Weibo, the game changer of influence

In 2020, the Chinese social network Weibo surpassed Twitter, reaching 516 million users. Today with 550 million users, which is 230 million more than its American equivalent, the network ranks 12th in the world’s most used social networks.

At its launch in 2009, posts were limited to 140 characters and did not include any images or links, until competition from WeChat pushed the company to take a new direction. Now, messages of up to 2,000 characters can be posted and all types of content can be shared, making Weibo an alternative to Facebook or Instagram. It quickly integrated with the 249 million daily members, mainly young people who post 64,000 new publications per minute while accumulating more than 2 billion daily views on all videos. One out of four users devotes more than an hour to it every day.

• Weibo as an alternative news media

Initially designed as a simple means of entertainment, the application has become the preferred news media for 72% of Weibo users. Chinese citizens have long lost confidence in traditional media, allowing Weibo to gain influence and become China’s most powerful means of sharing information.

In a survey conducted by China Internet Watch, respondents cited Weibo’s ability to quickly relay important topics and its diversity as reasons why they appreciate it as a media outlet. They also praised the clarity of the information and the input from experts.

Thus, accounts specifically dedicated to news and a top ten list of current events have begun to gain importance on Weibo. The social network, which has long allowed partial escape from “censorship,” has earned unwavering trust from its users.

This was evident at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic when Weibo became a means for some Chinese to become citizen journalists. Whistleblowers, who have since disappeared and are mourned, distinguished themselves through mini-video reports broadcast on the platform. For weeks, they documented the terrible situation of hospitals and patients.

Whistleblowers did not arise from the last pandemic. In 2011, the platform enabled the closure of polluting factories through a wave of unprecedented demonstrations. The social network, its most active members, and their communities are deeply bound by such events, giving Weibo true credibility. As a result, 70% of users believe that the information found on the site is reliable.

• A network that leaves room for influencers

China has established itself as the world leader in social networks, making Weibo an essential tool for any business wishing to export to the massive Chinese e-commerce market. (Valued at $1.18 trillion in 2017)

The great strength of this network remains its influencers, who are characterized by their diversity. While stars like Fan Bing Bing, actress and ambassador for Louis Vuitton, L’Oréal, and Häagen Dazs still express themselves on the platform, a new kind of personality has emerged: Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), not to be confused with influencers. They are specialists who have a strong impact on public opinion and therefore behavior.

Often specialized in a field (such as political science, sociology, cooking, or cinema), KOLs are the people the media turn to for analysis or a quote on a trending topic. Therefore, they do not always express themselves on social networks, sometimes not having time to devote to the internet.

Those who decide to take the plunge are, on the other hand, closely followed since their community existed even before they created an account. In the United States, for example, the novelist Stephen King became known through his books and their film adaptations. He remains specialized in writing horror novels but now has 5.8 million followers on Twitter, regularly expresses himself, and engages his community. The status of KOL has allowed him to naturally establish himself as an influencer.

On Weibo, the impact of KOLs is multiplied. Citizens trust them to an extraordinary degree and their opinions are highly valued. Some maintain professional accounts such as Wemedias, for example (collectives of former journalists gathered behind an account to relay news).

Others prefer to offer more educational content, sometimes lighter. There are thus all those who have chosen to share their passions. They thus explain to their community how to progress in their areas of expertise: photography, sports, video editing… starting from their own experiences.

These influencers are the best way to promote a product or brand on Asian social networks. Indeed, just after the circle of close friends (including family and colleagues), more than 60% of users declare that they mainly follow celebrity accounts.

• Unmatched opportunities for brands

With the integration of TaoBao and Tmall within the application, consumers can directly access the sales spaces of the products that influencers highlight. Based on this system, the American brand Artistry collaborated with Miss Shopping Li. The blogger tested the brand’s new lipstick in a video, promoting it. The link added in the description led more than 100,000 people to the sales platform. These promotion campaigns shine for their efficiency, but they are far from the only interactive experiences allowed by the platform.

The creation of limited products in cooperation with KOLs is an important asset for reaching a new audience. The collaboration between Mr Bag and Montblanc allowed the brand to sell 500 models of luxury handbags in less than 60 minutes. Each bag costing just under 1500 euros, the sale generated a profit of around 460,000 euros.

Another advantage of Weibo is targeted advertising, the precision of which remains unmatched by other networks. It is possible to address only Taobao account holders, those who have responded to recent promotional campaigns, or even subscribers to competing brands.

To improve each campaign, the application offers a detailed summary of all interactions and reactions generated. This information is enriched by feedback from other platforms, such as Alibaba, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the world.

The social network also offers a lottery system, which is popular with users. The more users react to promotional content, the more chances they have of winning the featured products.

Over the years, Weibo has become one of the gateways to the Chinese e-commerce market. Its many features have been developed to allow brands to gain influence through original projects and thus reach a new target audience.

After our analysis of TikTok & WeChat, Weibo emerges as the winning network as the network of trust. Furthermore, as it has evolved, the platform has moved from a simple Twitter Bis to a network of sincerity where you can find influencers, KOLs, brands, and all kinds of communities.

Weibo has therefore become an unavoidable network for all brands wishing to enter the Asian market.

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"Weibo, the game changer of influence"