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Stephen Hawking published his first post on his verified Weibo account on the morning of 12 April 2016 recalling his deep friendship with China and hoping to share more about his life and work.
Right after publishing the first post, Mr. Hawking’s fans on Weibo is growing exponentially and exceeded 780 thousand in 3 hours. That particular one Weibo post attracted 140,00 re-posts, 130,000 comments, and over a quarter million likes. Mr. Hawkings got ONE MILLION fans on Weibo in less than 5 hours!
At the time of writing this post, Mr. Hawking’s first Weibo post received 370,404 retweets, 398,312 comments and close to ONE MILLION likes! His Weibo account has over 3 million fans, following no one at the moment.
Weibo had over 271 million monthly active users in March 2016 according to Quest Mobile, comparing with 707 million WeChat users.
This fast growth of online fans is not much a special case; and, many foreign marketers are aware of. However, many are blindsided by the popularity of WeChat (Weixin) in China. Most marketing directors and c-level executives from large corporations I talked to during the past year somehow have a perception that Weibo is dead; and, they lost interest utilizing this platform promoting their brand and products but WeChat.
The key is to understand the unique essential feature of the social networks.
WeChat is no doubt a more engaging platform compared to Weibo, considering the fact that most users’ friends on WeChat are their real life friends, colleagues and business associates. But, it is much of a closed social network; the main social networking feature is WeChat Moments. One could not even see all comments left on his/her friends Moments postings but only those comments left by common friends.
For companies to build a fan base on WeChat, WeChat Official Account is the right “weapon”. Major objectives of companies’ official accounts are customer marketing, products launch and O2O transformation. You can read more here and here.
Weibo, in comparison, is much more of a open and public social network despite its lower level of engagement. It delivers reach. In general, it takes less efforts and much less time to reach the same number of user base on Weibo than WeChat. You can find out more about Weibo users here.
It’s quite common nowadays when a company’s PR tells the reporters that please follow our official Weibo for updates. And, Weibo, not WeChat/Weixin, is the place China internet users look for updates of a piece of breaking news.
Understand what you are doing and where you are going first.
I had a quick consulting session in Shanghai this March at a Fortune 500 American company in B2B area on WeChat marketing. The person in charge wanted to develop a WeChat official account, just like many other companies.
What was missing is the lack of social media strategy; and, personas development is a critical part of that, without which all efforts to put into WeChat official account development, content creation, and fan engagement would lead to nowhere near that company’s bottom line.
On social media, it’s important to understand the essential unique features of each platform, based on which you should develop a strategy that you can tie to your business long-term success.
What if you don’t have a strategy?
Let’s face it: enterprises, even MNCs, may not have a social media strategy in place unless the c-level execuives are experienced and dedicated; they just don’t “have” the resources allocated to this. For SMEs, the lack of experience, resources, and knowledge often get them overlook the importance or development of any digital strategies. So, what can they do best without a social media strategy for China?
First of all, I’d still strongly suggest you develop a social media strategy before you jump to any Wechat, Weibo, or other channels. Having said that, what I’m sharing below provides a quick and simple framework that you can follow to get started.
Weibo and WeChat. Have the same team develop content for both channels; you can deligate publishing to different team members. This way, you can save some cost for content development. However, do develop unique pieces of content for each channel; and, let audience on the channel know you do have something special on the other channel.
In addition to content, when you develop a campaign for product launches, branding, fan engagement, etc., include both channels into the planning process.
If you just set up an enterprise Weibo account or WeChat official account, make sure you develop a launch campaign first to get a minimum of 1,000 fans below you dedicate resources for content creation.
Weibo, in particular, works better in the following scenarios:
- Press release
- Public relations
- Breaking news
- Co-marketing with other companies and brands
- Brand awareness campaign
- Festival and holiday campaigns
Unlike it in the west, the tone of voice on most China social media channels, even some top brands, are similar. You don’t necessarily follow that. Keep your unique “tone” is one way you stay “yourself”.
WeChat, in comparison, works best for on-going engagement through content. The content requires higher quality standard to be shared on WeChat Moments or chats by individual users than those on Weibo.
Design the Official Accounts menu to provide something valuable. Simply linking some menu items to your official website is just boring and useless. Some ideas you can consider designing the menu:
- Contact information. Or link to CRM if you can afford one.
- Implement auto-replies on FAQ to be triggered by keywords
- E-book download link
- Top read articles from the past
Also keep in mind that companies could utilize not only their own Official Accounts but also ads and third party WeChat official accounts for content distribution and engagement.
Other channels. The following channels are quite commonly deployed in China to distribute content targeting different phases of customer decision journey:
- Top news websites. Content on news website are more credible. You can develop the relevant content and distribute on general news websites or certain vertical news websites. For example, to raise brand awareness, you could develop a piece of news on that product category of the brand and have it optimized for users and search engines.
- Baidu Baike. Whether or not Baidu is good or evil, it’s still a top search engine in China. Baidu Baike, a Wikipedia-style website set up by Baidu, often ranked on top of the search results pages. It’s relatively a credible source for information among many China internet users.
- Baidu Zhidao. This Q&A website, like Yahoo Answers, is a good channel for seeding content and be found when users look for information in different purchase phases. Some popular patterns of questions:
- What is top 10 brand in [your product category]
- Anyone heard of [your brand name]
- Who can share experience using [your brand name]
- [your brand] v.s. [your competitor’s brand]
There are other valuable social media channels for marketers in China depending on your industry and budget. The ones listed above are just to get you started. Again, get yourself a digital strategy. A good one cost at least US$5,000 or so; but, it’s worth it.
This article was originally published on China Internet Watch and amended with new content.