• Andrew Collins

Sina Cleans Up Weibo, Removes Fake Accounts

Just over a year ago today, China’s top social network, Sina Weibo, launched their IPO in the US. Since then, the ‘real’ number of active Weibo users has been the topic of much debate.

As of Jan 2015, Sina have made it a priority to remove fake accounts and limit spam bots on Weibo. However, it took until March 30th for Sina to release a statement explaining their actions.

According to Sina, the goal of their 3-step clean up process is to improve user experience across Sina Weibo; however, in reality the problem is and has always been transparency around authentic follower numbers. It would seem that the main goal of this campaign is to crackdown on the widespread practice of artificially inflating follower numbers with “zombie fans” on official accounts.

On April 1st, Sina kicked off the 3rd phase of the campaign, the effects of which have been noticeable. Over the past 3 weeks, many celebrity and popular brand Weibo accounts have lost varying degrees of followers, including some of the top sports teams in the world.

Since launching the Red Card report, Mailman’s proprietary technology tracks the daily follower growth of international brands, sports and tourism accounts on Weibo. Below we have highlighted some of those worst hit by Sina’s campaign.

Case 1: Football Clubs

In the week prior to April 1st, our data shows that the top 30 official football club Weibo accounts gained 391,257 fans, however the following week these same accounts show a combined drop of 57,529 followers.

Case 2: Celebrities

During a 1 week period from April 12-19, popular Chinese singer Weiwei @韦唯 saw a decline of over 8 million followers from an impressive 10 million down to 1.87 million.

Case 3:  The NBA

NBA, the most followed sports account on Weibo with just under 33 million followers, dropped more than 323,000 online fans in three weeks since April 1st.


Case 4: Tourism

1. Spring Airlines, one of the most followed airlines on Weibo with 4.6 million fans, saw 175,000 followers disappear in three weeks since April 1st.

2. Ctrip, China’s leading travel booking platform with 6 million followers, lost 220,000 during the same time period.

Quality over quantity

Considering the negative impact that ‘zombie’ fans have on a brand’s credibility, Sina’s clean-up campaign is a step in the right direction to offering a more accurate assessment of brands’ Weibo popularity.

Although an account’s total number of followers is generally considered the most important metric to determine online success, a growing number of brands and agencies are looking at engagement levels as the best indicator of Weibo performance. Let’s hope that in future, this crackdown encourages brands to attract real Weibo followers purely through the quality of their content.

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