Updated: 2013-04-05 08:20
By Lin Jing and Chen Yingqun (China Daily)
From a company perspective, the added features of Chinese micro blogs make them ideal for online marketing campaigns.
Top: Marie Han Silloway is chief marketing officer of Starbucks China. Above: Ben Wilson is marketing director of Reckitt Benckiser. Photos Provided to China Daily
On Sina Weibo users can watch videos and see pictures seamlessly. But on platforms like Twitter video and pictures are often in the form of a hyperlink that has to be clicked to access the content.
"Platforms like Twitter have a limitation of 140 letters for one piece of information, whereas Sina Weibo allows 140 characters and various other features like pictures, videos, and hyperlinks. This helps create more vivid marketing campaigns for companies," says Gao Xiang, communications manager of Nokia China.
Apart from the better return on investment, customer retention is another factor that attracts foreign companies to micro blogs.
Companies like Royal Caribbean regard a micro blog as a window for customer services, or a channel for product promotion, and also an option for delivering after-sales services.
"What we value most about micro blog marketing is the increase in user viscosity," says Yao. "Activities on the micro blog will increase interaction with consumers and help increase the influence of our campaign."
The company started its official Sina Weibo account in 2011, and has around 130,000 followers. They also have a five-member dedicated team to produce four to five interesting topics daily and communicate with followers. The team also initiates marketing campaigns, such as promotion information and vouchers to transfer online traffic to offline sales.
Yao says that on average, about 2,000 to 3,000 of their followers participate in campaigns. Last year, about 110,000 passengers boarded the company's cruises in China, triple the total number in 2011. This year, the company plans to launch more campaigns, she says.
When it comes to a public relations crisis, official micro blog accounts can be quite effective during the feedback and management process.
According to a white paper prepared by Ogilvy called Crisis Management in the Micro blog Era, nearly three major PR crises of last year had their roots in micro blogs, including companies such as KFC and McDonald's.
In March last year, McDonald's was the subject of an expose by CCTV for selling expired food in its Sanlitun branch in Beijing. Within an hour of the exposure, the company announced the suspension of business at the branch, and subsequently apologized on its micro blog, all of which triggered nearly 388,995 posts.
"McDonald's used its official micro blog to help calm netizens and lead the opinion direction, while taking offline measures to suspend the business of the branch in question. In this way, it was able to quickly and successfully resolve the crisis," Chu says.
Ogilvy research shows that brands having an official micro blog account before a crisis can reduce response time by nearly 12 hours, while the average crisis duration can fall to 15 days from 17 days, along with substantial reduction in negative buzz.
"Micro blogs are an important platform base on which brands can monitor public sentiment and respond to crises as soon as possible. As crises are exposed, brands that respond via their official micro blogs can help pacify disgruntled netizens. Coupled with remedial measures offline, it's possible to diffuse the crises in a short time," Chu says.
Wilson says that the most important issue of micro blog marketing is to be open and pay close attention to daily events.
According to Wilson, loyal fans often defend the brand if there is a mistake or misunderstanding.
"Sometimes when consumers charge us with doing something wrong, we don't have to say anything, because we find that our fans often come to our rescue by telling them that was wrong," Wilson says.
Besides Sina Weibo, foreign companies also conduct marketing activities on Renren, the Chinese version of Facebook, and WeChat, an instant messenger app for smartphones. But many like Wilson still consider micro blogs as the most influential platform.
"Companies can use it for collecting feedback, especially when launching new products, and manage their consumer experience and improve their products accordingly," says Jane Zhang, principal research analyst in consumer technology and markets with global research firm Gartner.
"Unlike the traditional ways of marketing, targeted communications and marketing influence on micro blogs can be quantified," she says. "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."
Zhang says that micro blogs in China also serve as a major public media platform, and as a hub for information exchange, rather than just a place to share the joy of one's private life.
Realizing this, many of the major micro blog operators are gearing up to offer better services for companies to optimize their micro blog marketing campaigns.
In October 2012, Sina Weibo launched the micro-task, a tool it hoped would lead to better commercialization of Sina Weibo.
Micro-task, or Weirenwu in pinyin, is the official platform for posting and accepting tasks.
Enterprise users can create tasks and choose some specific accounts to post or re-post advertising campaigns for a certain commission fee. The micro-task platform collects a 30 percent service fee from companies.
According to Sina, micro-task aims to provide more benefits to marketers than ordinary accounts, with added advantages in credibility and transaction protection.
In April, Sina Weibo intends to launch an online payment service called WeiboPay, to translate its online traffic to revenue.
Hong Lizhou, general manager responsible for Sina Weibo's marketing strategy, says the service aims to provide a seamless payment system, and connect merchants that sell goods via their corporate accounts on micro blog.
After selecting their products, micro blog users will be redirected to a payment page where they can choose to pay with a credit card or a third-party payment solution provider such as WeiboPay. The service will act as a middleman between the merchant and the bank.
Tencent also started its own micro blog services Micro Space in July 2011. The platform offers companies an SNS channel for customer relationship management.
Xing Hongyu, general manager with Tencent Weibo Business Unit, says the company will integrate its popular services like QQ and Qzone, to help clients create one-stop micro blog marketing platform.
Yao from Royal Caribbean says that micro blog marketing has replaced BBS (bulletin boards) or blogs in netizens' lives. She believes that with better marketing services, micro blog marketing looks set for a promising future.
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