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Weibo; the what, why and when for luxury brands

In February 2012, Mr. Huang a sales manager at Bentley Xiamen sold a 5.6 million RMB Bentley Mulsanne via social media site Sina Weibo.


The story began at the end of 2011 after a large-scale marketing activity carried out by Bentley, when a customer contacted Mr. Huang on Weibo for information about the Mulsanne. Because Mr. Huang had implemented marketing activities on Weibo, he always kept an eye on the comments he received. Having noticed the comment, he contacted the consumer immediately and invited him to the store. After a further period of communication, he finally closed the sale. Although there are only 15 thousand Bentley followers on Weibo, which is not a big number when compared to other luxury brands, Bentley is good at interacting with its fans by posting topics and online activities and rewarding them with small gifts to build a successful Weibo relationship.

Like other luxury brands, IWC has turned to Weibo as a key digital marketing tool in China to publicize its impending grand opening the watchmaker conducting several successful Weibo campaigns. For its Parkview Green event in Nov 2012, IWC put up a dedicated tabbed page with a photo of the new store and a countdown timer, which upon the grand opening would broadcast live video of the event. In advance of the store opening, IWC also encouraged fans to use the hashtag “Elite Moments” on posts about the brand, and had created an interactive competition that would launch the opening of the new flagship store. Using Weibo, IWC increased the footfall in its new store at the launch time.

In October 2010, Louis Vuitton became the first global luxury fashion brand to launch a Weibo presence. By the first quarter of 2011, many other fashion brands had set up on Weibo, with Chanel, Gucci and Burberry all launching accounts within the first few weeks of the year. Gucci believes that there is tremendous potential in Weibo. Robert Triefus, worldwide director of marketing and communications at Gucci, noted that “55 percent of Chinese consumers like to read the history of their preferred luxury brand online, especially European brands,” adding that “50 percent of Chinese consumers like to share images and information on luxury brands.”

What is weibo

Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of social networking platform Twitter. Launched in August 2009, it is a sub-brand of SINA Corporation, and was the most popular Weibo platform in China at the end of 2012. Currently it has 502 million registered users, including 260 thousand registered company accounts, and represents 48.7 percent of all internet users in China, according to SINA’s CEO Charles Cao. It is worth noting that Chinese HNWIs also like to share their opinions and experience via Weibo, more than 70% of whom have their own Weibo account, 40% actually using it every day.

Weibo has become indispensable for most Chinese as a way to gather lifestyle information, not only for entertainment and relaxation to kill time, but also to get formal and credible official information. Compared to the use of Twitter in the West, most people in China are very willing to share their experiences’ and opinion’s on Weibo such as what they bought or ate today and where they have been. Chinese consumer behavior is more easily influenced by family and friends via word of mouth, and Weibo is seen as an extension of this. Official data from Sina shows that of 4,963 Weibo users they interviewed, 58% said they will make a purchase influenced by Weibo comments of their friends, and with over 500 million Weibo users in China you could imagine the opportunity this represents.

In China, Weibo offers greater functions than Twitter, among which are “Micro topics” and “Verified account”. Sina Weibo tracks and collects posts during a specified period, and creates a homepage for a topic if it becomes hot, the most popular one will be on the top of the sites home page for each day. As an example, Cartier launched a micro topic called “Cartier Destinée micro films” that ran from January 4th to the 17th 2013, which was commented on and forwarded many thousands of times.

Verified accounts are those that belong to businesses and individuals who can provide real identity information (such as work title and company or real name) for their Weibo accounts that also must be verified by Sina Weibo background checks. Usually they are celebrities, professionals, public figures and registered organizations. Those who gain verification by Sina Weibo will either have a blue (company) and orange (individual) bold “V” attached to their Weibo names. Users with “V approval” are regarded as more trustworthy and authentic information sources by other users. Therefore, their particular comments and opinions on Weibo are influential to those who follow them.


Luxury brands on Weibo

Brand building through Weibo is an indispensable activity for a company’s marketing communication strategy. The purpose of any brand to establish a Weibo site involves improving brand awareness, maintaining consumer loyalty, and creating brand associations. Although more luxury brands are turning to Weibo platforms for marketing, some are still hesitating. Among the 153 luxury brands we currently monitor, 35. 9% do not have an official Weibo presence. In particular fashion and watch brands who should use it to maintain brand positioning; some are operated by distribution partners in China who focus on short term revenues and not promotion.

According to data from Sina Weibo’s official data partner “Tfengyun”, the following is analysis of 98 brands that have a Weibo presence, using 6 indices to evaluate the performance of their official Weibo site.


Active Fans is a measure of brand awareness: this ranks brands on how active their followers are on Weibo, which in turn indicates that these people are read more frequently.

Average Posts per day: The average posts per day is a measure of how actively brands use Weibo. Research indicates that the optimal frequency is 3 to 5 posts per day, but that higher than this may not result in greater attention.

The People Rank (PR) value is an evaluation based on follower quality, the originality of the content, the frequency of followers comments and forwards, combined with the actual number of followers. 1 (PR) is the benchmark PR value, the higher the PR value, the more popular and influential the Weibo account is. Normally those with a PR value higher than one have a more effective Weibo site.

Average comments (latest 200 posts): The more average comments in the latest 200 posts means the more interest and loyal the fans are to the brand.

Average forward (latest 200 posts): The average number of posts that brand followers forwarded out of the latest 200 posts indicates how the brand comment has been accepted and resonated with their followers. Chinese consumer behavior can easily be affected by family and friends via word of mouth, a forwarded Weibo can effectively promote the brand and cause a small-scale discussion among followers.

V fans
Brand followers with “V approval” that consist of movie stars, celebrities, industry experts and professionals such as the senior executives of companies and journalists play an influential role among their followers. Their comments and opinions on Weibo are regarded as trustworthy and authentic sources, which are in return influential to the brand, especially for those new comers without much current recognition and trust among consumers.

Luxury brands performing best using Weibo in each sector



Starting your Weibo marketing

Make a plan for Weibo management

Much like a media plan, there must be a specific plan for preparing Weibo content and updating it every day. How many Weibo you would like to post each day, week, month and a year, which is related to how much time you plan to spend on the activity. Data shows that three to eight Weibo per day is an appropriate number to post without antagonising followers. Do not post two Weibo within one hour. Between four and six and eight to ten pm in a work day, and one to two and five to eight pm at weekends are the most frequent time for users to forward and comment on Weibo.

Weibo structure and contents

In general through our own analysis and comparsion of Weibo sites that performed best in fashion, jewellery, watches and the car sector, a successful brand Weibo normally consist of the following components:

  • Your brand history and culture;
  • Product introduction to include function, craftmanship and concept combined with pictures and videos;
  • Brand marketing and PR events involving celebrities are necessary; store opening, red carpet events, and other brand activities combined with pictures and videos;
  • Follower interaction; topics or special activities that build closer bonds with followers such as invitation to branded events or lucky draws;
  • Forwarded Weibo from consumers or the V approved accounts that have credibility and influence for followers.

The emphasis of the Weibo contents varies by brand. If you are planning to enter China, you should focus on your brand history, story and product introduction to build brand awareness. While if you have a long presence in China the more important thing for you might be customer relationship management and brand marketing status reinforcement via marketing activities, publications and customer events.

Attracting more followers to your Weibo and generating effective brand broadcast and awareness

V approved accounts serve a very crucial role in this area given their authentic and trustworthy status among a large number of followers on Weibo, which in turn will help you gain more followers if they follow you or forwarded your Weibo to others. For those brands without a presence in China, they will need to find a local partner to help gain the V approval and operate the Weibo site for them.

We suggest that you find the V approved accounts within the luxury or fashion industry first such as professionals and experts in media and follow them. The next step is that to find the V approved followers in your competitive brand Weibo accounts, who might be more targeted and potential consumers. As long as you can attract enough V approved followers, you can then build very close relationships with them, who will in turn bring you many targeted followers. These people will help forward your Weibo and broadcast your brand name and products among their followers and friends, and even get press coverage from the media for you.

How to generate revenue from your Weibo and followers?

As a brand without a presence in China, once you have accumulated 300 to 400 followers, the next thing to do is to build trust with them via online and offline activities to reinforce your brand awareness and identify potential customers. Exhibitions, product testing and other offline consumer events, will help brands lay solid foundation before their actual market entrance. In addition, by sharing their experience and opinion on Weibo with friends, more followers and potential customers you will receive in return.


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