Jeremy Webbon 18 May, 2015 at 11:05
It’s the largest cyber slaughter in history. Millions are being systematically massacred… and there’s nothing we can do about it.
For many, this means losing tens of thousands of “friends” – people we thought gave a shit about what we had to say, people we cared for enough to invest in content that would make them happy.
Sina has spent April deleting millions of inactive Weibo accounts. These accounts –many of which were created in their thousands to make content, a person, or a brand look more popular – are often referred to as “zombie” accounts.
Most professional marketers in China agree, zombies are a plague to the platform: they make it difficult to see what content is working best, make some quantitative conversation analysis meaningless, make it harder to evaluate the right influencers, and make it impossible to benchmark against competitors.
So marketers will welcome this extermination, right?
Not entirely, no.
Over the past month, brand Weibo accounts have received a private message from Weibo telling them the percentage of fake accounts they have following them and inviting them to voluntarily delete these accounts or face forced deletion. Brands are having between 5 and 50 percent of their “followers” deleted by Sina. China Southern Airlines, for example, lost almost 400,000 of its followers within a couple of weeks.
The problem is that this is not just affecting brands that directly paid for zombies.
Many brands, even those that would never dream of buying fans, have accumulated fake fans without knowing it: perhaps an influencer paid to have fake fans follow a brand they’d been partnering with to make that partnership look more successful; perhaps an individual keen to win a brand’s incentivized competition enlisted a “robot” that automatically commanded thousands of fake fans to join a competition, thereby increasing the individual’s chance of winning.
The truth is that even the most honest brand will not have been able to avoid accumulating zombie followers in recent years.
So, what can a brand do to survive this apocalypse?
Forget about how many fans you have. In fact, you should have done this years ago.
With the changing landscape (most notably, the rise of WeChat), it is now almost impossible to grow an engaged community on Sina Weibo. Building a community is like pushing a rock up a hill.
But this doesn’t mean forgetting about Weibo. Consumers are still using the platform… they are just using it differently.
People still go to Weibo to passively consume information. They search for things (including brands and products). They follow celebrities, media and opinion leaders.
But they aren’t sharing much and they aren’t following new brands.
Brands need to see Weibo less for engagement, more for reach. If you use the right mix of influencers and advertising, you can get your content in front of the right people. If you have the right content there, people will discover it through search.
If the role of the platform is changing, then it needs to be measured differently. Concentrate more on impressions and click through. If you have that luxury, invest in surveys that demonstrate actual perception change.
Forget fans. And don’t be so upset about losing them.
That’s how to survive a zombie apocalypse.