Sina Weibo, the social media platform of reference
for watchmaking in China… but is it enough?

May 2012

Sina Weibo, China’s tool of reference for micro-blogging (“weibo” in Mandarin) needs no introduction. It was created in 2009 using the same concept as Twitter and allows people to share text messages, photos and videos with their friends. It has quickly become the social media reference in the Chinese digital ecosystem. With 300 million active users, the platform has naturally attracted the attention of luxury watch brands, to the point that it is becoming an alternative to the choice of institutional websites, which are often deficient or poorly adapted for the Chinese market.
Sina Weibo does have a number of assets for luxury brands, thanks to its high level of penetration in tier-one cities, a network that includes numerous opinion leaders, local and international celebrities and all the socialites in Shanghai and Beijing.
The watch brands are on the right track in using Sina Weibo. Many of them now use this channel to develop their social media strategy by setting up a dialogue with web surfers in China, just as they do with Twitter and Facebook for western markets.

The Longines Sina Weibo account has almost 30,000 followers
The Longines Sina Weibo account has almost 30,000 followers
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But China has many facets and the increasing use of the Internet and the significant demand for watches from the rest of the territory means that it is important not to limit one’s strategy to the tier-one cities. According to the WorldWatchReport 2012, the reference study published by Digital Luxury Group, 47 per cent of demand for luxury watches in China expressed on search engines came from inland provinces.

Sina Weibo, the social media platform of reference for watchmaking in China… but is it enough?
Source: Digital Luxury Group – WorldWatchReport™ 2012

A single digital strategy for the Chinese market ?
Although there is no question that a brand needs to increase its influence in tier-one cities if it wants to expand in China, the commercial importance of secondary provinces is already strategic for a watch industry with major ambitions in this market.
In regions that are not yet covered optimally by the distribution networks, brands need to find complementary channels in order to increase their visibility without necessarily having an in-store presence. The digital channel is an ideal alternative in this scenario.
Nevertheless, the disparities within the Chinese market in terms of luxury consumption, digital penetration and even socio-cultural status still complicate things. A digital strategy that focuses on an avant-garde city such as Shanghai, or the maturity of consumers in Beijing or Guangzhou, will not necessarily be suitable for tier-two cities, whose use of digital media differs greatly.

What is the alternative for low-tier cities ?
Unsurprisingly, the success of Sina Weibo has spawned numerous copies, from simple replicas to versions with varying levels of innovation. Among them are Tencent, Sohu and Netease… names which may be unfamiliar to some watchmaking brands, for whom the move to Sina Weibo already represented a major step. But there is one platform that, because of its history within China’s digital landscape and its current user base, should be on the luxury brands’ radar: Tencent Weibo.
Historically, Tencent is the biggest digital player in China. It is also commonly referred to as the Tencent Galaxy because of the wide scope of its services. Tencent offers tens of different services in China, from e-mail to instant message clients and online gaming platforms. Its numerous services include a competitor to Sina Weibo… logically called Tencent Weibo.
The size of the Tencent Galaxy is such that many Chinese web surfers in secondary cities consider Tencent to be the Internet.
Although the positioning of Tencent Weibo is logically less qualitative than that of its alter ego Sina Weibo, its penetration in tier-two and tier-three cities in China makes it, if not a priority, then a complementary solution for brands which are looking to develop beyond China’s principal urban centres.
To date there have been no significant efforts on this platform by the major watch brands. Nevertheless, luxury brands such as Audi or BMW, which enjoy an extraordinary notoriety in China, are already active on this channel.

The official BMW account on Tencent Weibo has more than 1 million fans
The official BMW account on Tencent Weibo has more than 1 million fans
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There are still a lot of open questions regarding the best use of social media, both in China and globally, for the promotion of the big names in the watchmaking industry. What is certain, however, is that the Chinese market is in full development and digital is the perfect example of this. For the watch brands which are looking to occupy this territory, it is vital that they take a closer look at the landscape and do not limit their strategy to using a single channel.

Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue