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Are 30 million Weibo posts worth it?

Brands in China have posted around 30 million* “bits” of social media content in the last couple of years. Have enough people have seen this content to justify the investment?

* Why 30 million? Guesswork I’m afraid. There are 404,000 corporate Weibo accounts, according to Weibo. If we assume that 10 percent of these have been active (average 1 post per day) over the past two years, then that’s 29.5 million tweets.

You may argue about the figure (I would), but either way it’s still clear that brands in China have been creating huge of content in recent years. I shudder to think how much this has cost, both in their own time and in agency fees.

Content marketing is reaching ubiquity in China. 2014 will see further efficiencies and optimization of content production, but more importantly, more strategic and creative thinking around its amplification.

For sure, when a post goes viral in China it can be retweeted thousands, or even tens of thousands, of times. Not only would the brand’s fans see this, so would millions of friends of fans, friends of friends of fans, and so on. This reach is comparable to a small advertising campaign, and almost certainly cheaper.

But what about the rest?

In too many cases not enough people see the content we’re producing. Sure there are viral hits, and we should strive for these, but brands need investment that is predictably good.

In the West we’ve seen “Facebook Zero” – the declining organic reach of content. Due to Facebook’s algorithm changes (the platform decides what shows up on your newsfeed), people are less likely to see content unless there is paid media behind it. A large amount of the strategic thinking on a Western social media strategy is therefore the paid strategy, as well as the content strategy.

A typical brand on Chinese social, however, thinks much less about using paid media to amplify day-to-day content.

This is because until recently we have not had easy-to-use tools to place these ads: Weibo has only recently offered a self-serve ad platform. RenRen had a good one, but there was still a relatively high minimum spend (Facebook’s minimum spend is a couple of dollars).

There’s been other ad products on Sina Weibo (the platform sold $56m in media in 2013), sold on a package basis, but these were typically designed to drive users to campaign mini-sites, games and so on, rather than to amplify day-to-day content.

Also, China’s community managers have done OK with other reach/amplification tactics, such as influencer programs – designing experiences that get influencers to share our content, or by paying them to do so. Incentivized campaigns – giving away an iPad for example in exchange for retweets – have also delivered high numbers, though many question the quality of this engagement and reach.

Ad-buying tools are now getting better on the major platforms. Weibo now has several ad products that are easier to use for the community manager: Fans Headline allows you to advertise to your existing fans and Fans Top allows you to target ads at people not in your fan base; another one for bigger brands is on its way. These can be executed at low minimum spends. And while Weibo had been slow on developing self-serve tools, WeChat is getting in early and is testing similar ad products too.

For years I believe we’ve put content before community or channel. For sure, the best content flies on any channel. But not all content will go viral, and even the best content benefits from a boost.

This year and beyond will hopefully see brands being as creative and strategic with their use of channels, as with the content that they produce for them. My team will be selling more and more content studios, but we won’t recommend one until you’ve invested in the “amplification engine.”

If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

No, especially if it falls on Chinese social media.

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