Making sense of micro blog business

Updated: 2013-04-05 08:20

By Shen Lei (China Daily)

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Understanding the finer nuances is the key to long-term marketing strategy

Marketing promotions by global companies have intensified with the rapid rise of micro blogs and the decline of discussion boards. With their huge number of users, these online platforms have not only changed the way that multinational companies share information in China, but also reshaped an entire generation.

Unlike online chat rooms, micro blogs have several distinct features. They are essentially an open platform in which participants can read, share and communicate with others using a well-designed and interactive format. It also allows users to send pictures, videos and Web links and provides seamless integration of the Internet community.

According to China Internet Information Center, the number of active Chinese micro blog accounts is expected to exceed 460 million by the end of this year. More importantly, the unique and low-cost media tool has become an indispensable marketing asset for companies.

Most of the Western companies rely on these platforms to maintain their image in China. There are more than 60,000 enterprises active on Sina Weibo, including several European and US companies, like BMW and Audi. Micro blogs have been an ideal platform for European and US businesses to reach out to the huge Chinese market. Apart from companies, these platforms are also used by the embassies of several nations like the US, France, Sweden and Japan to disseminate country-related information.

Enterprises like BMW and Coca-Cola are some of the biggest gainers from these platforms. The number of visitors to these company micro blogs has often exceeded the page views for their official websites.

One reason for this is that information travels faster, is more timely and people-oriented on micro blogs. Therefore, well-known brands often try to attract more followers and feedback to enhance their brand image.

In addition, different voices on the micro blog can also help enterprises have quick access to consumer psychology, product satisfaction, as well as the latest demands, and market dynamics.

The two important keywords for understanding micro blog behavior is "who says" and "what is said". Be it a business or an individual, what they say on micro blogs is most likely a reflection of their own image.

Micro-blog marketing is an influential marketing tool that integrates the seemingly random language fragments and transforms them into something that is beneficial to business.

For multinational companies, micro-blogging has proved to be more than a handy tool as it combines instant messaging software (IM, QQ, MSN), community forums (SNS), location-based services and press releases into one platform. There is already talk that many Chinese broadband service providers are planning to make micro-blogging into an open API applications system, to allow companies to publish commercial news or business topics.

Eventually micro blogs will become an integral part of the e-commerce strategies of companies. Therefore, companies must also have the correct marketing strategies.

Many enterprises often use the micro blogs to narrate their experiences. But such a trend will not last long, considering that consumers are becoming more savvier.

Interactive activities are vital, but it should not always involve things like a simple lottery, gift buying or "second killing" to get feedback from customers. Some Chinese fast moving consumer goods companies have launched activities like "a story with the brand", "product experience sharing", which have won a large number of loyal fans.

Creative, entertaining and inspiring content are the most popular re-posts on micro blogs. When a person reads some re-posts from his friends, he won't treat them as pure publicity. Some cosmetics brands carry out prize draws to attract users and then ask them to forward the information to their friends.

Multinational companies should also prioritize the urban middle class, as they are the majority in China who use smartphones and micro blogs. In the future, China's second and third-tier cities will see more of these people. Therefore, micro-blog marketing in these cities is also the competition front for both Chinese and foreign enterprises.

The author is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Economics, Renmin University of China. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 04/05/2013 page7)