This story is part of our Digital Deep Dive series, which we worked on with our friends over at Hylink Digital. The rapid rise of the outbound Chinese travel market has brought with it a host of digital platforms and services. Learning who these companies are, and how they operate in the Chinese tourism space is becoming more important all the time for destination marketing organizations and non-Chinese travel companies. 

Along with WeChat, Weibo is one of China’s most recognizable social media platforms. Weibo is an open social networking platform that was developed for users to follow celebrities and share user-generated content (UGC). With over 376 million monthly active users, it is a staple for any brand’s social media marketing strategy.

Often still referred to misleadingly as “China’s Twitter,” the platform has evolved away from text-based content to become a much more visual platform with a heavy emphasis on video, photo, and live-streaming content. The variety of content types, combined with the fact that it is an open platform where content can be easily shared, make Weibo an excellent platform for awareness and brand-building campaigns. It is also becoming an increasingly popular platform for sales campaigns, although users are only able to link to Alibaba-owned e-commerce platforms.

80 percent of Weibo’s users are 30 years-old or younger, 77 percent have a Bachelors’ degree or higher, and the male to female ratio is 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent. The use of Weibo is analogous to the way people in the West use Instagram to follow their favorite celebrities and influencers, scrolling through the app to pass the time, to get inspired, and to discover new things.

To begin

To start promoting on Weibo, brands and businesses must first apply for a verified corporate account, commonly referred to as a ‘blue V’ because of the symbol that will appear next to the account’s avatar after it has been verified. The verification process and the documents required vary depending on where your company is registered. If your company is operating abroad and your trademark is not registered in China, you will have to pay a fee. The amount is different for each country and is generally between $800 – $1,100 USD.

Paid promotion is necessary for growth

While Weibo is an essential marketing tool in China, brands need to recognize that the days of easy organic growth on Weibo are long gone. Even with great content, your account is unlikely to grow without significant financial backing. Similar to Facebook and Instagram, over the past few years Weibo has become a pay-to-play platform; at present, the typical organic reach of a post is approximately 15 percent, meaning that only 15 percent of an account’s followers will see that post in their feed.

Unsurprisingly, Weibo offers a variety of paid options to dramatically increase reach.

Push posts to followers

Paying to push content to current followers admittedly seems a bit ridiculous. These people are already your followers, why should you be forced to pay an additional amount in order for them to see your posts? But that’s just how it is, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner your content will be getting the attention it deserves.

Push posts to potential followers

This is a great way to grow an account. Weibo offers a number of options to promote to potential followers. The first one is a general push to people that Weibo thinks might like your account, however, the better bang for your buck are the second and third options which offer a much more targeted approach.

The second option is to promote to accounts based on their gender, location, and interests. For example, if your destination tends to attract visitors from first and second-tier cities you can customize the settings to promote your post only to people from those cities who are interested in travel.

The third option, which is also very effective, is to target another account’s followers. While slightly more expensive than the other options, this choice is very useful if another account’s audience is also your target demographic. For example, Tourism Toronto could promote their post to followers of Tourism Vancouver’s account because they know that those users are already interested in traveling to Canada.

Promote account to potential followers

Instead of promoting an individual post, users can also promote their account to potential followers, causing their account to appear in the “accounts you might also like” section.

Many businesses are reluctant to use paid promotion, but the results are clear. A massive investment in Weibo promotion has helped Edinburgh Tourism Action Group boost Chinese visitor numbers by up to 40 percent in just over a year. The group used promotion features to target users in key cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Through momentum generated by promoted posts, Edinburgh’s Weibo campaigns have been seen over 60 million times in China.

The investment also paid off in other ways, the increased availability of Edinburgh’s official channels on Chinese social media resulted in organizations like National Geographic Traveller China and China Central Television reaching out to Edinburgh for collaborations.

Influencer collaborations

Another way to promote your destination via Weibo is to partner with influencers. Weibo is a very popular platform for Chinese travel influencers and is a popular source of travel inspiration for Chinese millennial travelers. With over 70 percent of Chinese travelers using online resources to plan their trip, key opinion leaders (KOLs) can have an enormous impact on the entire journey of a customer. KOLs provide inspiration, are seen as trustworthy, and are valuable resources for travel info. Travel influencers on Weibo primarily post photo and video content, and as more destinations are warming up to live-streaming we’re seeing an increase in that as well.

It’s important to note that, while some influencers will post in exchange for complimentary travel, the more professional, higher-quality Chinese travel influencers will require additional payment. Destinations looking to work with influencers on Weibo also need to be aware of Weibo’s regulations for sponsored posts, making sure to go through official channels and pay the required fees.

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Travel Tech & Social Media