual content (posts, photos, videos, presentations etc) being placed on the social media channels that binds the conversations and is the emotional glue that links ideas with the online community. Weibo is a rich platform for sharing and should be leveraged to it's fullest to get the most from it.
In conclusion, don't miss the opportunity to use Weibo as intended, a platform for engaging Chinese consumers. Simply pushing out branded messages or chopping up the last PR release does not cut it. Focus your content (type/form/topic) for your reader, be consistent in tone and voice, question your approaches and don't fall into the trap complacency.