Last Updated on June 7, 2023
Sina Weibo, China’s second-largest social media platform (after WeChat), is essential territory for companies that wish to run effective advertising campaigns in China. Although Twitter-style micro-blogging is at its heart, the platform involves so much more than the oft-touted, erroneous analogy, ‘China’s Twitter’. In fact, Weibo has a wide range of features, from fully-integrated e-commerce to news feed ads, from gaming to video feeds. Like Facebook, the vast majority of its income is generated through advertising. Here are some quick facts about Weibo:
- Established in 2009
- Now has more than 500 million monthly active users
- 220+ million average daily active users
- Viewed on mobile 94% of the time
- Annual turnover of $1.77bn in 2019, compared to $118m in 2014
- Hugely popular with, and populated by, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders)
Monthly Active Users on Weibo, in Millions
What are the Weibo ad types?
There are five main types of ads on Sina Weibo. None is necessarily better than any other; they can be thought of as comprising a toolkit. Which ones you choose to use, at any given time, depends on what task you have at hand, and what your campaign needs and goals are. Once the campaign goals are set, take time to consider the following: fan tunnels, fan headlines, display ads, feed ads, destination page ads and search-based ads.
Fan Tunnel (Fěnsī tōng –粉丝通)
A fan tunnel is one of the most-used ad options on Sina Weibo, owing to its relatively low cost and decent targeting features. The process works fairly simply: brands may either promote a single post, or their account, to users selected based on gender, age, location, device and interests. The post appears at the top of users’ feeds, and can be promoted for up to seven days, although each post will only be shown to each user once.
Crucially, the post or account is promoted to non-followers. This makes it a great tool for new accounts, or those looking to increase their number of followers.
Tunnels are priced according to CPM (cost per mile) – starting at 5RMB per 1,000 views – or CPE (cost per engagement) – which starts at 0.5RMB per engagement and increases at increments of 0.1RMB. The ultimate price depends on bidding, which will be covered in more detail in Part 2 of this guide.
Fan Headlines (Fěnsī tóutiáo – 粉丝头条)
Fan headlines work in a similar way to fan tunnels, except that they are directed towards existing followers, and their personal connections. Once again, they sit at the top of a user’s news feed, and may be promoted for 24 hours. Fan headlines are reported to have a significantly higher re-sharing potential, and because they are directed towards existing fans, are more in line with a goal of increasing engagement, rather than increasing followers.
Brands can choose to either promote one of their posts, or their account, or they may promote another user’s post. This is helpful if an influential user, or KOL, has shared something that would lead others to be interested.
Weibo Display ads are more traditional banner or single-image type ads, that can appear in the search area, Weibo homepage, or alongside feeds. They come in a variety of dimensions, and link directly to an account when clicked. They may also be accompanied by a product link, which can lead to a brand’s Weibo Store (note: links to Tmall and Taobao are no longer supported).
Display ad banner redirecting to the e-commerce platform Taobao
These ads, which can also take the form of a post, or single-image, plus product link, appear in existing followers’ feeds. They are different to fan headlines, as they are sandwiched between regular feed posts.
In-feed ad redirecting to a WeChat mini-program
Feed ads can be very effective, because while a certain proportion of Weibo users will see headline and display ads, many Weibo users will reflexively scroll past them, knowing that it’s going to be advertising. With a feed ad, the chances of being seen by these users is higher. It’s therefore advisable to mix and match, including feed ads alongside other forms.
Destination Page Ads
At certain intervals, including upon opening the app, mobile users of Weibo will be displayed a full-page ad. They can be static images, or short videos, and when clicked can link directly to a product or account. Weibo users have the option to skip these ads, but they normally only last for five-ten seconds, during which time it is sometimes easier just to wait it out. This option provides more freedom to push creative content, given the size and format of the ad.
Destination ad redirecting to the e-commerce platform Taobao
Bear in mind that these are much more visually-centered ads. The amount of text included is minimal, as opposed to a standard post-type, which might include several sentences. These ads are best thought of as moving posters.
Weibo has an in-built search function that allows for searching among accounts, posts, pages, stores and more. They offer a keyword-based results ads, meaning that a brand’s account, or one of their posts, can ranked higher in search results based on particular search terms; much like Google Adwords or Baidu PPC. The price of these ads varies widely, depending on how common the keywords are, are therefore how many companies are likely to bid for them.
Search based ad redirecting to a live-streaming
We are going to explore how to target an audience on Weibo, how to maximize effective reach, the bidding process, and the account registration process.
How to Target Your Audience on Sina Weibo?
For any ad campaign to succeed, it’s vital not only to be seen, but to be seen by the right people. Once the target audience is defined, Weibo is on hand with a huge variety of customization options when it comes to delivering your ads.
You may choose Weibo users based on their gender, age or location, as well as their interests, and device. More than that, it’s possible to target users based on their relationships with other followers, and the followers of particularly popular accounts. This latter function allows brands to piggy-back on the popularity of individuals who occupy the same niche.
The final thing to think about is timing. Weibo’s backend can give you a good idea of when certain Weibo users are most active. This is a careful choice to make, because while rush-hour times certainly represent a swell in user activity, they also represent a swell in the activity of other ad campaigns. The best thing to do here might be some careful a/b testing, to see whether peak usage times are in fact the best for your brand, or your campaign.
As aforementioned, the Weibo advertising user base is gigantic. The monthly active Weibo users represent a number almost the size of the entire population of Europe. However, it’s important to bear in mind the characteristics of those users, and how they relate to your target campaign reach.
Consider, for example, that the vast majority of Weibo users are under 40 (78%), with the bulk being those who came of age as Weibo rose to saliency, aged between 30 and 39 (48%). Campaigns looking to target those above 50 years old, who make up only 4% of the user base, have far less targeted reach capability.
The best way to think about reach is not in terms of the absolute number of users who share one attribute, but rather the number of users who share the multiple attributes that a campaign is targeting. Each attribute introduced, when creating a target user profile, narrows the pool of potential users. If one attribute narrows the pool as much as 96%, as in the case of ‘older than 50’, this can become an issue. On the flip side, if each attribute narrows the pool by half, then high reach of a decent, targeted quality can be achieved.
What are the Bidding methods on Sina Weibo?
There are slightly different bidding mechanics for the different forms of Weibo advertising. Search-based ads follow a standard keyword popularity and competition mechanism. Fan funnels and fan headlines, meanwhile, also take into account the quality of the promotional content, as defined by Weibo’s standards. High-quality content can allow brands to win auctions at lower prices than normal. Bids are set with an upper limit, and are then made by way of an automatic system. It’s important to set a daily budget, which once used will allow Weibo to automatically stop all advertising activity related to your account for the day.
Weibo helpfully provides a ‘bid suggestion’ in the settings page on the backend.
How to Open an Account on Sina Weibo?
There are two types of accounts on Weibo – official accounts and individual accounts. For businesses, it’s essential to go through the official registration process, lest your account be deleted and all posts removed.
Businesses registered in China
If your business is registered in China, then follow these steps. If not, skip to the next section.
First, prepare your documentation. You will need your business license, as well as all of the information on it in a format that you can enter manually into the sign-up tool. Then, you will need scanned copies of the business license and any additional certificates. You will have to write a short introduction to the company, in Chinese, and provide contact information.
Once all that’s prepared, go to www.weibo.com/signup/signup.php. Here, select ‘Official registration’, and complete the steps to submit your documents for verification. Once submitted, the application will take roughly five working days to be processed. The official account costs 300RMB per year to keep open.
Businesses registered outside of China
Businesses registered outside of China have a few more hoops to jump through, and the fee is higher, usually set depending on where the business is registered, as a one-off payment of between US$800 and US$1,200.
Documents to prepare include business registration documents and business license, application letter and authorization letter with the company’s seal, or the signature of its legal representative; a purchase order form; a business card of a representative; an official website URL; an introduction to the business’s products and/or services; contact information; finally, a bio for the account.
After submitting, verification takes roughly six weeks, as long as all the documentation submitted was correct and in order. It’s advisable to contact Weibo directly during the submission stage to double-check whether requirements have been met, or use a third-party service to help with registration.
For an additional fee, US$17/month at time of writing, it’s possible to upgrade to a VIP account. This allows you to pin a post at the top of your account page, to change the cover image, edit posts after publication and a few other features.
Once signed up, and verified, all advertising features will be available through the Weibo back-end. Simply login, go to the Weivo account settings, and find the advertising section. Alternatively, go to tui.weibo.com, or for those who seek a higher degree of design and functionality customization, login at developers.biz.weibo.com. For those who can read Chinese, it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the reports Weibo publishes about its advertising. They can be found by clicking here.
How to choose the right Weibo Marketing Agency in China?
Last but not least, planning the right Weibo advertising strategy and adopting the right approach is crucial before the implementation phase.
With its 13 years of experience in China Marketing, Sekkei Digital Group can help you raise the right questions, scope your needs, define your KPIs and adopt the right Weibo advertising approach in order to achieve the desired results. Let us know more about your project.