While people generally associate China’s “net monitors” with the government agencies in charge of ensuring Internet decency, there is another kind of net monitor that is very popular in China for brands trying to create a Web presence. Daqi.com, for example, is one of a number of agencies that help international companies maintain a positive Web presence in China. Any company needs to be cognizant of cultural differences, or phrases, that might be misconstrued in a foreign country. China presents especially big challenges because of 1) the huge number of netizens, 2) the popularity of social media, and 3) the language and culture barrier. While a communications firm can help a company create an effective online marketing presence, there are few that focus specifically on monitoring the company and helping react to negative comments when they happen. While reputation management is nothing new, online reputation management (ORM) is something that is growing as technology and communications techniques change. The Chinese are really turning ORM into a specialty that is not seen in other countries.
What this means for companies looking to advance their brand in China is that while figuring out their Web presence, they’d be well advised to factor online monitoring and reputation management into the campaign budget. While Daqi seems to have one of the strongest followings, other firms, such as SinoTech and Ogilvy have recently entered the market (in addition to Web Union and CIC). Brands are realizing the need for this type of monitoring because, “in China like at no other time before companies and firms want to gain a better understanding of what is being said online and by who… In China, there is such a propensity for online chat and BBS’s your Brand could have a problem at any time.” Typically a mix of marketing (including SEO) and public relations, the list below (from SinoTech) gives a simple definition of online reputation management:
What It Is
ORM is the process of following online references to a brand, company, person or service while having a plan in place to deal with any negative feedback. You can think of it as a three-step process, although they may not always occur in this order:
1. Monitor – Maintain an ongoing system for researching and keeping track of public perception.
2. Evaluate – Consider individual feedback, as well as the source, outlet, reach and timing, to come to a decision about the risk.
3. Act – Comment, rebut, draft a formal response or simply ignore what has been said, based on your evaluation.
In a time when the Internet can spread bad PR more quickly than ever before, it is important to remain aware of controversy, and respond to it. The ORM firms are using technology to engage in traditional public relations. This goes to show that digital marketing is a viable and important technique, but one that has many pitfalls. Additionally, regardless of whether the campaign is via online or traditional media (i.e., print, TV commercials, billboards, etc), the blowback of a bad campaign will likely end up online. For example a print ad (right) showing Chinese statues bowing to a
Toyota (Japanese) vehicle, “had drawn widespread indignation and criticism from China’s netizens, who see them as a deliberate act by the Japanese car firm to insult the Chinese.” The ad caused an online furor and resulted in an apology from Toyota. If Toyota had been using a firm like Daqi, they might have known first why the image was offensive and shouldn’t be used. If they still went with the photo, Daqi could have helped Toyota get a grasp on the online conversation.
More than any other country we’ve studied so far, China seems to have more opportunity than anywhere else in terms of brands being able to use social media. I think the sheer size and population numbers of the country make it a very lucrative potential market. But the companies need to do it right. A simple gesture or phrase that might not mean anything elsewhere can have grave consequences to a multinational trying to break into the Chinese market. If a company does create a solid plan, they can find great success in China. There are even companies that will help ensure that the language barriers don’t present an issue to companies. So overall, even if a brand decides not to hire an ORM firm, they should make sure that they incorporate some plan to monitor their name online–and this applies to China, or elsewhere. And in China especially, there are companies eager to do this for you.