I want to share this industry news here not to discourage anyone from promoting their product or brand on Chinese social media, but because I think it is important to be aware of new changes and restrictions so that you can control your expectations as well as avoid wasting time and money.
On June 7th 25 popular official WeChat accounts were abruptly shut down with no warning including fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar and several other popular fashion, entertainment and movie accounts. The Beijing Cyberspace Administration ordered this crackdown, targeting accounts reporting on celebrity news and gossip because they “undermined socialist values”.
Many of these accounts had massive followings which they have completely lost access to. All they can do is attempt to start over with a new account and hope their readers will follow them there.
There is no real way to completely prevent this from occurring to your account, but obviously the key is to avoid sensitive topics, even if you’re just trying to create a catchy article title to attract readers. Also it is important to grow an audience on more than one platform so that if something like this occurs you don’t lose everything.
A couple days prior to the massive WeChat crackdown, starting the morning of June 3rd (China time) Weibo blocked all accounts located outside of China from posting photos and videos, and from live streaming on Weibo’s live streaming platform Yizhibo. This ban wasn’t directed specifically at foreigners or people using the international version of Weibo, instead it impacted anyone who was posting to Weibo with an IP address outside of China.
These accounts were only partially blocked and users could still send text only posts, repost other posts that included photo and video content, send comments (but no images in the comments) and use private messaging functions on their account.
A couple days later around June 6th and 7th many accounts were almost completely back to normal but some were still unable to live stream. Users could start a stream but after a minute or so it would suddenly shut down and they would receive a message stating that they had broken a government regulation and their live stream had to be shut off. Oddly enough some accounts outside of China were able to resume streaming while others still couldn’t. Again this does not seem to be specifically foreigner focused as some foreigners outside of China have been able to stream while some Chinese nationals located outside of China are unable to.
It is still unclear why this temporary ban occurred, but it was quite nerve-wracking for those involved since they had no idea what was going on and whether or not the situation was permanent.
And while Weibo seems to be functioning normally again, according to the influencer agency PARKLU, there seems to be some new content rules in effect. Weibo has not officially released these rules, but PARKLU has been able to confirm them through an insider source at Weibo, KOL surveys, and independent testing.
Unlike the two crackdowns mentioned above, these new rules seem to be an effort by Weibo to force out competition and create an insular environment. While it is worth checking out all of the rules, some that really stood out were:
Posts that mention WeChat, include QR codes, or include external links will be penalized by the Weibo algorithm reducing your post’s organic reach.
Most importantly, posts including links to eCommerce sites that are not part of Alibaba will be blocked completely.
You can find a complete list of the 10 rules here.
While these crackdowns and new restrictions are very frustrating for content creators and brands, it is still extremely worthwhile to grow an audience or promote your product in China. Do your best to stay informed about changes in the online environment and, as mentioned above, try to grow an audience or promote your product across a variety of platforms. While Weibo and WeChat are the big players, there are many other smaller social media platforms with enormous user bases that can be an excellent means of promoting your content as well.