International fast food giant KFC had to weather many storms in the Chinese market. Only a couple of years ago, the company had to deal with the fallout from dark PR when three competitors started rumours on Chinese social media alleging KFC used genetically modified chickens with six wings and eight legs in their production. The post went live complete with a photoshopped image. Not surprisingly in a market known for its sensitivity around food safety, it didn’t take long for the post to go viral with at least 4,000 subsequent posts that were read over 100,000 times.
Luckily, the false social media rumours have died down since the post went live and KFC has sued the companies who spread them for defamation, however their story highlights how quickly bad news can travel on Chinese social media – and the potential damage that it can do to a brand. While the example is extreme, it shows how important it is for international businesses to manage and protect their online reputation in China.
If you aren’t paying attention to what Chinese consumers are saying about your brand online such as on social media and other forums, you have no way of dealing with it in a timely manner, nor can you leverage the potential benefits that come from understanding consumer sentiment.
Manage your brand’s reputation in China
Social listening refers to the systematic tracking of conversations - both positive and negative - about your brand across various digital channels. And it goes far beyond looking for mentions of your brand or products. It’s about analysing who is talking about your brand, what is being said, and which channel your customers prefer. Having this insight at your fingertips will help you decide what action to take next and address customer concerns quickly.
Online reputation management is vital in controlling your brand's image, and social listening is the key to prevent a crisis if something negative is said.
As the KFC example shows, online conversations move at a very fast pace in China, and news about your brand spreads easily, particularly if it’s bad. You may not realise you have a problem on your hands until the crisis hits. Therefore, it is advisable to scan Chinese online channels for early warning signs on negative voices on product and service offerings that might impact your brand image. It’s much more difficult to clean up after a social media storm than it is to act to prevent it - or at least limit the long-term fallout. Since it is done in real time, you can take swift action to minimise any potential problems before they take hold.
Balancing good and bad reviews
It’s important to remember that in the world of social media and user generated content, taking positive action in response to a customer’s complaint will always be respected by the people watching the situation unfold. In many cases, it’s not the complaint that does the most damage; it’s the lack of response by the brand or a poorly handled reply.
While there will be both negative and positive voices around most brands, you need to understand the negative reviews about your brand and the specific product categories they relate to. This will tell you if any negative reviews affect the overall consumer attitude towards your brand. It will also tell you if there are enough positive reviews in the market to inspire trust and emotional connection with the brand.
Measure and maximise the success of your digital marketing campaigns in China
Want to know if your marketing in China is working? While the campaign is in market, monitoring online discussions will give you an accurate measure of how well the campaign is spreading over social media and other key digital channels. This means you can respond to interim results in an agile manner, find the channels which work best for you and capitalise on them. You can also see which channels work least and decide whether to cease using them or to change your strategy.
To get an understanding of the overall effectiveness of the campaign on your brand’s image, you should track community voices through the lifecycle of a campaign and compare what’s being said about your brand during the campaign with the sentiment before and after.
Finally, this process of monitoring and tracking conversations allows you to see how well your brand message is being understood and how you should respond to potential customer concerns. This is particularly important for international brands that may not understand the Chinese culture, language and customs in all its nuances.
Leverage social listening intelligence to your advantage
When marketing to China, you will want to get as much insight as you can about your brand image in the region. By listening and engaging with consumers online, you can find answers to questions, such as:
- How do consumers perceive and select brands in specific product categories based on information available online?
- What are the key channels for your audience?
- Who are the opinion leaders/influencers? How do they perceive the brand?
- How does your brand image compare with competing brands?
With the right keyword settings, it can help you discover hot topics in your market; allowing you to leverage trends dominating the Chinese social media and digital sphere to design marketing campaigns that increase awareness and stickiness for your brand.
Engaging in online conversations can also enable you to collect marketing intelligence including industry trends, competitor moves and consumer behaviour, helping you to stay ahead of the game and to give consumers what they need. A careful analysis of the information will help you to solidify your positioning in China and make good business decisions about your product, service delivery and brand development.
What you should listen for on Chinese social media
It’s important that you listen for much more than just mentions of your brand. You need to pay attention to the conversation about you, your competitors, your industry, and the context in which things are being said. You also need to know who is talking and understand their potential impact on your brand.
For example, you need to know more than just what someone is saying. Analyse how they express their opinions and views about other brands, companies, and topics. This practice will give you a much better understanding about when and how to respond.
How Sinorbis approaches social listening
Sinorbis works with many clients such as Biostime on their online reputation in China. As part of this process we take a structured approach with four key steps:
Keyword selection: We begin with keyword development so we can tap into the most brand-relevant conversations. We choose keywords covering your brand and your products, but we also select those which are industry-related and keywords to do with your competitors’ brands and products. This allows us to establish a wide, but specific process.
Monitoring: After the keyword selection, we begin monitoring the conversations for information. We use our intelligence tools to monitor positive, negative and neutral content and customer voices. We cover various digital channels such as social media platforms (WeChat, Weibo, etc), forums, blogs, news portals, vertical websites, as well as Q&A sites. This broad coverage allows us to quickly identify any issue, where it originates, and helps our clients respond accordingly.
Analysis: Once the data is gathered, we assess and interpret the findings, which are then presented to the client in our project report. It includes the results of our positive, negative and neutral voice tracking, and provides an analysis of the different voice channels. We also categorise the voice content so a strategy can be built around it.
Pre-Warning: Every brand may have negative voices, but it’s very difficult to respond to all of them and manage them every day. Via our pre-warning function, we can help our clients set up warning rules, for example, if negative comments reach certain numbers or if a negative post has been forwarded and reposted a certain number of times, we will send an alert. This helps the brand to understand the overall situation and manage it before a crisis hits. Because you have the data at your fingertips, there is no need to panic or react hastily. You can plan a thorough and effective way to handle every situation.
Want to be sure your brand is a hit with Chinese consumers and enjoys a positive online reputation? Get in touch to learn how we can help you leverage social listening and online reputation management to your advantage.