The Fashion Industry Aims To Corner the Chinese Market With Weibo: Here Are The Brands Doing It Right and Why

How It Works If you've heard of Weibo, you've probably heard it described as "Chinese Twitter." The Chinese microblogging platform, which is more interactive and has more features than Twitter and is thus considered more of a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, is extremely popular in China, boasting over 250 million users. Key differences between Weibo and Twitter are: In addition to retweeting, you can comment; you can write more text; and it's easier to share other media like photos and videos. It's also mostly in Chinese. As with most popular social media platforms, Weibo has become an important marketing tool for the fashion industry, especially since Twitter and Facebook are both banned in China. You've also undoubtedly heard that China, with their rapidly growing wealth, is an increasingly important and viable market for fashion--luxury brands especially. So it follows that brands are eager to tap into Weibo's expansive social network to reach those oh so desirably young upwardly mobile consumers. Some US and European brands have already gained a foothold.
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Dhani Mau
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How It Works If you've heard of Weibo, you've probably heard it described as "Chinese Twitter." The Chinese microblogging platform, which is more interactive and has more features than Twitter and is thus considered more of a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, is extremely popular in China, boasting over 250 million users. Key differences between Weibo and Twitter are: In addition to retweeting, you can comment; you can write more text; and it's easier to share other media like photos and videos. It's also mostly in Chinese. As with most popular social media platforms, Weibo has become an important marketing tool for the fashion industry, especially since Twitter and Facebook are both banned in China. You've also undoubtedly heard that China, with their rapidly growing wealth, is an increasingly important and viable market for fashion--luxury brands especially. So it follows that brands are eager to tap into Weibo's expansive social network to reach those oh so desirably young upwardly mobile consumers. Some US and European brands have already gained a foothold.
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How It Works If you've heard of Weibo, you've probably heard it described as "Chinese Twitter." The Chinese microblogging platform, which is more interactive and has more features than Twitter and is thus considered more of a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, is extremely popular in China, boasting over 250 million users. Key differences between Weibo and Twitter are: In addition to retweeting, you can comment; you can write more text; and it's easier to share other media like photos and videos. It's also mostly in Chinese.

As with most popular social media platforms, Weibo has become an important marketing tool for the fashion industry, especially since Twitter and Facebook are both banned in China. You've also undoubtedly heard that China, with their rapidly growing wealth, is an increasingly important and viable market for fashion--luxury brands especially. So it follows that brands are eager to tap into Weibo's expansive social network to reach those oh so desirably young upwardly mobile consumers.

Some US and European brands have already gained a foothold.

A Burberry Event in Taipei

A Burberry Event in Taipei

Who’s Doing It Right One by one, international fashion brands like Burberry, Dior, Chanel, Michael Kors, DVF and Alexander Wang have established their own presence on the site. Not surprisingly, Burberry, which was recently ranked #1 brand excelling in the digital realm by L2, has over 363,000 followers, more than any other luxury fashion brand. However, one U.S.-based designer has Burberry beat: Diane Von Furstenberg. While the brand's Weibo has only a little over 11,000 followers, the designer's personal Weibo "DVFDiane" has close to half a million. And the reason why says a lot about how Weibo should be used by fashion brands and why it's different from the social networks we're used to: two of the things we hoped to find out by talking to a few Weibo fashion experts.

Diane Von Furstenberg, whose unusually personal approach to conquering China was recently the subject of a WSJ article, doesn't just promote products through her Weibo. This is why, when asked which fashion brands were using Weibo well, both BagSnob founder Tina Craig and WWD's China File columnist Huang Hung said DVF without missing a beat. "I think DVF has done an amazing job," offered Hung, who listed Weibo as a “Do” in a recent article on the Do's and Don'ts of Launching Your Fashion Label in China. "[She] interacts, says things other than branded information. Users find that to be more intimate and interesting. Sometimes, it's not the Midas touch; it's the human touch which endears brands to consumers."

"It's very personal; it's very inspirational," said BagSnob founder (and former MTV Asia VJ) Tina Craig, who was born in Taiwan and has over 25,000 followers on Weibo. She also confirmed the integrity of DVF's personal Weibo: "I've actually seen her Weibo on her iPad."

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Tricks of the Trade Craig joined Weibo about a year ago and, while gaining a pretty huge number of followers in a short amount of time, has also come to the conclusion that when it comes to Weibo, it's better to be personal.

"The thing about the Chinese followers is that they really take equity in the person they follow," she explained. While on Twitter, she'll tweet or "braindump" up to 20 times per day without really thinking. However, on Weibo, those frivolous, inconsequential thoughts won't cut it. "They would say, 'This woman is so shallow; who is this girl?' I’ve found that they like that I have a son and I’m married and I’m traveling and working. They like quality tweets about what you’re doing in your life." In general, she's more careful and thoughtful about what she says and says friends including Chinese Vogue editors have admitted spending a whole day thinking about what to say on Weibo.

Weibo users are also not fond of shameless promotion--something a lot of brands are guilty of on social media. When Craig posted on Weibo about a skin whitening product that she genuinely liked, her commenters accused her of trying to sell the product. She learned her lesson, and now she almost never even Weibos links to BagSnob. "That way each Weibo tweet is so much more influential, so if I do post something I love on Weibo, they know I actually love it."

We also consulted Chinese model-of-the-moment Liu Wen, who, with a whopping 3.3 million followers is currently the most followed fashion industry individual on Weibo. She joined almost three years ago and attributes her huge following to talking about topics that she is actually interested in and having her own style and voice. "I treat my Weibo like a public diary," she explained. She also uses Weibo as a way to update and keep in touch with her pre-existing friends and huge Chinese fanbase.

Wen also likes that Weibo allows users a peek into lifestyles different from their own, which could explain the level interest from Weibo users in others' personal lives, especially that of a world-traveling fashion model. "For me, Weibo isn’t just a social network; it’s also a lifestyle encyclopedia, because there are people from so many different backgrounds," she said. She has a Twitter as well, on which she often posts English translations of the same things she says on Weibo. In a way, Twitter for Wen, a China native, is what Weibo is for the non-Chinese--something to experiment with and explore.

Getty

Getty

How Brands Are Using It Of course, the way brands must use Weibo is a little different from the way individuals use it, but the platform serves a similar purpose. As Wen put it so eloquently, "You can promote your brand while getting direct feedback from people about their thoughts on what you are doing, so it brings you much closer to the public, just like how it brought me closer to friends who are an ocean away."

Marc Jacobs, a pretty fun brand to follow on Twitter, launched a Weibo page fairly recently. The brand's Director of Digital, Daniel Plenge told us they're working on thoughtfully building a relationship with their target market. “We were initially focused on getting a verified brand status via Sina Weibo, and on curating quality content that reflects and complements the current lifestyle and fashion buzz in China.” He’s confident the brand’s Weibo presence will “increase brand awareness” and “provide us with a medium to connect better with our Chinese fans.”

On how they’ve approached Weibo differently than other social channels, Plenge offered: “Language, social interaction, cultures and traditions are all things that differ significantly and are taken into account when we post.” Other that, their strategy is essentially the same as with any social channel. They update 2-3 times per day. "We typically post detail shots from runway shows, behind the scenes footage from fashion shoots, street style featuring our pieces, as well as any interesting news, words from Marc himself, updates regarding the brand and company, and editorial spreads we love.”

Bagsnob’s Tina Craig helped Bergdorf’s launch their Weibo presence. She explained that theirs is “very product oriented” because they ship overseas, but they also want to introduce their brand to Chinese consumers for when they do come to New York. So, they’ll also talk about New York and share interesting photos that aren’t just about Bergdorf’s.

There are a few ways for fashion brands to use Weibo and DVF’s more personal method is more of an exception than a rule. “Whether it is a brand broadcast or interactive depends on the brand,” Hung explained. “The former is easy to manage, but interactiveness is less controlled and gets tricky. Normally, brands do not comment and interact that much.” She offers the following tips to fashion brands who want to build a successful Weibo presence:

1. Numbers do count. Try to update at least 5 times per day. 2. If corporate policy allows, do reply and interact with some comments. 3. Feel free to delete the negative, hurtful and untruthful comments. Your weibo is your turf, don't let them play there if they won't play nice. 4. Combine some offline events with online ones to unhand your fan group

Overall, it sounds like Weibo users like the idea of seeing fashion as more than just clothing on a rack, but the actual people and places behind it. They want something more interesting than a press release or a product shot.

How effective Weibo is in terms of driving sales remains to be seen, but given how interactive and huge it is, there are at least a couple of ways in which it can definitely be beneficial: increasing brand awareness and consumer research. It’s a place for Chinese consumers to comment and share their thoughts on an item of clothing or a campaign strategy, as well as a way for brands to learn what their target market is talking about and interested in.