Censorship Does Not Stop Chinese Bloggers From Advocating Change

July 27, 2009

Say the words China and Internet in the same breath and someone will undoubtedly think censorship. It gets attention from websites ranging from broadcast news to international human rights organizations and even online encyclopedias. The censorship, which the government positively refers to as the “Golden Shield Project,” to protect its citizens from online dangers, is more commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China.” Access is denied notice on a notebook

Despite the catchy nickname, the issue of censorship is a very serious concern among bloggers and other frequent users of the Internet. With some creativity, netizens have learned that it is possible to bypass the government’s firewall, as evidenced from an interview with writer James Fallows in Atlantic Monthly, but the government’s plans to install web filtering software on computers sold in China has caused a grassroots online uproar.

T-shirt design by www.raywow.com

T-shirt design by http://www.raywow.com

The Green Dam Youth Escort software has been given a rousing thumbs down by more than 32,000 people who voluntarily answered an online survey. In addition, IT software engineers gave the software a test run and quickly learned that it was antiquated and had too many vulnerabilities, which could make computers more vulnerable.

When the government finally decided to delay the July 1 rollout of the software, around 200 people celebrated in the streets of Beijing wearing anti-Green Dam t-shirts. Despite the excitement, everyone realized that the software could still be installed:

” ‘It has not been canceled, just put back, so it’s possible that after a certain amount of time it will be pushed back out,’ said Liu Xiaoyuan, who wants the government to explain why a software ostensibly designed to protect a minority of users — children and teen-agers — must be installed on all computers.”

Created by Gaurav Mishra with Universal McCann data

Created by Gaurav Mishra with Universal McCann data

Despite concerns about the government’s censorship, blogging has given Chinese citizens a newfound freedom to speak out. More than 60 percent of active Internet users in China have started their own blog, according to the Power of the People Social Media Tracker by Universal McCann and interpreted in the graphic above by  Gaurav Mishra. This means that Chinese netizens blog more than other BRIC citizens and Chinese netizens read blogs more than than BRIC citizens. Their blog reading outweighs any other social media use, except for watching videos online.

With blogs having such an importance among China’s Internet users, companies in China must pay attention to blog chatter and take it seriously. Recently, Apple computer is facing a public relations crisis in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere because of the suicide of an employee at Foxconn, a major China-based supplier for Apple. According to news reports, Sun Danyong jumped to his death from a high-rise. Blogger Jim Dalrymple reported on CNET that:

“Danyong was responsible for shipping iPhone prototypes to Apple. Danyong reported the missing device to Foxconn after realizing that one of the 16 iPhones he received was no longer in his possession.”

Despite the buzz online about Apple, the company does not have a statement anywhere on its website. Another issue is that China’s citizens are once again connecting Apple with Foxconn, the same supplier that got into hot water with bloggers in 2006 after it sued a journalist and editor at China Business News for reporting supposed poor conditions at a company plant. Foxconn’s answer to the recent blogger backlash related to the suicide was to to suspend a company employee, despite that employee’s assertion that he didn’t do anything wrong and that he, in fact, was now experiencing harassment by bloggers who released his name and address online.

Global communications Asia orientedWhether or not the employee or Foxconn were to blame for Danyong’s suicide, the abundance of blog posts point to the need for Foxconn and Apple to make some necessary changes in China and in their crisis communication methods. The news of the suicide has now reached across the ocean to mainstream U.S. news sites, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and to U.S. bloggers.

I suggest that Apple make the following changes:

  1. Speak Up. Story after story accuses Apple of creating a culture of secrecy with its products, implying that the company’s actions may have contributed to Foxconn’s problems and the suicide. By not answering, Apple is letting readers fill-in-the-blanks. It is time for the company to speak for itself.
  2. Talk to the Local Media. Apple should not ignore the power of the Chinese media and bloggers. Giving an interview or statement to a U.S. newspaper or blog demonstrates to the Chinese that Apple’s investment in their country is only surface-deep.
  3. Diversify. Despite the fact that a majority of Apple’s suppliers are based in China, Apple’s executive team is predominantly white men. Suppliers may feel that Apple does not understand them or their unique issues in China. With a company based in California, the suppliers may not feel a connection to Apple or the company’s philosophy. With such a disconnect, why should suppliers and their employees follow the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct?
  4. Look Around. This is the second major PR crisis for Apple and Foxconn within three years. Apple may need to consider looking elsewhere for a supplier, possibly a company that would draw less attention and controversy. If after two crises Apple does not penalize the supplier for failing to follow the Code of Conduct, a supplier will not change.
  5. Invest in Frequency. There were some blatant violations of the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct in the company’s most recent report online. It would be worthwhile for the company to invest in more frequent audits of suppliers who have violated the code. One audit of each supplier once a year would be best to ensure that suppliers do not relax in their adherence to the code.
  6. Act instantly. Apple needs to quit waiting for the blogosphere to bring complaints to attention. It needs to be in frequent contact with suppliers to know when there are potential crises. And when a problem occurs, Apple must act quickly, getting out to the forefront on any problems. A slow response implies that the company does not care or that the problem is not a priority.

    My final three steps for change are the ideas of blogger Richard Brubaker, founder and managing director of China Strategic Development Partners. Among his ideas on his All Roads Lead to China blog:

  7. Contact Nike. Brubaker recommends that Apple turn to Nike to learn lessons from Nike’s own problems and successes.
  8. Get Boots on the Ground. Unlike my suggestion to invest in doing audits more frequently, Brubaker advocates for inspections “NOW.”

  9. Invite in third parties. With continued problems with suppliers like Foxconn, Brubaker believes that no one will believe Apple’s reporting and should instead turn to a third party for assistance in auditing the suppliers.
Advertisements

Social Networking Gone Niche

July 26, 2009

According to Gaurav Mishra, CEO of social media research and strategy company 20:20 Web Tech, out of the next billion Internet users (and the next billion mobile users), a substantial number will come from emerging economies like China. To understand the future of new media in China, it’s important to understand how new media is currently being used in China. Of China’s more than 120 million Internet users, 43 percent are using online message boards, 76 million are using online video sharing sites and 24 percent are using blogs.

Sam Flemming, CIC CEO

Sam Flemming, CIC CEO

‘Social media is alive and well in China,” says CIC CEO Sam Flemming. CIC is the leading Internet word-of-mouth consulting firm in China. Because China is a culture where listening, community building, loyalty, trust and high-expectations are encouraged, a company trying to market its brand or product in China must first do so by identifying and targeting niche social networking and media communities that are in or related to its market. Chinese flock toward those who they trust and who share common interests. Once a company has successfully captured the trust and respect of that target audience, word-of-mouth should fan the flames of the initial buzz and spread conversation to more populous sites.

According to Traffickd:

Most social media marketers tend to focus on the largest, most popular sites, like Digg and Facebook. These sites are appealing because of the huge traffic potential that they present. These sites have more users than smaller, niche social media sites, so they receive most of the attention. Although niche sites may not be able to offer the same traffic potential (in terms of numbers) as the major players, they should not be ignored by marketers. Because exclusivity and word-of mouth from trustworthy sources are inherent in China’s culture, the smaller number of users means that it will be easier for marketers to achieve success and popularity with core audiences who are more likely to spread the word and be repeat consumers.

Heard of Neocha? It’s China’s own version of MySpace that specifically targets people who are interested in creativity, from art to fashion and music. Many companies have partnered with Neocha to hold offline events aimed at marketing its brand or product to creative minds who flock to Neocha’s site.

Helpful Hints in Implementing Niche Social Network Marketing:

Look for relationships with other social media sites: Use niche sites as a backdoor to your site.

Use a few different sites if possible: Spread the word to expand your social media marketing “broadband network”

Get involved and know the users: Know the desires of your consumers and deliver!

Try to get in early: If you see a Niche site that appears to have a growth potential, jump on it now.

xxx

Gaurav Mishra

“Internet users in China have large social circles both online and offline and are heavy users of social media, possibly because of a strong early adopter bias,” says Mishra.

Promote the content of others in your niche: Helping others find content is effective for growing with a social network.

Remember, the Chinese value quality, high-end and exclusivity. Niche social networking holds value by being functional, while also being extremely relevant and exclusive. While some may argue targeting a less trafficked site is risky because of the smaller group size, I believe that it is more benificial because the value lies in the quality, and not the quantity.


Reaching Chinese Audiences Through Social Media

July 26, 2009

Despite reports of the various problems in China, the country’s economy continues to grow, serving as an enticing target to local and foreign entities wanting to expand there.

Skyline of Shanghai, China's largest city and mainland China's business center.

Skyline of Shanghai, China's largest city and mainland China's business center.

The country is positioned to surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy (after the recession-stricken U.S. economy) at the end of this year, according to Tom Rauch of the Associated Press.

Although the use of the Internet and various forms of social media are heavily censored and monitored, Internet and mobile phone use in China is on the rise. This provides organizations willing to make some investment in social media as part of their strategy with plenty of opportunity to make inroads into the Chinese market.

Much like in the U.S. market, being informed, being authentic and engaging in conversation would serve a company well. But to successfully carry out a social media campaign in China, companies should also recognize the differences in the Chinese market, and tailor their strategies and choices of social media tools to the conditions of that market.

In a recent article, Forbes stated that Chinese Internet users, also known as netizens, spend nearly two billion hours online each week, compared to 129 million hours per week for users in the United States. These numbers reflect only a limited portion of the population, not a majority, so the growth could be significantly higher in years to come.

The 298 million people online only account for 23 percent of the Chinese population and may not offer the greatest reach cities beyond a certain tier, according to Sam Flemming, CEO and co-founder of CIC, a leading Internet Word of Mouth (IWOM) Research and Consulting firm in China.

Despite the small percentage, for those on the web, it is indeed a primary media, according to Flemming.

“Numerous studies have suggested that Chinese netizens spend upwards of twice the amount of time online as they do watching TV,” Flemming wrote. “Compared to traditional media, digital is so much more varied, exciting and open. It serves the primary platform for consumers to find information, be entertained and socialize: 81.5% of netizens get their news online and … QQ, China’s leading social internet platform, is bigger than Facebook.”

Social networking site QQ claims to have had more than 200 million monthly active users in January 2009.

Social networking site QQ claims to have had more than 200 million monthly active users in January 2009.

Flemming added that China has the most mobile phones in the world, and more people there access the Internet via mobile phone than other methods (they often access a site trough their phones before accessing via computer). According to Forbes, 400 million use cell phones in China, with over 6.1 million mobile users connecting online.

[The Forbes numbers are attributed to Dr. Charles Zhang, chairman and CEO of Beijing-based Sohu.com, an Internet company. The numbers are higher than those reported by other organizations, such as the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). According to Forbes, Zhang’s internal research revealed that Chinese Internet users numbered over 150 million (possibly up to 200 million) and that Sohu.com was in the top five most trafficked sites in the world. Zhang attributed the discrepancy and “lower-than-accurate” CNNIC numbers to the organization’s polling methodology (calling land lines).
“Young people do not use fixed line phones. They all have mobile phones,” Zhang said.]

Blogger Enid Burns quoted Netpop Research President John Crandall’s suggestion that businesses create unique experiences tailored to both the Web and mobile Web.

“It’s more important to do so now more than ever, and provide them [mobile users] with that experience that is tailored to that device, because it might be their first experience to the brand,” Crandall said. “Then bring them back to the PC, through the consistent login experience, a consistent branding experience, offering more marketing abilities through the computer, because the computer may offer more marketing real estate than the mobile device.”
Although the Chinese are using applications like Facebook and Twitter, and their equivalent or similar Chinese counterparts, Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) seem to be the most widely used form of social media. In 2008, there were over 3 billion registered BBS users in China. (A user may register on multiple forums.)

Although the relatively low Internet penetration rate, Flemming said, social participation is very high, with “more bloggers (162 million) and more places online to be social than any other market in the world.”

According to recent statistics on Internet use published by Shanghaiist, blogging is about five times more popular in China than in the U.S. Their report also states that the typical Chinese Internet user is likely to simultaneously listen to music online and use an instant messaging service.

Flemming had some recommendations to connect with the online community in China. Loosely paraphrased and augmented, they include the following:

Find out who’s talking and what they are talking about. Flemming wrote that to build connections, communicators must conduct a “community audit”, similar to a media audit. The community audit involves a systematic mapping out of key blogs, BBS forums, QQ groups and other community channels for the brand and its industry. As a result of conducting this audit, businesses gain insight into the communities and their culture, Flemming stated—including conversation topics, which topics are the most sticky or talked about, how topics are handled and how different groups (e.g., teenagers) are discussing them.

Contribute value to the community. By gaining insight into the various communities, marketers can identify opportunities to reach out and connect with the communities on another level. Flemming mentioned sponsorship of “fubai” or offline meet-ups by companies like Crocs as one example.

Connect with “efluencers”. Just like a business person maintains mutually beneficial relationships with traditional business contacts, marketers must also remember to maintain similar relationships with “effluencers”, or influencers.

Find your voice and use it. Engage consumers by listening and communicating with them online, not just in times of crisis, but also as a regular activity, such as providing advice on a specific topic or recommendations on the use of the company’s products. In discussing the challenge faced by computer manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo “is to find an authentic voice to talk back and participate in the conversation,” Flemming said. He added that Dell has multiple blogs, including one in Chinese, along with microblogging accounts on Twitter and the Chinese site Fanfou. (The latter was not available at the time this post was published.)

The Great Wall of China. Government efforts to monitor and censor the Internet are sometimes referred to as "the Great Firewall of China". Photo credit: National Geographic

The Great Wall of China. Government efforts to monitor and censor the Internet are sometimes referred to as "the Great Firewall of China". Photo credit: National Geographic

Marketers should also remember that, with the high engagement and high participation also comes significant government monitoring and censorship.

As evidenced earlier this month after the Xinjiang riots, the government can swiftly block or limit Internet and cell phone access as a means to control information flow to and from all or part of the country.

Disturbing though these practices might be, the situation is not likely to change any time soon, so marketers should remember that:

  • Social media should be treated as an element of their overall strategy (not the strategy)
  • Relationships should always be developed and maintained
  • Offline relationships are also valuable and can be key to maintaining continuity of operations in case of an online outage

Pepsi Targets Online Influencers in China

July 26, 2009

With their Voice of a New Generation campaign, Pepsi demonstrates itself to be a strategic player and early leader in the social media space in China.

Some bloggers have been critical of the campaign’s offline logistics, others see a error in going after a small niche audience and the available metrics indicate relatively poor initial online performance compared to other examples. None-the-less, I think Pepsi is blazing an intentional trail that other companies looking to enter the Chinese social media scene should consider following.

Voice of a New Generation is an integrated real-world/broadcast/digital program focused on the “alternative” or “underground” music scene. Battle of the Bands events are held with contestants earning slots on a branded American Idolesque TV show, with buzz and voting taking place in the Web 2.0 space.

Alternative Bands Perform in China

Voice of a New Generation Performance

Pepsi’s effort follows the successful Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl contest (seriously, that’s the name). Super Girl generated 400 million TV viewers a month who voted for their favorite performer by SMS. Other talent search shows have been quite popular on Chinese TV as well. While the TV tie-in is certainly interesting, it’s the social media aspect of this campaign that is most intriguing and the real subject of this post.

Online, Pepsi is smart to create a social media ecosystem with many complimentary platforms:

  • Tudou–video sharing
  • Baidu–forum
  • Sina–blog
  • Tiany–forum
  • QQ–game
  • Douban–social networking

SMS/Twitter is missing, which warrants further investigation, but note the somewhat unusual inclusion of gaming. We see the implementation of a holistic plan strongly positioned to drive interactivity with the intended audience.

Why then are the numbers so small, as littleredbook.cn points out? More importantly, why do I think that’s just fine where many bloggers see Pepsi having misstepped by targeting “underground/alternative” music artists and fans instead of going after more of a “pop” audience where the numbers would be larger?

Two reasons.

1. I think Pepsi is going after cultural INFLUENCERS, not the broadest cross-section of the population. In the Coke vs. Pepsi war, it is important to differentiate the brands from one another and Pepsi has clearly decided to be the edgier player. Picking up market share can best be done by having a different personality than the leader. Read Bharghava and also Ries & Trout who explain this type of strategy in detail.

Creating an edgy brand promise is something that requires association. It’s one thing for a company to say they’re about individuality and fun, but another for those that actually live that individuality and fun lifestyle to provide the validation. So what we see here is Pepsi making a strategic choice to go after the small group of influencers. There is adequate literature on the power of influencers in the U.S. market, but I reference a Power of Influence blog post as it pointed me to a new international study (in which influencers are called “Global Multipliers”) for it has one particularly important finding:

“Among Global Multipliers in all markets, those in China are the most likely to use the Internet to share their recommendations.”

Pepsi is dead on target with the Voice of a New Generation strategy. Going after influencers that have their own social media connections on other platforms and in other communities can have great impact in the market. The metrics on the Pepsi sponsored pages alone are simply not painting the correct picture.

2. Pepsi is in the Chinese social media game for the long haul. Compared to Coca-Cola’s 2008 revenues which predominantly took place overseas (75%),  only 48% of Pepsi’s 2008 revenues were generated outside the U.S. That’s clearly got to change for Pepsi to stay competitive. As Fortune magazine points out, PepsiCo’s Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi (formerly of Boston Consulting Group) is a strategist well aware that “the U.S. marketplace [is] in slow-growth mode even in the best of times, [and] the biggest opportunities are overseas.” Reuters reports that given the enormous potential of the Chinese market, Pepsi is investing $1 billion in China over the next four years. So looking at short-term ROI (using the regular social media measurements) of the Voice of a New Generation campaign is meaningless. The game Pepsi is playing is for billions, not the cost of a one-off campaign.

Whether the underground music approach to tapping the emerging youth consumer segment of China works or not, Pepsi is on the right track looking to engage Global Multipliers in the Chinese social media scene. They should continue to identify these segments and engage them with other creative campaigns.

— “Pepsi Targets Online Influencers in China” posted by Gregg Rapaport


Mobile Netizens

July 26, 2009

china 025Everyone is aware of the vast number of “netizens” in China which has grown to almost 300 million Internet users. However, a significant portion of these individuals are connected via their mobile phones. Behind the Great “Fire” Wall,  this vibrant community has grown significantly and utilize their mobile phones to stay connected to their peers and engage social media.

In a report released today by the Ministry of Industry and Information and Technology, they claim phone users in China have surpassed the one billion mark at the end of June. Of these one billion phone users, 155 million have access to the Internet through their mobile phones which is an increase of 32.1% since 2008. This increase has been contributed to the launch of the third-generation (3G) network. The 3G network allows mobile phone users to download data faster, make video calls and watch TV programming.

This group of mobile netizens are primarily comprised of the “mostly curious 20-something” crowd known as the “Post-80s”. This outspoken generation grew up with some affluence as China began emerging as a country and are perceived as spoiled and outspoken. This group of mostly urbanites were born of the one-child per household social policy in China during the 1980s are a marketer’s dream! There are nearly 200 million people who are actively engaged online for entertainment using their mobile phones to access sites for email, games, music, and videos.

Last year, PUMA targeted this market by launching a program around the Shanghai Grand Prix, which takes place on Sunday. The campaign utilized the existing global mobile platform by launching a mobile Internet site featuring PUMA’s ‘F Wan’ (Wan in Chinese means ‘play’). The site offered interactive activities as well as being able to connect them to store locations:

It offers mobile users the chance to play an F1 battle car racing game that can be downloaded from the mobile site. Phonevalley has also created a build-a-points system to encourage gameplay and viral activity: players who submit their scores by SMS or who forward the games to friends will earn new points. Every week, the top three players will be rewarded with PUMA F1-branded merchandise.

PumaThe mobile site also has a store locator function, with details of in-store promotions, and PUMA F1-branded screensavers and wallpapers. Other marketers can learn from Puma by staging things around existing events that already resonate with the Chinese audience. Secondly, partnering with the leading mobile networks. Puma sought a relationship with QQ, the most popular free instant message and mobile gaming platform in China. Moreover, they encouraged a progression with users by encouraging them to “submit their scores by SMS back to the Puma website” to obtain merchandise and participating in competition among your peers.

Other brands like Coke and China Merchant Banks understands this concept of hitting the post 80s market with their targeted campaign with “World of Warcraft” and “Hello Kitty” msn campaings. The continuous engagement and interaction is critical for marketers to resonate with the fickle, post-80s mobile netizen Chinese market.


Entertained by the Grass-Mud Horse

July 26, 2009

Chinese internet users spend more time than Americans on entertainment sites (i.e. online games, music, video, blogs and chatting), but not so much on online banking, purchases, and search engines.  Due to the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre on June 4, China shut down Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Bing, YouTube, and many other social networking sites with no signs of opening them back up soon.  The combination of Chinese netizens internet behavior (prefering entertainment over online search and purchasing) and Chinese government imposed censorship makes it very difficult for companies to penetrate the market using social media tools.  However, difficult does not mean impossible.  To reach target audiences via social media tools, companies must be creative in their strategies and listen closely to what Chinese internet users are saying.

In 2008, the Pew Research Center reported that “few in china complain about internet controls” claiming that Chinese internet users approve of the government’s management of the Internet.  However, a recent viral YouTube video about the grass-mud horse (a symbolic defiance of Chinese internet censorship) proves otherwise.

grass mud horse

Michael Wines from The New York Times reports on the grass-mud horse as an “icon of resistenance to censhorship” in China (according to  adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Xiao Qiang).  Wines goes on to say that “China’s online population has always endured censorship, but the oversight increased markedly in December, after a pro-democracy movement led by highly regarded intellectuals, Charter 08, released an online petition calling for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.  Shortly afterward, government censors began a campaign, ostensibly against Internet pornography and other forms of deviance. By mid-February, the government effort had shut down more than 1,900 Web sites and 250 blogs — not only overtly pornographic sites, but also online discussion forums, instant-message groups and even cellphone text messages in which political and other sensitive issues were broached.”  It was called the most vicious crackdown in years by China Digital Times.

Videos of the mythical creature began to appear in early January 2009 on the Chinese search engine Baidu.  The grass-mud horse, a vulgar saying in Chinese, is symbolic and has multiple meanings. In the video, the grass-mud horse fights with the ‘river crab,’ a slang word in Chinese for ‘censorship.’  The viral video, reaching more than 1.4 million viewers as of early March 2009, has many strong double meanings that include mostly vulgar language.  Pairing perceived innocent words with double dirty meanings allows the video to get by strict government censorship allowing it to be widely distributed.

CNN reports in more depth about the specific meanings of each part of the video (Caution: not for children).  Global Voices Online reports about the internet phenomena of the grass-mud horse and its significance in the online and offline world in China.  The grass-mud horse has become so popular that an iPhone app was created for it in early June 2009 – re-named ‘strange horse,’ most likely due to censorship.

Global Voices Online explains that China’s government declared a ban on the grass-run horse after it went global with The New York Times article in early March 2009.  China’s administration claims that “the issue has been elevated into a political level, overseas media has turned it into a story of netizen and government confrontation.”  However, Oiwan Lam from Global Voices makes a clear point that it is not The New York Times, or anyone else for that matter, that is in the wrong for giving this worldwide exposure, but rather “the most crucial role [in promoting the grass-mud horse] is played by the Chinese censor / river crab, without which the Grass Mud Horse is nothing more than a dirty joke.”

Before entering the Chinese market with a social media strategy, it is essential to understand two major insights:

1. Censorship in China is a big hurdle to get over.  Before entering the market, be fully aware of what is censored.  Don’t let your marketing strategy falter because of this.

2.  Entertainment sells.  The viral video of the grass-run horse became so widespread not only because Chinese netizens are passionate about government censorship, but also because it was a medium that resonates with Chinese netizens.  To penetrate the Chinese market:  Make it fun.  Combine your product or organization with a game, video, discussion, or music.  High levels on Chinese internet users are already drawn to these entertaining sites online – make your presense known.


A Different Type of Net Monitoring in China

July 26, 2009
Chinacampaigns

Image from Businessweek.com

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

Photo from Chinadaily.com

Photo from Chinadaily.com

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.