Sina Weibo, China’s No. 1 Twitter-like microbloging service, is not only a platform for public opinion, but also the new frontline for marketing. In addition to the conventional practices of branded pages and paid retweets, another popular way of Weibo marketing is to pay popular accounts to feature branded profile pictures.
Starting yesterday, 360buy, China’s biggest business-to-consumer retailing site, began its anniversary month promotion – “Best Anniversary Month Sales”. 360buy changed the background image of its official Weibo account into one big advertisement for the promotion. Also changed was 360buy’s profile picture on Weibo, a sign that reads “360buy, Anniversary Month Sales” with very festive colors of red and golden (both are colors for celebrations in China)
But this is far from the end of 360buy’s marketing plan on Weibo. On the day when the promotion kicked off, tens of other popular Weibo accounts were found to change their profile pictures to the same “360buy, Anniversary Month Sales” sign. Some extreme cases even featured the entire anniversary promotion ad from 360buy’s page. According information from an insider, 360buy paid up to 5 digits to these accounts for a one-day profile picture change.
The official Weibo page of Beauty and Health (美容健康) looked like just another 360buy page.
Other accounts like Wrold’s Hottest Finds (全球热门搜罗), Very music (最音乐 ), Weibo Horoscope (微博星座运势), Stories on the Internet (互联网的那点事) and Stories at night clubs (夜店里那点事) were all paid to change their profile pictures to 360buy’s promotion ad.
The least popular one of these accounts has about 300k followers and the most popular one has nearly 3 million followers, which means, in addition to 360buy’s own 1.3 million followers, its marketing message has been seen by another 10 million Weibo users at least.
Not surprisingly, the hundreds of vertical accounts under 360buy also changed their profile pictures.
This is not the first time when Chinese brands were found to market through profile pictures on Weibo. About 2 months ago in March, on the night before TV show “Zhen Huan Zhuan” (Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan) was released on Anhui TV, over 1000 Weibo accounts affiliated with the channel changed their profile pictures into an image of Zhen Huan, leading female role of the TV show. [Click here to read details about the story]
The best part is that whoever retweets a post from these accounts or has a friend who retweets from these accounts will be automatically exposed to the marketing message. Content in the tweet itself no longer matters. If the so-called mere exposure effect much discussed in adverting research does exist, marketing through social media profile pictures will work like a charm.