Weibo trickles down: China’s microblogging platform sees growth from lower-tier cities

The head honchos at Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblogging platform (think Twitter), know that the key to future user growth is in China’s rural areas.
China User Markets: Weibo consumer research lower tier cities

The data

No big surprise here, but the head honchos at Sina Weibo 新浪微博, China’s biggest microblogging platform, know that the key to future user growth is in China’s rural areas.

In August 2018,CEO of the twitter-like Weibo platform Wang Gaofei told interviewers:

“At present, more than 50% of our new user base comes from users in third-tier cities and below.”

Those numbers are borne out in Weibo’s annual user demographics report. While the distribution of Weibo users in higher-tier cities stagnated in 2018, users from small cities and rural areas increased by 3%:

China User Marketing: Sina Weibo Users in Lower-tier cities

The strategy

Picking up new users is always more expensive than retaining the users you’ve got, even if those new users are from lower-income areas. Weibo’s penetration rates are already on the higher end in places like Shanghai and Beijing, so the company’s strategy for bigger cities has been fairly simple, according to Wang: focus on partnering with mobile phone manufacturers to ensure that Weibo comes pre-installed on their devices. That way, when someone gets a new phone, the Weibo app is already on it. All they have to do is log in.

In areas where Weibo penetration is low, it’s another story. Pre-installation is still part of the strategy, particularly on low-end mobile phones, but the company has also begun incentivizing new users to stay engaged by handing out packets of digital currency that can be spent on Weibo or other Sina platforms.

Finally, Weibo routinely partners with popular TV shows in rural areas to tempt viewers ionto the platform. Show hosts integrate hashtags during broadcasts, and plenty of big name TV stars are actively running Weibo streams.

Why it matters

  • We harp on this a lot, but this is yet another example of the trickle-down effect.Economic and technological trends that hit first-tier cities 5-10 years ago are now catching on outside of China’s major metropolitan centers. It’s clear that China’s social networks see this reality, and are actively targeting markets outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
  • Strategies for picking up users in rural areas will clearly differ from strategies in first- and second-tier cities.


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