New Zealand – China’s love affair with the Twitter-like site Weibo, or microblog, is creating a marketing buzz on a global scale. Tourism New Zealand has begun experimenting with this commercial tool to woo Chinese tourists, the 4th largest source for the Kiwi inbound tourism market.
There was no press conference, no newspaper coverage, and no TV broadcast. But within 100 hours, more than 10.9 million Chinese got a glimpse of the fantastic natural scenery and native Maori culture of New Zealand.
The secret lay in China’s popular social networking platform Weibo, which literally means “microblog”.
Tourism New Zealand (NZ) has named Yao Chen, China’s most followed microblogger, as its brand ambassador on the Chinese mainland.
Yao rustled up more than 10.9 million followers on the Twitter-like social networking site Sina Weibo, one of China’s leading microblogging service providers. She has joined the likes of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, becoming one of the few international “tweeters” boasting more than 10 million followers.
The brand ambassador role snagged the famed Chinese actress a promotional trip to NZ under the marketing campaign “100 Hours: Chen Yao Revives Your Emotions.”
Yao arrived in Auckland early on August 19. She tweeted on Sina Weibo soon after getting off the plane, saying her Chinese fans in NZ’s largest city had unexpectedly met her at the airport because her previous microblog gave a clue as to her arrival time.
Within the 100 hours, Yao tweeted more than 50 entries with attached photos showing off NZ’s picturesque scenery — the azure sky, the land rolling out like a grass carpet, the amiable dolphins, the city glowing in twilight hues, the silhouette of yachts at dusk, the Maori nose-to-nose greeeting, and the leisurely lifestyle of the Kiwis.
Yao’s followers fervently “retweeted” these posts. Some pictures were each re-posted more than 6000 times. Comments exalting the natural scenes flooded in.
“Woot! I will surely travel to NZ and charter a helicopter overlooking the amazing landscape,” a follower called Chen Yun added, as she re-posted a picture showing the “microblogger queen” wearing headphones in a helicopter.
“The cost to fly in such a copter is not high, and a Chinese tourist just needs to pay as much as the price for a train sleeper ticket,” Yao said on her microblog. “But the experience would be fabulous. It is like you are shooting a Hollywood blockbuster.”
Microblogging has become a popular pastime among Chinese Internet users at an amazing speed since its emergence in 2009. The popularity has attracted numerous marketers looking to create a marketing buzz for their products through social media.
Unlike Twitter, China’s networking platforms like Sina Weibo have developed features to make it more suitable for commercial use.
“On a Weibo, the replies and comments are listed under an entry. This provides an opportunity for a marketer to not only kick start a discussion, but to remain at the heart of the conversation,” said Stephy Liu, senior client service manager and digital strategist at Eastwei MSL.
Liu summarized 5 key differences between Sina Weibo and Twitter to inform marketers how to effectively engage with audiences.
With the rapidly increasing numbers of its middle class, China has become a most attractive market for the world’s tourism destinations.
About 32.21 million mainland residents made overseas trips in the first half of this year, up 19.9% year-on-year, according to the statistics issued July by China’s Ministry of Public Security. And it’s expected Chinese outbound travelers will reach 100 million by 2015.
While tourism-dependent countries and regions competed to gain a share of China’s tourism market, they seemingly haven’t overlooked the commercial value of Weibo for image promotion.
In fact, Tourism NZ was not alone in using Weibo for marketing. Quite a few tourism-dependent countries and regions also made a play for a share of China’s social media to target potential customers.
The Singapore Tourism Board is one of the most-followed overseas Weibo users to woo Chinese tourists. Its followers nearly top the 110,000 mark, doubling the number of those following Tourism NZ.
There exists an unwritten rule for marketers — a microblogger’s ad value depends on the number of his followers.
“We believe that Yao’s influence will help raise Chinese tourists’ interest in our country and encourage them to experience NZ first-hand,” said Tourism NZ General Manager Asia Markets Mark Frood.