China, Technology

PDC 3 – How Weibo (Chinese Twitter) users earn millions through content monetization

Weibo, for those who don’t know, is the equivalent of Twitter in China. It has more users than Twitter, but that’s not the only difference. Users can monetize their content on Weibo to earn millions of Chinese yuan.

How one celebrity earned millions on Weibo

The news first broke in May 2018, when one celebrity Chengcheng Fan (范丞丞) earned 4.8 million Chinese yuan (0.7 million USD) overnight for one photo that is monetized on Weibo. Users who want to see the photo has to pay on Weibo.


The Weibo post where the second photo is behind “paywall”

But it turned out to be somewhat misleading, as the payment was not only for one photo.

4日,范丞丞所在公司北京乐华圆娱文化传播股份有限公司发表声明称,范丞丞微博一张照片卖出480万的消息不实。用户支付的60元并非针对单次图片付费,而是享受半年的微博V+明星会员专属服务,除了可以看明星们的私照之外,还拥有许多特权。- ifeng

As the agency for Chengcheng Fan noted (in Chinese), the payment was for Weibo’s “Celebrity V+ membership service”. It comes with other perks in addition to seeing photos behind paywalls.

Weibo Celebrity V+ membership service

So what is this V+ celebrity membership service?

I looked at the FAQ about it on Weibo, and a piece of news on Sina (the company behind Weibo) about it that I managed to find.

It is basically a subscription service for fans of certain celebrities on Weibo, launched sometime in Apr 2018. You pay 60 Chinese yuan (8.74 USD) per month for each celebrity that you want to have V+ membership for. There are several key benefits about this service:

“Closer” to the celebrity

Once you activate in V+ member service for a particular celebrity, you get into a member-only chat group, where the celebrity him/herself is present.

You can interact with the celebrity directly. You also get to know other “closest fans” of the same celebrity.

Exclusive content

This includes private photos like in the case covered in the news, as well as exclusive videos and voice messages.

Fan status on Weibo and more

…还会有评论靠前、评论区特殊标识,定制微博小尾巴、定制挂件和卡片等明星会员专属特权。还有部分明星会针对V+会员定制见面会,给予核心粉丝更加亲密的互动体验。- Sina

With V+ member service activated, your comments will be shown closer to the top, with special labels and effects. You might also get invited to exclusive face-to-face meetups for certain celebrities.

What about non-celebrities?

Fortunately, you can also monetize your content even if you are not a celebrity (yet), provided someone is willing to pay you. This is through the “Weibo paid content”, which allegedly was launched even earlier, in 2014.

The official guides for paid content are here (for authors) and here (for readers).

Sample screenshots shown for paid content UI – Sina Weibo

Basically it is also a subscription-based service, where authors can set certain posts to be accessible to subscribers of the “paid content service” only and set a subscription price accessing these posts.

Users who wish to see those contents would have to pay Weibo for the subscription service. Weibo then takes a cut and pays the author.


As far as I know, Twitter does not have this kind of business model (yet), so Weibo is trying something new here at least.

Granted, subscription is a fairly old concept, but I have not seen it being used in Western social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). Subscription usually happens on a 3rd party service like Patreon or a product separate from the main platform, like YouTube Premium, whereas the ads are the main source of revenue for these products.

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