A to Z of micro blog marketing

Updated: 2013-04-05 08:20

By Chen Yingqun and Lin Jing (China Daily)

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A to Z of micro blog marketing

MSL China's digital team analyzes micro blog users' habits and evaluates its campaign's effectiveness. Provided to China Daily

Professional agencies help global firms navigate the untested waters in China

While foreign companies are busy using micro blogs to promote their business, others have made a business out of them.

Be it morning greetings, a funny photo or activities for public participation, the work of third party companies has played a vital role in many micro blog marketing campaigns.

Foreign companies joined the micro blog bandwagon in 2009 to capitalize on the large volume of traffic these platforms were beginning to command. But marketing and managing a company's image on them is a tough challenge.

"Usually companies focus only on their area of expertise, while companies like ours have marketing experience across many fields and are more experienced in dealing with various situations. That's why most companies, despite having their own marketing teams, still come to us," says Cathy Yue, senior manager of Edelman Digital, the interactive arm of public relations firm Edelman.

Edelman started its social media business in 2008. Currently it works across several platforms including Mobile/Tablet App Design & Build, Social Network App Design & Build and Social Media Policy Development Digital & Social Media Training.

Yue says that launching an online campaign for Western companies usually involves four steps. The first is to conduct a survey of online opinion about the brand. Following that they produce several topics that could initiate discussion and talk with the client about a social media strategy.

After that comes the most important step, brainstorming campaign strategies and forecasting what the effect of the campaign will be. The whole process takes about two weeks for a small online campaign, Yue says.

"This is the most important and exciting part, as various creative ideas will collide with each other and sparks could be stoked any minute," she says.

Once the social media campaign has begun, Edelman makes regular evaluations of its effectiveness and reports its findings to the client.

"We normally evaluate some basic figures, such as increase in followers, and the number of re-posts and comments. But we also look at the number of times the keyword is searched for and the growth in both positive and negative comments," she says.

Many celebrities enjoy a large following on micro blogs, with posts about what they eat, see or buy receiving wide attention and often thousands of re-posts. Chinese actress Yao Chen has more than 43 million followers of her micro blog. And former US basketball player Stephon Marbury, who has more than 1 million followers on Sina Weibo, has also used the platform to promote a shoe brand for a Chinese company.

Edelman aims for numbers of followers but also looks to connect brands with suitable celebrities or opinion leaders.

Johan Bjorksten, chairman of MSL China, says that micro blog management is like a love affair. The company established its micro blog business in 2009 and has executed dozens of campaigns since.

"Even if you can achieve instant passion using a few short-term marketing tricks, the real challenge is to build long-term attraction," he says. "You need to nurture trust and emotional rapport between your brand and its followers. You also need to provide a surprise or especially romantic moment to keep the flame alive."

He says that successful brands don't try to generate love at first sight; they devote themselves strategically to creating deep and honest interactions that foster life-long relationships.

According to Bjorksten, brand identity is the key, along with analyzing the target audience's micro blog habits.

"A micro blog is the mirror of the brand. As such, it needs a real identity with a personality that directly faces the target group. Therefore, equip the blog with a background, sentiments, hobbies and character traits," he says.

Bjorksten says that it's also worth spending time on getting the right tone. Communicating often comes with a built-in challenge, that is, how to communicate in "social media speak" to relate to the online audience, while at the same time maintaining the brand's image and integrity.

Bjorksten's advice is that companies should not try to be too chummy.

"Our experience from China shows that sites that adopt a relaxed yet professional tone attract the most followers," he says.

Obtaining official verification from the platform provider that people running a micro blog are who they claim to be is an important step in creating brand integrity in the social media environment, says Bjorksten, and including pictures or video usually generates more attention than words alone.

Micro blog accounts also need to stay relevant to the hot topics of the day and the lives of their target audience; It is about real-time conversations with the target audience, says Bjorksten, which are both an attraction and a challenge.

"If you are in the food business, it might be a smart idea to post information about your products just before lunch, when people are starting to get hungry," he says.

Ogilvy is one of the many agencies that have followed the trend and launched social media marketing services for clients. The agency set up its 360 Digital Influence team in 2006 and began to provide micro blog marketing services in the second half of 2010. Today the company manages the official accounts of over 50 companies.

Michael Chu, managing partner with Ogilvy Public Relations, says that many teams have started to put more emphasis on micro blog marketing. Most agencies also provide training for the team within a company that will be responsible for maintaining their micro blog.

According to case studies, there are three main aspects of micro blog marketing: brand building and promotion; product sales; and online, offline activities. Other activities like after-sales services and PR crisis management are also becoming increasingly important.

Despite its benefits, Chu says that micro blog marketing is more demanding than traditional marketing.

"The core agenda of daily management is about producing content," he says. "Requirements like innovative ideas, a high quality campaign and fast speed are all higher than in any other aspect of marketing. Previously, we could say the campaign was almost over when the press conference was done, but now it is only the beginning as we have to closely follow the developments on various SNS afterwards."

Contact the writers at chenyingqun@chinadaily.com.cn and linjingcd@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 04/05/2013 page6)