Talking it up online

Updated: 2013-04-12 07:38

By Lin Jing and Chen Yingqun (China Daily)

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Crisis management

When it comes to a public relations crisis, official micro blog accounts have proved an effective tool during the feedback and management process.

In March 2012, China Central Television reported that McDonald's was selling expired food at its branch in the upmarket Sanlitun district of Beijing. Within an hour of the report, the US fast food giant had announced the suspension of business at the branch and apologized on its micro blog, triggering nearly 389,000 posts.

Talking it up online

"McDonald's used its official micro blog to help calm netizens and lead opinion, while taking offline measures to suspend the business at the branch in question. In this way, it was able to quickly and successfully resolve the crisis," said Chew.

Ogilvy's research shows that brands that already have an official micro blog account before a crisis can reduce the response time by almost 12 hours, while the average duration of a crisis can fall to 15 days from 17, accompanied by a substantial reduction in negative "buzz".

In addition to Sina Weibo, foreign companies also conduct marketing activities on Renren, the Chinese version of Facebook, and WeChat, an instant messenger app for smartphones.

"Unlike the traditional ways of marketing, targeted communications and marketing influence on micro blogs can be quantified. When you select a celebrity account with 5 million followers for promotional purposes, you can be sure that the post will reach 5 million users," said Jane Zhang, principal research analyst in consumer technology and markets with the global researcher Gartner Inc.

Many celebrities also enjoy huge followings on micro blogs, where posts about what they have eaten, seen or bought receive wide attention and often thousands of re-posts. The micro blog of Chinese actress Yao Chen has more than 43 million followers. The US basketball star Stephon Marbury, currently plying his trade for the Beijing Ducks, has more than 1 million followers on Sina Weibo and has used the platform to promote a footwear brand for a Chinese company.

Many of the major micro blog operators are also gearing up to offer better services to allow companies to optimize their micro-blog marketing campaigns.

In October 2012, Sina Weibo launched the Micro-tasks tool, which it hopes will lead to better commercialization of Sina Weibo. The tool acts as an official platform for posting and accepting tasks, and is designed to offer added advantages in credibility and transaction protection.

This month, Sina Weibo intends to launch an online payment service called WeiboPay, to translate its online traffic into revenue.

Hong Lizhou, general manager responsible for Sina Weibo's marketing strategy, said the service aims to provide a seamless payment system, and connect merchants who sell goods via their corporate accounts on micro blogs.

Tencent also started its own micro blog service, called Micro-space, in July 2011. The platform offers companies an SNS channel for the management of customer relationships.

While marketing successes and the advance of technological tools are changing the landscape rapidly, for some companies, the platforms simply provide a means of increasing customer interaction and retaining their loyalty.

Durex, the condom brand owned by the UK's Reckitt Benckiser Group, has perhaps the most active presence in China's virtual world. That the platform is immensely popular can be gauged by its ever-growing fan base of more than 670,000 followers.

Ben Wilson, Reckitt Benckiser's marketing director, said that although Durex's success is largely due to the engaging topics of safe sex, sex education and love stories, the micro blog's friendly conversational style has helped the company reach out to a greater number of fans.

"Social media is all about making friends and engaging people. As a brand, we have realized how crucial it is to engage with our friends," he said.


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