101 Things About China – #4 – Why We Weibo
Before I get into the facts about Weibo (a Chinese Twitter-style microblog), here are some basic stats about the Internet in China:
- China has over 513 million internet users;
- Broadband penetration rate is over 97%;
- China has over 920 million mobile users;
- Over 65% of China’s 513 million internet users access the internet via their mobile phones; and
- Almost 40% of mobile internet users use their mobile phones to access Weibo sites.
Put into context, this means that if you are looking for your content to be found by Chinese consumers and journalists, you need to create content that is easy to access and share across a variety of platforms. In today’s environment, one of the easiest ways to do this is to get your content on all the leading Weibo sites. Not only are they a great place to share press releases and other information, but they are also a great way to drive traffic back to your own website.
Weibo, and social media sites in general, now play an undeniable role in connecting people and establishing relationships with key media and other influencers. In China, it’s especially important to build and maintain personal relationships with Chinese journalists, and social media has become the perfect platform for PR professionals to engage with stakeholders; be they journalists, other professionals or the general public.
The dominant social media sites in China are indeed the Weibo sites, which allow for up to 140-character long tweets to be posted, and can include photos and multimedia content. However, unlike the US where Twitter essentially monopolizes the microblogging environment, China is home to numerous microblogging platforms that compete with each other to become more influential and attract the highest number of users.
The Dominant Players – SINA and Tencent
As mentioned, there are a number of players in the Weibo arena, however, the biggest two players are easily SINA and Tencent. SINA Weibo (weibo.com) currently has over 250 million users, and while Tencent Weibo (t.qq.com) has surpassed 300 million, it’s SINA’s platform that is considered the most influential. 40,000 followers on SINA Weibo, for example, could be more beneficial than 150,000 followers on other platforms.
Top 3 Reasons You Should Be on Weibo
I’m sure the vast majority of PR and marketing professionals have looked at why they need to be on Twitter. For the most part, the same reasons apply to Weibo too; however, perhaps some of these reasons are accented even more given this is China, and you may as well be on the moon.
Be Here Without Being Here – Not everyone who looks to the China market has operations here, and even those that do may be based in one city, while their customers are spread out across an enormous distance. Weibo allows you to connect and engage with those that matter without the cost of setting up operations locally. And, let’s be honest, if people are already talking about you, you need to be involved in that conversation. Ignoring it, or simply not knowing it is taking place, is only going to hinder any progress you hope to have. By using Weibo you give yourself more chance to raise your profile and credibility, increase the chance for media exposure and get leads for your business.
Show That You Care – One thing I’ve noticed from my time here in China, as a resident and as a foreigner, is that the Chinese can be very unforgiving, while they can also be extremely warm and open. The difference between the two can ultimately depend on the attitude of the company and their approach to working in China. The Chinese are far more welcoming of those companies that are seen to be making an effort. While mistakes can be forgiven, ignorance is a much greater challenge to overcome. The new media platforms offer an ideal place to build relationships, tell your story and engage with stakeholders. The Chinese are very proud, and if you are making an effort to communicate and engage with them on their terms, it will go a long way to building a better and more sustainable relationship.
Western Sites Are Blocked – PR practitioners need to remember that Twitter and many other social media platforms – Facebook, YouTube and numerous blog sites, etc. – are blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Therefore, if you are serious about effective PR in China, you need to be creating content and engaging across local platforms. If you want Chinese consumers and journalists to know who you are, you need your content to be in a place they can find it.
A Quick Guide to Weibo Success
Engage – Not always easy if you don’t have a native Chinese person handy, but translation software like Google Translate is more than good enough for you to be able to judge sentiment and understand what’s going on. You can then use the same translation software to generate a suitable response, or if a more complex response is needed, have a professional translation company handle it for you. Obviously, if you do have a native Chinese person on staff, your life will be much easier. There are also apps that can translate the Weibo menu items and data labels to allow for simpler navigation.
Nurture Relationships – Relationships (“Guanxi”) are a key component to building success in China. You need to work at nurturing your relationships with both customers and the media, and Weibo is one of the best ways to do that in a manner that is both accepted and appreciated.
Create Content – It’s not just about posting content to Weibo. You need to generate content and post to other sites too. Distributing press releases, photos and videos, for example, will give interested parties something to share and talk about. You don’t have to be the only person posting content about your company to Weibo, but you do want to be part of the conversation. A great example of this is a recent announcement from Michael Jordan that went out in Chinese to relevant online communities and media. Once the announcement went out it was posted to Weibo by a number of interested parties, and the response from users was incredible. The below example is a Weibo post from a Finance news site that had over 500 comments and was forwarded over 1100 times. There are numerous other posts related to this announcement, and many of them have well over 500 comments or forwards. A simple press release essentially resulted in one of the hottest trending topics on Weibo.
Link It Up – Always try to include links in your posts. You should also look to include your Weibo profile link in your other Chinese content. Use more links in your Weibo posts to get more re-tweets and use your Weibo profile link in your other content to get more followers.
Stop a Crisis – Chinese Weibo users are very quick to spread news and information on Weibo. If a bad news report hits the wires or if a consumer has a bad experience with your company, you can guarantee that it’ll be shared on Weibo quicker than you can say, “What crisis?” Join the conversation, be considerate and don’t try to hide the truth. It will come back to haunt you later if you ignore or try to hide the facts.
Play By the Rules – The Weibo sites are policed by local editors, and they will search out sensitive topics on a regular basis. If you don’t accept the restrictions placed on communications in China, you will find your Weibo account is closed almost immediately. Respect the local laws and you can still achieve greatness. Fail to do so and your message will fall flat, and you’ll be excluded from all future conversations.
Think SEO – Baidu, China’s #1 search engine with over 80% of the market, recently announced it will include Weibo posts in its organic search results. As such, if you are posting content on Weibo and getting content out there via other means, your rankings through organic search will be all the more pleasing.
If you are serious about your PR and marketing efforts in China, you really need to be thinking about Weibo and how best to get content on there. The internet is such a dominate tool here in China and Weibo is popular across all devices that can access the internet. From stay-at-home moms on their PCs and iPads to students on the bus using their mobile phones, hundreds of millions of people are using Weibo. You need to think about creating and distributing Chinese content, and Weibo is one of those platforms that should be included in your distribution. Even if you are not responsible for the content being posted, you should also realize you need to be involved in the conversation and understand what’s being said. Remember, “Local Content is King” and you need localized content if you plan to succeed in China.