What Makes Online Micro Blog Content Go Viral: A Study on Sina Weibo

  • Sihua Fan

Student thesis: Doctor of Business Administration


Social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook, Twitter and SinaWeibo have attracted millions of users. They make social interaction become important and frequent in people’s daily life. In China, Sina Weibo is one of the most popular SNSs. People enjoy sharing Weibo posts with their friends frequently. However, different posts gain different levels of attention. Some posts are forwarded and shared exponentially, sometimes referred to as viral messages while other posts are rarely shared among SinaWeibo users. Some posts about consumer experience receive passionate responses while others obtain sparse followers. Some posts top the ranking list of hot topics while others languish unknown. Why certain contents on SNSs are more viral than others in micro blog has attracted many researchers. However, there is little research in Chinese context and similarly little research work has proposed a relatively complete research framework. The main objectives of this study were to explore the characteristics of online content that make micro blogs go viral on SinaWeibo and to provide suggestions to companies for conducting successful viral marketing on SinaWeibo. An empirical research approach in tandem with a questionnaire survey that uses both quantitative and qualitative data collection has been applied in this study. The primary data collection was obtained from 3066 pieces of micro blogs from SinaWeibo. SPSS was used to perform several statistical tests, namely linear regression and factor analysis. Also, two lab experiments have been conducted in Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Shanghai Flory Company to further analyze and verify the statistical results. Finally, an action research was conducted to promote Flory brand on SinaWeibo using the findings of this research. The findings suggested that if a SinaWeibo post had the attribute of ease of engagement by users, or visual effect, or new knowledge, then it was more likely to go viral than other posts. This study defined (1) ease of engagement as “a little effort required for the Weibo readers to engage in topics covered by micro blogs”, (2) visual effect as “attractive pictures or videos” and (3) knowledge as “rich and useful information”. Logistic regression results in Study 1 showed ease of engagement, visual effect and knowledge positively and significantly affect the virality of weibo posts in Sina Weibo. Findings of lab experiments further verified the positive roles these above three factors had played in leading weibo posts go viral and concluded several popular kinds of engagement from Sina Weibo: moral encouragement (e.g. good luck from micro-blogs forwarding), material reward (e.g. lucky draw) and topic discussion (e.g. product design; seeking for resonance; emotional appeal). Choosing suitable tactics to manage online content can help companies operate Weibo marketing much better.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEbrahim Marandi (Supervisor)


  • Microblog, Viral, Virality, SinaWeibo, Ease of engagement, Visal effect, Knowledge

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