What? Who Initiate, and Why?
“Follow @OfficialAccountOfXXXCompany and repost this post and tag more than two friends. On next Sunday, we will choose five people randomly to send each of them a new released YYY Product, assisting by a third-party lottery platform.” –posted by an official Sina Weibo (a Chinese microblog) account of a certain company.
If you have a Sina Weibo account, you must have seen this sort of posts in your homepage. I can see them every day, since many of my following users will repost them. And sometimes, I also will. Some media companies, including TV stations and entertainment websites, often launch events that promise, that if you belong to their followers and repost a certain post, you will have the chance to get special souvenirs of a TV shows, or signatures by pop stars, or not-for-sale tickets. They will also launch campaigns that last for long times. For instance, a campaign can last for one week with one winner each day, or last for one month with one winner each week.
In most cases, those kinds of posts can be reposted more than tens of thousands times. Due to social networks, this is an emerging way of marketing and advertising for companies. Obviously, it is a quick, free and rewarding way for both product advertisement and brand promotion.
Not only companies do this, but also some users. “Follow me and repost this tweet, you may have the chance to get a brand new iPhone 5S. Only one follower will be rewarded at 10am this Friday.” Some public users may post like this, maybe just because they have a spare iPhone given by others. Then, this post can be reposted ten thousands of times (there are fanatic Apple fans), and as a result the user may double his or her number of followers. There is no need for these users to do marketing or self-advertising. They neither sell things nor earn money from this, and may even have lost money. So what is their purpose of doing this? The only one reason I can think of is that they gain thousands of followers, which may bring them a good fame and feel proud. You would like to boast about your number of followers, if you had ten thousand.
Some campaigns are launched for other purposes. In particular, among people with the same interest (e.g. fans of one single pop star), some will launch lotteries without being their followers. In such cases, the gifts are always something special related to their interests, and the reposts are within the certain group of people (it can still be tens of thousands of users). These users are not looking for followers. So I assume that they do it for self-recreation and self-satisfaction, and certainly, they make new friends.
Why Does It Become Popular?
Why are tens of thousands of users willing to follow the sponsor and repost those posts? The key reason is apparent: neither time nor money is needed, but you have a chance of winning. After some clicks, you effortlessly may gain something. Doesn’t it sound great? Although the probability of winning is less than one ten-thousandth, large numbers of users are still glad to give a try since it costs nothing. Personally, I will follow and repost sometimes, if I really want the prize. But I am relatively stingy with who I am following. So I will remember to unfollow the sponsor after the lotteries are done. However, most participants don’t seem to care who they are following, which means that sponsors gain many permanent followers through the campaigns. As a report  explains, number of followers is a key determinant in getting posts across. The larger the group of users who are reading a post, the easier it spreads widely, which leads to an even larger audience. If the sponsor is a company account, it achieves a permanent audience that they can benefit from in the future.
Now, you may be wondering if there really is someone who gets the prize? Most of the users who reposted may completely forget about it, and very few will remember to check who the winner is. I am quite convinced that most of the official accounts keep their promise, and will publish another post to announce who is the winner. However, I’m not sure about those individual users. If they don’t keep their words and are denounced by other users, the worst effect would be that they would have to close the account and register a new one. Wether they are honest or not, thousands of users are willing to repost.
The Role of Social Media
If we had still been in the era of flyers, text messages and emails without social networks, I cannot imagine a similar way to achieve all of the goals of marketing, reputation, and self-satisfaction. Nowadays, a social network with over 500 million users and 46.2 million daily active users  provides a free, instant, accessible and widespread platform for users to achieve these goals. A user development report on Sina Weibo (2012)  states that Weibo users purchase 54% of the goods and services in China. This is very good news for those who want to utilize Weibo as an advertising and brand promotion tool. If you are a company targeting on Chinese market, you may explore a plethora of marketing strategies utilizing Weibo (see 10 Marketing Tips for Using Sina Weibo). If you are a common user and want to start a lottery for whatever reasons, please, at least, keep your promise 🙂
 Fu K-w, Chau M. Reality Check for the Chinese Microblog Space: A Random Sampling Approach. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58356. (2013)
 INCITEZ CHINA. How Many Users Can You Really Reach on Sina Weibo. (2013)
 Sina Corporation and Peking University. User Development Report of Sina Weibo (in Chinese). (2012)