Weibo marketing is an effective way to reach out to potential customers. But not everyone is successful at achieving this goal.

Is weibo marketing worth investing in?

Rachel Daydou has been doing marketing in China for seven years. Starting out as the brand manager for ABinBev, she went on to become a project manager for a big fashion retail group. She then went on to be a founder of a start-up called Lihaoma.

With skills in reading and writing Mandarin, she has worked alongside the locals in Chinese companies where she is often the only foreigner. While she doesn’t pretend to be an expert in marketing in China, she has the theoretical and professional background on the topic.

Her start-up Lihaoma’s value proposition is to boost brands’ engagement rates through mini-games and branded rewards. Their clients are Chinese small to medium-sized Taobao stores who uses their own mobile app and SaaS website.

Read Rachel’s interview on Shanghai Rendezvous

As a brand, their mission is to help their clients increase visibility through all channels and means possible, including Weibo. Because of this, they went on to experiment on how Weibo marketing will affect their clients’ engagement rates.

Numerous articles that talk about the power of Weibo marketing are available online. So they researched about case studies of successful brands which used Weibo for branding, engagement, and sales. Among these are Best practices in Chinese microblog communications. They also looked into guidelines such as 7 steps to Weibo success.

The team spent their time educating themselves about how to market in Weibo. Because of this, they became willing to invest in the channel. They believed that Weibo was one of the most powerful tools you can use to acquire new users.

As 95% of startups are failing, it feels fair to showcase a real-world failure case for once, as it might be much closer to the reality than all those magic overnight successes.

Ads on Weibo

They started an experiment where they spent twelve weeks investing in Weibo marketing. The posts in the channel included free gifts that users can win. These posts usually included the brand’s images with links directing them to play the mini-games.

Here’s an overview of their results:

weibo impressions
In twelve weeks, the project reached a grand total of 335, 882 impressions.

Being Lean Startup practitioners, Rachel’s team surely didn’t want to see a bunch of vanity metrics.

They wanted to get into the actionable metrics. So here is the same story with actionable metrics this time. Check out this blog post by Tim Ferris and Eric Ries for further reference.

Weibo engagement

Here is the exact % of engagement compared to views.

AVG
Engagement level 1 (Likes)0,21%
Engagement level 2 (Reposts)1,70%
Engagement level 3 (New fans)0,02%
Engagement level 4 (Clicks on link)0,02%
Engagement level 5 (Downloads)0,00%

 

Over time, the low engagement rate decreased further. Thus, the increase in engagement never correlated with the increase in views. In fact, the posts never managed to get any real engagement from Weibo.

Here’s a preview of the experiment’s results on a weekly basis.

# postsExperimentResult (# views)
Week 14/dayPost Weibo more consistently+30%
Week 22/dayComment on hot topic+10% to 50%
Week 3Weekdays: 2/day, Weekends: 4/dayRepost famous brands’ weibo+20%
Week 42/day@gift brand+30% to 100%
Week 51 every 2 daysPay weibo package+300%
Week 64/dayPay for each Weibo to be repost+300% – 1000%
Week 72/dayMention famous brands: Apple, YSL, Chanel+100%
Week 82/dayCreate our own topic0%
Week 92/dayComment on KOLs post and like other posts+30%
Week 102/dayPost winners’ picture+30%
Week 112/dayClearly write which gift can be won0% clicks on link
Week 122/dayClearly write how to win the gift0% clicks on link

 

The team also invested a small amount of cash into Weibo. Here are the costs of their expenses.

Total
Reposts¥577
Weibo package¥149
TOTAL COST¥726

 

They also invested on manpower to formulate and execute the strategy.

WeeklyTotal (12 weeks)
Research, plan & report112
Post3,542
TOTAL HOURS54

 

Some might argue that the team’s understanding of the market or their effort is limited. Others may also say that there wasn’t enough investment or that the experiments were stupid. And they might probably be right.

But the reality is, start-ups might simply not have enough resources to invest on expensive Weibo marketers. If your focus is on lean development, investing in something that’s not yielding clear ROI is hard to justify. Especially if you are a startup with a core product and value proposition that is not social media.

After twelve weeks, Rachel’s team came up with the following conclusions:

Assumption 1: Weibo can support UA => FALSE

Assumption 2: Getting more views and being more active will increase engagement => FALSE

Key Insight 1: Most efficient initiatives cost money

Key Insight 2: Weibo is useful to reassure merchants

Decision 1: Reduce to minimum money and time investment on Weibo

Decision 2: Continue being active to support merchant acquisition

A key insight is that Weibo is slowly but surely closing its ecosystem to other platforms. As a further step towards excluding outside platforms and monetizing further their user basis, Weibo implemented new rules concerning Weibo KOLs, including for example the very clear “All posts with external links will receive a 20% media exposure penalty”.

Failures are a critical part of the learning process. Rachel and her team hope that brands who are considering on investing in Weibo marketing find these data helpful.

If you believe that learning real startup stories, fuck ups and all is a more efficient way to make your own startup successful, get in touch with Rachel on Linkedin.

 

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Herlene Somook is a creative entrepreneur and freelance writer based in Manila, Philippines. A graduate of AB Psychology, she was a Kumon Reading teacher for five years before jumping ship to the Business Process Outsourcing Industry, where she gained experience in Inbound Sales, Technical Support, Outbound Services, Lead Generation and Marketing. Today, she spends her time as the Head Writer and Content Strategist for NextStep Hub. She loves reading bedtime stories to her toddler son.