Will Sina DNA stand in the way of its new Weibo ad system?

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Wang Gaofei, the newly assigned lead of Sina Weibo, revealed the self-serve bid-based ad system under test with a screenshot (below) of the dashboard for advertisers. The picture shows it is CPM-based. It is estimated offerings will include display ads shown next to the content of paid posts.

As early as the beginning of 2012 we heard that Sina was developing such a system, having verified accounts to carry ads and sharing advertising revenues with them. Micro-task, a similar system launched later in September, was taken as the result. (So did I.)It turned out it wasn’t what Sina was meant to make sense-making money with. It echos what Charles Chao, CEO of Sina, said on the latest earnings conference call that they didn’t expect to earn much money from Micro-task.

Having verified accounts in a revenue-sharing ad program is a sense-making move. There has been creative content marketing on Weibo platform, in the same way with Micro-task, operated by third parties.

Sina DNA?

The screenshot would remind many of the advertising program, called “Sina Blog Ad Sharing Plan”, developed for Sina Blog platform around 2008. It is an AdSense-like ad program that was meant to leverage the large pool of celebrity-turned bloggers who were convinced to set up blogs on Sina Blog platform and started trying out the cool-back-then thing.

Blogs who applied and were approved by Sina would show display ads on their homepages and articles pages. It didn’t work out and was shut down later. Reasons? Many people would tell you that Sina is merely a media company that doesn’t have DNA to make a tech tool perform well.

One of Sina bloggers disclosed that he received only 52.14 Yuan with over three million visits in the past years. He blames the Sina system who showed baby and maternal products on his tech-themed blog. When it comes to Weibo, outsiders, based on their knowledge about Sina, don’t believe it can do well in data-mining which would help improve the performance of targeted ads.

the dashboard of Sina Blog Ad System

Another problem with Sina Blog, according to a friend of mine who was working at Sina Blog then, is bribery. Sina Blog homepage and pop-up windows at the south-east corner of the screen, where a majority of readers access blog articles, show links of articles selected by editors every day. Bloggers who wanted to get more publicity started bribing editors to get placements on those pages.

It’s unknown why Sina would shut down the system altogether. Now, there are also placements on Weibo handled by editors. Rumors about bribing Weibo editors are not rare to hear.

It is widely agreed that what helped Sina Weibo became popular and its core competence is the celebrity pool. Weibo became so popular after the ordinary found that they could follow or kind of interact with celebrities they otherwise had no way to approach. And Sina, as an experienced media operator, always knows what topics would be attractive to audiences.

It’s no secret that Sina used the same way for promoting Sina Blog, leveraging famous people, to operate Weibo. When Sina decided to build the Weibo, those editors were asked to persuade celebrities one by one to sign up to it. Without its over eight hundred editors’ hard work, Sina couldn’t become one of the best media brands in China.

Does the failure of Sina Blog ad system tells the Sina DNA? If so, let’s wait till the official launch of the Weibo ad system to see whether the mechanism designed can avoid the old problems.