7 Steps to Start Weibo-ing for Marketers

Sina Weibo announced its English version is on it way, probably by the end of this year. While less than 10 percent of its users are outside of Mainland China and 99.9 percent among them are perhaps Chinese or at least using Chinese as their primary language, Sina Weibo still managed to attract 140 million users (Q1 2011). The Weibo market is enormous, therefore numerous marketers are flooding to it.

Even before the launch of the English version, some non-Chinese speaking celebrities have already jumped on the boat. Tom Cruise, Bill Gates, Rio Ferdinand, Hidetoshi Nakata, and Tracy McGrady are already Weibo-ing in Chinese and English, as told by an insider from Sina, and many more are coming soon.

If you read and write Chinese, perfect. If you don’t, with a little help from your Chinese friends, you can open a Weibo account before your peers who are still waiting for the English version to arrive.

So dear marketers, are you ready to start Weibo-ing? Let me share seven steps for you to jump start:

1. Manage your personal profile: First, you need to give yourself a profile name. You are better off using a Chinese nickname or real name in Chinese (a phonetic translation also works) or a mix of both. Combining your profile name with your company’s name is a bad idea (don’t laugh, I see people doing it all the time), unless you want to stick with the same company forever or you are the owner (but who knows, one day you may start another new company). Ten characters is the official maximum but try to keep it short and easy to remember.

Second, get a decent profile picture. Upload your portrait or get an image that matches your personality, just choose what you are comfortable with as long as you don’t leave this space empty. Then write a brief introduction about yourself; be professional, sincere, and unselfconscious.

2. Tag your personal profile: You can tag up to 10 keywords on both Sina and Tencent Weibo. Tagging is the first step to be discovered and connect with those who share similar interests with you. If you want your Weibo account semi-personal, I suggest you keep at least two to three tags based on your personal interests. The rest can be related to relevant topics about your industry. You can reference from popular tags among the top relevant Weibo-ers or your peers.

Start by following your peers and announcing to them about your Weibo account. Follow back once you have a new follower even if she is a stranger. There is no magic number but in general people follow back all their first 100 followers as courtesy.

3. Weibo-ing as if it is blogging: The literal translation of Weibo is microblog and most Weibo users in China actually use it as a blog platform rather than a random messaging board.

Just like setting up a blog, you need to think of subjects you are passionate about, even if they are work-related. Sharing and organising your thoughts can be the key motivation to keep you writing. But try not to make the content too personal, think what value you can add to your readers. Persistence is most important; write at least two to three posts per day on average. It is not a 24/7 job, so it’s OK to take a break from Weibo-ing during weekend.

4. Schedule your posts: On a regular day, there should be time zones when your posts would have a higher chance to be read. So try not to post randomly like midday and waste your effort. Instead, schedule your posts to maximise exposure. Identify up to two or three time slots when you have more responses in general or follow the rule of thumb already shared by successful Weibo-ers.

For posts that have more news value and especially breaking ones, post them in the morning when people are on their way to work (in most cities in China, usually around 7:30 a.m.).

But don’t get me wrong and stop yourself from writing impulsive posts. For casual updates about your work or small thoughts on life, take a picture and write it down first. Save and share them later during after-office hours. Let’s say around 6 p.m. when people are viewing Weibo for leisure.

5. Complement your post with a picture: A picture isn’t just worth a thousand words; it also helps you capture more eyeballs. Selecting a picture for a post can be an art. Check out the official account of (@neweekly) New Weekly, one of the most popular weekly magazines in China and perhaps most popular Weibo account for a publisher. You can learn various ways on how an inspiring post can be written and complemented with a stock picture or occasionally a snap shot. And you don’t need to be a connoisseur photographer, your smartphone can get the job done well.

After you have written a new post, don’t hit and run. Wait a little while and see if there’s any response. Try to reply immediately if possible. By doing so, you give an impression to followers they are not your out tray for just pushing messages. Again, if you think you have written a quality response, repost on your wall as a new post.

7. Think twice before incorporating a link: Unlike Twitter, most popular Weibo platforms will shorten the link for you. It’s not only a nice feature but also a way to screen out unwanted sites from the portal. As mentioned in No. 3, unlike Twitter users whom always complete a post with an external URL, most Weibo users compose their post as if it is a blog in 140 words. They don’t rely much on an external URL as most Twitter users do.

What kind of URL will very likely be blocked on Weibo? I don’t know how to crack “The Da Vinci Code”. But by educated guess, most news portals from Western countries or even Hong Kong, in addition to blockbuster social network sites such as YouTube are not welcome. I believe this untold policy will also apply to the coming English version.

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