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Understanding Sina Weibo: hashtags, VIP users and more

04 Jul 2013

Sina-Weibo

 

Many Asian social networks present very peculiar features and logics, since countries like Japan, South Korea and China have a relatively long and complex social media history.

Chinese SNS giant Sina Weibo incorporates many of these digital habits, hence at a first glance it may look like a crazy world for a Western user, from both the graphic and the way-of-using point of view. We’ve already discussed the fascinating complexity of Weibo conversations, on a post about how its users avoid censorship.

Let’s now see how the most popular microblog in China is actually structured.

 

Hashtags: better than Twitter?

Recently Facebook decided to (finally) launch hashtags, joining a well nourished club of global SNS: hashtags can be used on Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook-owned Instagram. And of course, on Sina Weibo too.

Hashtags have been dramatically changing the way new generations communicate, in both the on- and offline world. And this applies to Chinese Netizens too – on a side note, we suggest you this cool article on The Atlantic Wire, about “the guy that invented the hashtag”.

Sina Weibo is one of the digital environments where hashtags are better integrated. Due to its native Twitter-alike nature, hashtags have been part of the Weibo ecosystem throughout all its evolutions. Actually double hashtags, since the format is #SUBJECT#.

Let’s grab a random example: these are two posts by a community page dedicated to Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, referring to her participation to a UNHCR event. As you can see, the posts include three hashtags: #Angelina Jolie#, #World Refugee Day 2013# (the name of the event) and #UNHCR#.

 

Angelina Jolie Sina Weibo

 

So how are conversations structured? There’s a specific section of the Sina Weibo platform called Huati – which literally means topic – to monitor the most popular hashtags and follow conversations based on topic- or people-related hashtags. A bit like what Twitter did with the hashtag pages, launched during a NASCAR event in 2012.

Here’s what happen by clicking on the #Angelina Jolie# hashtag: a Huati page with all the users Weibo pages involved in the conversation, with a series of stats regarding the usage of that specific topic/keyword.

 

Angelina Jolie Weibo Huati

 

Of course hashtags are widely used by brands too, for marketing/promotional purposes: here’s the @NikeBasketball Weibo account retweeting a post by the @NikeStore Weibo account about a series of new products, using the hashtag #NikeStore新品上架#, which means “Nike Store New Arrivals”.

 

Nike Sina Weibo

 

By clicking through it, we’ll be able to see on Huati all the conversation related to that hashtag, therefore getting to know about Nike’s new products dedicated to Chinese Basketball fans – also a good way for Nike to monitor the buzz around that keyword.

Needless to say that Sina Weibo adv platform enables brand pages to use sponsored topics, as it happens on Twitter.

 

User Badges: a complex system

Let’s now dive into the fascinating world of users’ badges. Check out the verified personal page of Paris Hilton, which shows three different badges:

 

Paris Hilton Sina Weibo

 

Here we go:

  • The first one is the Verification badge.
  • The one in the middle is the VIP badge.
  • The one next to the page URL is the User Level badge.

We are going to see what this is all about, starting from the latter.

 

1) User Levels

A peculiar characteristic of Sina Weibo are user levels, an interesting gaming dynamic based on the activity of users on the platform. Every account displays the level next to the name; it indicates the amount of days the user has been accessing the platform, and for how long. Basically, the more a user is active, the more and faster the level will rise. All of it is explained in a specific section of the website:

 

Sina Weibo User Level

 

What’s even more interesting is the possibility for every single user to challenge other users by simply clicking on their level badge. The result of the challenge is based on the points earned so far, therefore on activity on SW and on user’s popularity.

Here’s what happened when I challenged Miss Paris Hilton (no need to explain that she’s way more active and popular than I am):

 

Sina Weibo Challenge

 

 

2) Verified Accounts

In order to better understand verified accounts, we have to go back a little. Rumors regarding a government-driven “Real Name” policy started back in 2010/11, a highly anticipated series of actions to force all Chinese SNS users to associate real identities to their profiles. This policy was supposed to have two main goals: first of all, a better control over what people talk about on Weibos.

On the other hand, to continue the eternal fight against “zombies”, “phantoms” and other kinds of fake profiles on Weibo – to know more, you can read this post on China.org.

Although the process is currently in a development phase, it had an immediate impact on the way brand pages on Sina Weibo work: in order to have a verified brand page, every company needs to have a legal representative in China and receive a verification from Sina Corp. (as we’ve seen on a post about Verified Brand Pages on social media).

Especially nowadays, real identities are a serious issue for Sina Weibo: the verification system for personal accounts counts today 28 different categories, and 486 career-oriented personal certifications. They are available through a “self-service” request, followed by a verification and a subsequent certification by Sina’s operatives.

 

Sina Weibo Verification

 

As can be seen on the Certification Standards section of SW, pretty much all professional categories are included. From child actors to folk singers, including “military forces official doctors” and automotive experts, basically every public personality can get a V on their profile (mind the difference: orange V for single users, blue V for brand/community pages).

As long as Sina Corp recognize them as VIPs, of course.

 

3) Vip Accounts

Some very interesting aspects of Sina Weibo are the different types of accounts. Especially the widely used VIP accounts. Launched in June 2012, the service allowed users to “upgrade” their profile functionality, for a monthly fee starting from CNY10 (USD1.57), in order to get a series of extra-features, together with a little crown next to the username.

To fully understand some of the Weibo dynamics, let’s see what some of these “privileges” – varying from graphic upgrades to service functionalities – are about.

Here are some:

  • Exclusive customer care, and the possibility to manage the account via an SMS service.
  • A series of mobile services, such as Weibo Voice and birthday reminders
  • Ability to follow more users (up to 3,000).
  • Exclusive templates and special badges.

Interesting to notice that Weibo allows users “quietly follow” other users, which means following them anonymously. Among the VIP privileges, there’s the possibility to quietly follow 30 users instead of 20.

Here’s a tab showing all the extra-features, which can be found on the Privilege section of the website:

 

Sina Weibo VIP accounts

 

Speaking of very important people, there’s another popular trend among specific clusters of Sina Weibo users, in this case related more to Chinese modern society than to merely social media usage.

We’re talking about the so-called SCC, which stands for Sport Cars Club. They can be defined as second-generation wealthy and upper-class youngsters, running a high-standards way of life – mainly in bigger cities, although the phenomenon is widespread also among tier 2 and 3 cities. Here’s a more accurate description:

“SCC was funded in 2009, and is currently China’s biggest and best-known sports car club. Membership requires at least a Porsche Carrera 911 and a RMB 10,000 yuan membership fee per year, which is about 50% of the annual income of an urban resident in China.”

This very interesting post by Offbeat China can better explain what are the social issues behind these movement, highly representative of a complex society where an always growing upper-class loves to distinguish itself from the Chinese masses. Especially considering recent news, involving SCC members and Guo Meimei, popular Singaporean popstar, over hard-core parties and disputes over sex and (huge amounts of) money.

And all of this is extravagantly shown off on Sina Weibo, often making it to the trending topics. That’s also because the SCC phenomenon is well radicated inside the Weibo environment: members of the club add “SCC” to their username in order to be recognised – so their name on Weibo looks like this: @SCC_NAME.

The main digital hub is the official website of the club, together with a Weibo page that gathered over 110K followers.

 

Sina Weibo SCC

 

Club Weibo

One of the latest innovation of the major  Chinese microblogging platform is the possibility to associate personal accounts with a credit card. Which – considering the fact that recently Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba acquired an 18% stake in Sina Weibo for USD586 – sounds quite intriguing.

This feature, introduced in mid-2012, is called Club Weibo:

 

Club Weibo

 

Users can apply through a verification system called DaRen, through which the account will be tied with a China Merchants Bank-issued credit card. As well as it happens for the User Levels, being active on Sina Weibo will help in getting points and bonuses.

Also, users of the service may get access to special offers and promotions. Here’s a special deal to get McDonald’s products, launched in April 2013 and available only to Club Weibo users:

 

Sina Weibo McDonald's

 

Speaking of badges, users of Club Weibo are identified by a little star next to their username inside Sina Weibo, and as of August 2012 they were reported to be around 4 millions.

Although still being a rather experimental feature – and also keeping in mind the risks of losing a credit card connected with a digital ID – Club Weibo is another face of the “Real Name” policy process, which in this case might be seen as further step: to better control people’s social AND pursuing behaviour, through a fully integrated digital system.

More on this can be found on this TechRice post.

 

When it comes to social media marketing in China, knowing what are the “most popular” platforms is often not enough. A deeper knowledge of the complicated dynamics between technology and social behaviour surely helps in better understanding how to engage Netizens in the biggest Internet country in the world.

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.

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2 Responses to “Understanding Sina Weibo: hashtags, VIP users and more”

  1. [...] a proven fact that active users are decreasing. The question is how much? Over Q3 and Q4 of 2012, the most characteristic Chinese social network apparently registered nearly 40% decrease in active users, according to a [...]

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