Kevin Lee
Apr 12, 2013

On the trail of scantily clad zombies who like vodka and haircare on Sina Weibo

Join Kevin Lee, director at Skye Analytics, a division of Skye Media, as he goes zombie hunting on Sina Weibo and uncovers a lair of the automatons, all of whom are suspiciously enamored with the same set of unrelated brands.

On the trail of scantily clad zombies who like vodka and haircare on Sina Weibo

I’ve written before about the significant numbers of zombies present on Sina Weibo, especially when it comes to interactions with commercial posts. To illustrate this point, here’s a case study about discovering zombies lurking around an innocent-seeming commercial post.

A zombie hunting adventure

We recently came across responses to a post made by Yale Locks on March 5 that, at first blush, didn’t seem particularly suspicious:

The post attracted seven comments. All the comments were relevant to the content of the post, and seemed to point to a healthy level of engagement. More importantly, five of the seven respondents had little red stars next to their name, indicating that they were 微博达人, or Weibo power users. Seven’s a modest number for comments, but the apparent quality more than makes up for the quantity. So far so good.

However, on closer scrutiny, we noticed that all seven comments were made within a short span of 19 minutes, which is a little odd given that there’s a four hour gap between the post itself and the seven comments, and nothing afterwards. Why the gap, and why the sudden (but short) burst of activity?

And come to think of it, it’s great that over 70 per cent of the comments were made by 微博达人, but is that perhaps a little too good to be true?

The digging begins

The usual way of determining whether authors are zombies is to look at their recent posts. A quick glance of the author of the most recent comment, "seaboy_s", suggests nothing suspicious. He forwarded a few commercial posts like one for 康师傅糕饼 on March 20 and Pantene on March 25, but he’s also posted a lot of original content, some even with photos. He’s even posted a reply to another author. Nothing that arouses suspicion so far. His posts haven’t attracted any forwards or comments, but maybe his fans weren’t overly interested in what he has to say—I can sympathise with that!

We then went through the list of authors “seaboy_s” was following. Among the 250 or so accounts that he’s a fan of, there’s Yale Locks, L’Oreal and Rhino, among other brands, but oddly enough no 康师傅糕饼 or Pantene. Wait, didn’t he forward a 康师傅糕饼 post and a Pantene post not so long ago?.

As we went further down the list, the authors’ names started looking more and more random, and toward the last few pages, all the authors had pictures of attractive and often scantily clad women. That’s a bit odd.

A bit more digging revealed a pair of authors who have the same profile picture, although one’s supposedly a lady from Gansu Province, while the other’s a man from Hebei Province (right).

Why would “seaboy_s” follow these two obviously suspicious accounts? This definitely warranted further investigation.

Dissecting a zombie

We did more digging into these two authors, “转圈p圈的小鱼” and “我G是marla” (let’s call them ‘the twins’ for ease of reference), and checked out what they were posting and who they were following. We found that:

  • On top of following more scantily clad zombies, like “seaboy_s” does, both twins were also following Yale Locks and L’Oreal, as well as brands such as StoliVodka and Enzo Jewelry.
  • Like “seaboy_s”, both made posts about 康师傅糕饼 and Pantene between March 15 and 25, but oddly enough, just like “seaboy_s”, neither of the twins was a fan of either brand. They also posted a fair amount of original content, including photos.

So do we conclude that there’s a strong connection between Yale Locks, L’Oreal, 康师傅糕饼 and Pantene, or is there something fishy going on here?

Uncovering the zombie lair

Perhaps “seaboy_s” was just an anomaly. What about the other respondents to the original Yale Locks post? We examined the other respondents:

  • esqp10” also forwarded a post made by 康师傅糕饼 on March 20 and Pantene on March 25, but doesn’t follow either brand. 'She' (yes, the profile claims to be a she, contrary to the male profile picture) also follows Yale Locks and L’Oreal.
  • 李U小音” also follows both Yale Locks and L’Oreal, as well as StoliVodka (like the twins). 'He' also forwarded a post by Pantene in mid-March and one by 康师傅糕饼 on March 20, but is not a fan of either brand.
  • yulling199I6” also forwarded a post by Pantene in mid-March and one by 康师傅糕饼 on March 20, but is also not a fan of the brand. 'She' follows Yale Locks, L’Oreal, Rhino and StoliVodka.
  • 谢霜婷u8d” forwarded a post made by 康师傅糕饼 on March 20 and Pantene on March 25 but once again, isn’t a fan of either brand. 'He' also follows Yale Locks, L’Oreal and Rhino, as well as StoliVodka and Enzo Jewelry.
  • 爱做梦的I天使” forwarded a 康师傅糕饼 post on March 20 and a Pantene post on March 22, but doesn’t follow either brand. Like the twins, 'she' is a fan of Yale Locks and L’Oreal, as well as Enzo Jewelry.
  • Finally, “angeDla13” forwarded a Pantene post in late March and a 康师傅糕饼 post on March 20, but doesn’t follow either brand. Like the others, 'she' follows Yale Locks, L’Oreal and Rhino, as well as StoliVodka.

The table on the right summarises the activities of these seven respondents and the twins (click the image to enlarge).

What these zombies taught us

If you did the analysis described, you would come to one of two conclusions:

  • People who are interested in Yale Locks are also into L’Oreal and Pantene hair products, Rhino olive oil, 康师傅 cakes, StoliVodka spirits and Enzo Jewelry rings; or
  • All these brands have ended up using the same Sina Weibo zombie provider through their respective social-media agencies.

As you ponder the possible amusing but misguided connections that could be drawn from the first conclusion, we’d like to suggest that you do some digging yourself into the identities of authors who are ‘interacting’ with your brand, not only on Sina Weibo, but on all your Chinese social-media channels. Are your respondents genuine, or are you deriving incorrect insights based on fraudulent data?

Sina Weibo is a fantastic marketing channel, but only if it’s done correctly through creating great content, targeting the right audience and cultivating connections with your fans. It takes hard work and time to build. It’s important to ensure that your social-media agency is giving you real value from their work, rather than giving you attractive KPIs based on fraudulent activities. At the end of the day, zombies will never buy your products or services, and will never contribute to your ROI.

Bonus 1: The seven brands we've named are only a sample of the commercial posts that these nine zombies have infiltrated.

Bonus 2: Remember the list of randomly named and attractive and often scantily clad authors “Seaboy_s” was following? If you check out who they’re following, you’ll likely find that they’re also following Yale Locks, L’Oreal …

In short, what we’ve dug out here on this short adventure is just a glimpse of the massive zombie lair and the vast network of brands that they’ve worked their way into.

(Apologies in advance if the links don’t work anymore. Zombies do get exterminated sometimes.)

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