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Sina Weibo Upgrades Enterprise Edition: how can brands leverage this change to enhance digital strategy?

Sina Weibo Upgrades Enterprise Edition: how can brands leverage this change to enhance digital strategy?

06.06.2012

As Sina Weibo breaks the 300 million users bar, its social impact is undeniable. However as China’s leading micro-blogging service grows, it is attracting increasing attention from brands that see the platform as a new way to engage with their consumers. Earlier this month, Sina released the second version of Sina Weibo Enterprise Edition (新浪新版本企业微博). What does this new version have in store for brands? What new possibilities does it unlock and how does it impact brands’ Chinese digital strategy?

Ever since it started gathering steam, Sina Weibo has been a darling of brands domestic and international alike. The platform offered them a quality, diversified target audience and sophisticated engagement tools for free. In contrast, competing web social platforms such as RenRen and Kaixin were both more focused on certain user groups and had policies towards brand that were opaque and discouraging. Today, Sina Weibo boasts over 130 thousands corporate accounts and a full 56% of its users follow at least one brand account.

When compared to other social platforms, be them western or local, Sina has always been very unique from a branding point of view. The service is based on frequent dialogue and interactions with followers but still offers considerable possibilities in terms of customization of brand pages and promotion of branded content of all types. One can say that it offers the content sophistication of a real social network such as Facebook or Renren with the engagement and interaction levels of a pure micro-blogging service such as Twitter.

However it can be argued that brands’ love affair with Sina Weibo’s was partly an accidental event. A common complaint amongst Sina investors indeed has to do with the company’s systematic failure to extract more revenues from ads and brand value added services because of its incapacity to translate its appeal into a coherent and sophisticated enterprise solution that could allow for greater monetization. However with its new enterprise version, Sina has considerably stepped up its game and will no doubt make its service even more central to any strong China brand strategy.

We were fortunate enough to be offered by Mindy Sun, Eastern China Account Director at Sina, a sneak peek into the design of new brand pages during the China Connect conference in Paris in March. Based on these information, it was evident that Sina was aiming at giving brands greater possibilities for customization of pages not only in terms of design but also of core content and functionalities. This impression was confirmed after the official release; Sina Weibo Enterprise Edition 2.0 gives brand considerably more latitude in creating highly sophisticated and customized pages. Most notable changes include:

 

Personalized header section. The header section is the most important element of any branded page on a social media platform: it is the very first point of interaction between the brand and the page viewer and plays a crucial role in the all-important first seconds of contact. Amongst other functionalities, new pages allow brands to created more sophisticated, easily updateable slideshows in the header section and, most importantly, allow these slideshows to link to outside websites. The result is a decrease in bounce rate and a considerable increase in time spent on site and traffic towards brand website

The new header as seen on Audi’s Weibo with links to outside websites and better loading time

 

Higher integration of applications and 3rd party modules: probably the most important evolution brought by Sina Enterprise Edition 2.0. New brand pages allow brands to personalize not only design but core functionalities and content through the integration of content modules (video, slideshows, music) and applications. Such applications can either be run by Sina and accessible to all brands (such as the “hot sale”, 微热卖 social shopping module) or developed by brands themselves. To support this development, Sina will soon release a new support platform for 3rd party developers and rethink its revenue-sharing model for paid applications.

The “hot sale” app as seen on 360Buy’s Weibo page

 

In-house analytics upgrade: While important, the changes outlined above are only the emerged tip of the iceberg. Behind the visible changes, Sina has also addressed one the main issues of the previous enterprise version: analytics. A key concern of marketers was indeed that behind the impressive (and most likely inflated by so called “Zombie users”) numbers, accurately measuring the true impact of Weibo marketing operations was still a challenge. This concern gave rise to a host of 3rd party analytics companies that aimed at offering clients a finer view of their Weibo presence. However Sina Weibo Enterprise 2.0 may spell these companies’ doom as brands can now have direct access to in depth analytics directly through the solution. Amongst the most important indicators are these that allow brands to better assess the quality of interactions (such as the content exposure rate) and measure the traffic towards outside websites generated by links posted on their page. All in all, the host of indexes integrated into Sina Weibo’s new enterprise version allow brand to have a much more accurate and broader view of the true impact of their Weibo presence.

 Section of Sina Weibo’s new analytics dashboard

 

So how does this new version of Sina Enterprise affect digital brand strategies?

 

More flexibility in design and content means that brands should tap the full potential of the new Weibo by pushing richer, more engaging multimedia content. This means extending the brand universe and finding new ways of expressing the brand promise through different types of content. Through applications, brands can also use Weibo for different purposes such as commerce and move a bigger chunk of their online strategy to Weibo, just as many brands such as Skittles did with Facebook when brand pages became more and more sophisticated. In short, brands should re-think the relationship between their different digital touch points as Weibo seems set to become an increasing component of their digital presence.

Then, with better analytics, brands can better fine tune their strategy based on a thorough understanding of what works and what does not, who their audience is, what’s their behavior. This allows for more reactivity and a more methodical approach to online branding.

So far, brands are still getting acquainted with the new Sina Weibo but a few selected companies were allowed to test the new brand pages over the last few months with very interesting results.

Electrical appliance retail Suning (苏宁) saw an 8-fold increase in traffic towards its website since the launch of its new Weibo brand page and has seen average time on page increase from one to five and a half minutes. Its competitor Coo8 (库巴) also noted an increase in the rate of return to its Weibo page and has obtained excellent results from the integration of the “Hot sale” application to its page.

Restaurant chain Spice Spirit (麻辣诱惑) enthusiastically noted that Sina Weibo’s new version allowed it to precisely identify its core target customers and gave it the necessary tools to dramatically increase brand awareness and reputation amongst the most relevant customer groups. More interestingly, Sina’s integrated analytics tools allowed the brand to identify underserved areas to open new restaurants in places with the highest demand.

All of these changes beg one question:will Sina Weibo stay free for brands or will Sina yield to shareholder pressures to increase monetization? Whatever the answer, it is undeniable that Sina Weibo has gone from fringe curiosity to potentially constituting the very core of brands’ China digital presence.

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