Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Oct 20, 2014

Why Weibo isn't going big on social commerce

HONG KONG - Ken Hong, general manager of Weibo's strategy marketing, speaks to Campaign Asia-Pacific about why there is so little buzz about Weibo as a social commerce tool.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Twitter announced its buy button only last month (September), but Weibo already introduced its social-commerce feature more than a year ago. Why don't I see big brands making full use of that?

What we saw is a lot of small and medium enterprises like Meizu trying that, as it is a very cost-effective way for them to sell a story-worthy hero product. But Weibo's primary goal is not meant for massive e-commerce volumes, but generating buzz, especially for large brands. Large companies also don't move as fast. They have different divisions with different KPIs that may not be sales, but beyond sales like lead generation especially for big-ticket items like automotive and financial products.

Our platform is ultimately not an e-commerce platform, but a marketing one. Thank about it, if you limit product supply, you can potentially create a bigger buzz that can drive people to buy them somewhere else. It may seem counter-intuitive. We want to enable payments, but massive transactions are not our main goal. At this stage, our revenue model is still mostly from advertising.  

That is the opposite of what Alibaba CTO Wang Jian said in an interview last year, that the best way to monetise Weibo is through e-commerce, not by ads. You're not worried about WeChat taking over this m-commerce space?

We obviously watch competition, but we're focused on what we need to do.

What's next after the Weibo IPO in April? There's very little noise about the company compared to Tencent.

Part of the PR we are doing is for capital markets, but my number one objective is still talking to the brands. That's my main role. Brands don't just buy [advertising] products; they buy solutions. Who are we right now? What is our positioning right now? Those are important questions that brands need to know. 

So many folks are asking what Weibo is doing compared to WeChat. How do I use Weibo from now on? Convince me?

We have developed a lot of commercial products over the last year, but probably not doing enough to talk about it. In the end, WeChat is a different product for both consumers and for brands. Gradually, the market will become more mature and realise the differences between Weibo and WeChat. Weibo is a marketing platform in the sense that it does a great job in broadcasting quickly and efficiently your message to a mass audience, but WeChat is more service-oriented as it's good at one-to-one communications.

The viral capability of WeChat, to be honest, is not as good as Weibo. That is one of the fundamental differences between the two platforms. If you want to acquire new customers or fans, you can do it faster on Weibo, once you acquire them, you can choose WeChat to do more ongoing CRM stuff. 

But to do that, you need to share data and herein comes the data alignment question. Advertisers are obviously concerned about platforms keeping the data to themselves?

I understand that. It's a tricky question. Everybody is protective of their data. But I mean, brands are protective of their own data too. If you think about how a lot of the consumer behaviour happens on our platforms, we can be in a position to say that we own the data and want to protect it. At the same time, we are looking for ways to open up data. To give you a preview, Weibo is working with a third-party CRM company that will give us a "safe haven" to join our data to many brands' data to allow them to do more targeting. Say, customer ABC in our database can be matched to user 123 "in a safe environment" to offer lookalike audience capabilities using social-graph data.

But we have to strike a balance, to protect consumers' data while finding ways to allow brands to leverage that. Brands have their needs, and truth be told, that's one of the questions that the industry have been trying to find an answer for many, many years. To be personal and relevant enough, and to be non-invasive and non-intrusive.



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