Editor’s note: A version of this by Lauren Hallanan first appeared on the PARKLU blog. PARKLU is a digital platform that helps brands find, collaborate, and engage with China’s social influencers. Lauren lived in China for 8 years where she developed a large fan base.
Weibo Stories function is an exciting addition to the platform that Sina-Weibo is heavily promoting. However, it is still in its early stages in terms of reach and engagement, and a bit unoriginal. As more users start understanding how to utilize and incorporate stories into their content mix, should we bet on it taking off?
Our answer is yes. Let’s look as some issues Stories has to overcome before getting to why it has a ton of potential.
What is Weibo Stories?
Weibo introduced Stories in April 2017 and has been rolling it out part by part over the past few months. It’s remarkably similar to Instagram Stories but has fewer features. Stories can be viewed by all Weibo users currently, but only KOL accounts that are verified and approved can post.
But it doesn’t appear Weibo will lag for long, as they have been updating the function and adding new elements weekly. The “Location” feature and AR face filters are the most recent examples. Before that, many users were recording themselves with filters on Snapchat or China’s Faceu app and then uploading those to Weibo Stories. Here’s a features comparison chart:
So far, Weibo Stories has been slow to take off, and Stories posts are receiving fewer views than the regular photo and video posts. However, the function has huge potential, and Sina Weibo is pushing it hard—it’s only a matter of time before it becomes part of Weibo users’ habits. The same thing happened with Instagram’s stories. While many people didn’t understand the feature at first or see how it could benefit them, it has since become integral to the platform.
Two things hold the Weibo Stories function back right now:
- It lacks features. (However, it is likely Sina-Weibo are working to solve that at this very moment.)
- Many people misuse Stories, i.e. they don’t use it to tell stories. Additionally, they use it sporadically and aren’t posting consistently enough. Stories must be ongoing — not just one or two pictures a day — and have a flow. Too many users are posting random, unconnected pictures and videos.
Instagram Stories that attract followers bring users along on their daily adventures and show behind-the-scenes footage that’s too raw for their main account pages. Active Weibo storytellers get their audience excited for what comes next. There aren’t many people doing that on Weibo.
Even the featured accounts and those in Weibo’s ads just had one or two photos that were nothing special. Boring content will make it harder for Stories to catch on.
Despite the shortcomings, there is a tremendous opportunity for early Stories adopters, especially those who use it consistently and in interesting ways. Here’s why:
One original Stories feature is this: When a user comments on a Weibo story, their comment appears on-screen, similar to a live-stream. In contrast, user comments on Instagram stories get sent as direct messages to the person who posts them. The fact everyone can see comments creates a feeling of greater engagement.
It is getting increasingly harder to be seen on Weibo. Often you have to use paid promotion to get your content to the top of your followers’ homepages. Weibo Stories, on the other hand, is located at the top of the homepage. When you share new stories, your icon will automatically be shown there.
The success of Stories is critical for Weibo, and they are devoting a lot of resources to promote it. Besides posting celebrity-filled ads, they are using many promotional methods that could benefit your account or brand:
A couple of weeks ago Weibo offered free hongbao (virtual red envelopes with money, usually a couple of cents) to users who follow an account they discovered through Weibo stories. This gave people a huge incentive to watch stories and to follow new accounts. They also gave hongbao to users every time they posted a story, encouraging them to develop the story-sharing habit. While the promotion has ended, it shows Weibo is so committed to this new feature that they will pay people to use it.
Every day Weibo selects stories from random accounts to be featured on the official Weibo Stories account. If you’re featured, hundreds of thousands of people will see your account.
Weibo has a recommended stories page with different categories and accounts to suggest for each category. Being included on this page would greatly benefit any account.
Weibo will likely add e-commerce features such as the ability to include links and “swipe up to see more,” as you can on Instagram stories.
Weibo users have become desensitized to all the ads in videos and photos, but not many brands use Weibo Stories. That means users are less likely to expect content to include ads, which can make your marketing seem very natural if done correctly.
Being an early adopter always has advantages, and now is no different. As with any social media platform, making adjustments to suit your audience’s needs and the platform is key. Just as Facebook is pushing and promoting live-streaming, Weibo’s putting a lot of chips in Stories. If you’re a KOL, best start using this feature now while everyone else is still making up their minds.