What China’s Booming Microblogs Mean for Marketers

We have seen an explosion in microblogging’s popularity in China, similar to Twitter in Western markets. Microblogs seem to be an irresistible platform for marketers. And why shouldn’t they? You don’t have to look very hard to see an expanding audience with trends being set, news breaking, and brands creating engagement with consumers. This is supported by emerging developer communities, award-winning case studies, and credible research making it a hot prospect for reaching your audiences in a new way. Although it is yet to gain the scale of more traditional social platforms, this “micro” format is undoubtedly stimulating large groups of people in China.

The situation is the same abroad. Twitter users continue to grow exponentially and reached 145 million in early September, the equivalent of almost one third of the more established Facebook’s user base.

An interesting opportunity that now presents some tangible scale, but how do you engage? How do you execute? What makes it interesting for consumers? And most importantly, how do you refine your approach when there is relatively limited space for traditional creative ideas?

It’s undeniable that pictures and videos are popular among microblogging users and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This doesn’t explain the popularity of microblogging or the content that users share in the space, though. So to begin your planning, you need to ask yourself two simple questions:

  • ‘Why’ do consumers use microblogs?
  • ‘What’are they doing on microblogs?

We can get some clues from the microblogging report recently released by my agency and Sinomonitor:

You can see the top three objectives for using microblogs are all related to one’s ‘self’. “Express self feeling”, “Record self life”, and “Release self feeling” all reflect that the audience is using this as a platform for self-expression.

Therefore, brands need to think about how they empower this self-expression and how they could enable or add value to the process of self-expression, remembering that while this is a new media platform, it is still about the individual. It should be noted that this is unlike social networks where the ‘why’ for a user is more likely to be based on being part of a group or community.

The ‘what’ now seems obvious. Users are sharing these self-expressions through short text, images, and videos. Many viral campaigns have been boosted by microblogging communities and their ability to rapidly share links and short-form content, but to build a sustainable presence in the space you will need engagement between a user and a brand to start at a very personal level (seeding).

This isn’t a new concept and that’s why there’s ‘micro marketing’. For example, Yao Chen, a famous Chinese actress, has 2 million ‘fans’ on her microblog. If you want to reach those 2 million fans, the conversation starts with her and you’ll want to know ‘what’ she’s sharing and ‘what’ interests her audience before you can define a role to play. It’s unlikely to be your advertising or achievements, remember they’re there to tap into her self-expression (see chart, “Released Messages of Microblog Users”) not brand messaging. It is worth pointing out that audiences for her TV shows might be much higher than 2 million but they are not as engaged with her on a personal level as these followers.

While microbloging is new in China (Sina Weibo only started a year ago). Many marketers have been trying different ways to make optimal use of this new channel, with limited success. There are some good examples of personal microblogs, but we still have a long way to go to develop a model that could be considered to deliver better communications or business results.

Isn’t this the most exciting part of digital marketing though? Every day we’re facing the opportunities and challenges of new communications platforms and we are learning, how about you?

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