The Weibo of 2018 is not the Weibo we used to know

Weibo key changes 2018

For anyone marketing to China, Weibo will be a familiar term. This social media giant has risen from the ashes over the last few years even after many marketers predicted the prolific popularity of WeChat would drive it to extinction. Defying the sceptics, Weibo now boasts 376 million monthly active users (Sept. 2017).

As Weibo faces more competition than ever for consumer traffic and attention, it also faces increasing pressure from Xi Jinping and his desire for control over digital space.  This year, Weibo has been quick to learn and adapt, but has it been for the best? And how will this affect foreign brands using the platform?

So, what were the key changes on Weibo in 2017?

Weibo Stories: Weibo’s Top Flop or hidden treasure?

Weibo stories feature has been rolling out slowly since April; initially, only KOLs could use the feature with few features and engagement capabilities. Even after Weibo stories was launched for all accounts and updated with AR, filters and interactive features, the function was slow to take off. Dior launched the first stories ad in September, followed by Adidas. Although there has been some uptake, Weibo Stories are still receiving a lot of support from Sina to help them gain more traction. Is this function a 2017 flop or a 2018 front-runner? Only time will tell…

What this means for brands: If used correctly Weibo Stories are a way to further connect with existing audiences, providing exclusive, time-sensitive content that provokes a sense of urgency and added value.  Brands have a unique opportunity to use new features to experiment with creative campaigns, proving themselves to be at the forefront of social media trends. Chinese Weibo users are continuously moving towards short-video and interactive multi-media content, this could leave brands which rely on still image content at a disadvantage.

Weibo KOL Rules: Tightening the reigns or raking in the revenue?

June saw the overhauling of several key areas of Weibo. One of these was a series of rules launched to regulate KOL promotions. KOL promotions on Weibo much now be registered with Sina Weibo in advance, and Sina will charge KOLs a fee in return for pushing out promotion content. How big the fee is depending on the size of the KOL, recent promotional activity and the time of year. Another core theme which popped up in the rules were levies or traffic penalties being weighed against content which links to non-Sina and non-Alibaba platforms, as well as long or multi-brand content.

What this means for brands: Although the proposed ban on outside links doesn’t seem to have gone through completely, brands operating on other platforms should expect longer waiting times for content approval and may need to allocate more feed ads or media budget margins for Weibo KOL Campaigns going forward. Controls for outside links are especially strict during key shopping times.

You can find the full list here:

New Super Fan Tunnel: What’s so super about it?

The system update to Weibo’s advertising platform promises several advantages including:

  • Optimized resources and traffic.
  • More precise and personalised targeting.
  • More in-depth monitoring and analytics.
  • Objective focused ‘smart’ advertising campaigns targeting different segments.
  • More creative advertising types and more powerful A/B testing capabilities.

The new system upgrade also has taken measures to further protect users and brands by requiring supporting documentation for adverts mentioning brands.

What this means for brands: Aside from coming to terms with a whole new advertising system and functions, brands much also adapt to much stricter control and regulations. This is good news for brands selling their own products who are worried about grey market sales or unlicensed promotions, but for department stores and other retailers looking to promote partner and client brands, extra certification and verification will be required to push out advertising campaigns.

Brands advertising products and services which Weibo considers sensitive (Health & Medical Services, Overseas Investment, etc) will also find it much trickier to promote content on Weibo. The required approval time and restrictions on promoting posts, particularly during key festivals such as 11.11, have also been increased. Something brands need to be aware of when planning campaigns.

The 19th Plan and disruptions for Foreign and Overseas Weibo users

This year the influence of Xi Jinping was felt on Chinese social media more than ever as both Weibo and WeChat froze user profiles throughout October. The earlier call for user registration using Chinese IDs or Chinese mobile numbers as well as further user regulations on Weibo left overseas users with restricted access and limited functionality. For example, throughout October and early November live streaming services were disrupted for users outside of Chinese due to ‘platform updates’.

In December, Weibo was engulfed in further controversy when it came to light that certain local governments and public organisations had published notices ‘banning Christmas’. Continued government restrictions and the effect they have on social media is a key concern not only for the millions of Chinese social media users living and travelling outside of China but also for foreign brands marketing to China from overseas.

Overseas weibo user numbers

In 2017 we saw the often overlooked overseas Chinese consumers gaining some of the spotlight (both negative and positive) on Weibo, which could be the reason behind tightened controls.

What this means for brands:  As quoted by Bear Grylls (and the popular meme he is associated with), 2018 will be a time when brands must be prepared to Adapt, Improvise and Overcome whatever policy or platform changes may occur.  Don’t worry you don’t have to go it alone our experts are here to help!

As Sina, Alibaba and Tencent continue to push outwards in 2018; we expect the contest for overseas Chinese engagement to intensify. Leading Chinese brands are already targeting overseas consumers and we expect foreign brands won’t be far behind! Brands will need to differentiate themselves and develop a firm understanding of their target audience as they wish to get ahead of the competition.

Weibo’s Toutiao style algorithm: A step-up or a turn-off?

Weibo’s content feed has changed from a time-based feed to one based on a ‘content optimisation algorithm’, set to prioritise content with high levels of user engagement. No longer favouring段子手 (creators of humorous, clickbait style entertainment content) or accounts with large follower numbers. The new AI algorithms also automatically follow and unfollow or hide content on users’ behalf by analysing user preferences and behaviours.  However, the changes haven’t proven popular with users thus far:

What this means for brands: KOL engagement rates will be much more important going forward than follower numbers. Quality story-telling and added value content will be essential to win-over Weibo’s algorithm, which is set to prioritise ‘high-quality, specialised’ posts, such as multi-media or expert content.  If your brand has noticed a drop in outreach for your content or KOL campaigns, you may need to update your strategy to align with Weibo’s new focus.

Looking Forward: What’s coming to Weibo in 2018?

Better Content, Paid Content:

The quick success of live streaming and AMA platforms at monetising user content and engagement continued to draw attention through 2017, which may have been the inspiration for Weibo’s ‘V+’ concept. After a brief period of beta testing paid content for certain celebrities and KOLs in 2017, there has been a lot of hype about the rolling out of Weibo’s paid content and V+ (Premium membership) services in 2018.

Increased Integration of KOL Content with E-commerce Channels:

In competition with WeChat and upcoming Social-Commerce channels, Weibo is looking to improve its platforms conversion rates, helping content producers and online sellers to drive traffic and increasing conversion rates for Weibo promotional content.

More Options for Video Advertising:

Senior Weibo Execs highlighted at least three new styles of video advertising to launch in 2018 as part of their end of year conference.

For consumers and brands, significant changes are coming to Weibo this year, which is good news for those hoping to integrate Weibo into their digital marketing and e-commerce strategy. Whether you want to reach Chinese consumers near you or in mainland China, Weibo can work wonders for your brand.

Not on Weibo yet? Want to know how to get the most out of your brand’s Weibo presence?  Talk to a member of our team today call us on 020 3011 0088 or leave us a message here.



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