Kawo, an enterprise WeChat and Weibo social management platform based in Shanghai, has launched a new feature that it claims can save brands from social media posts going wrong.
When a brand makes a post containing potentially contentious words, for example "Taiwan" or "Tibet", the feature will flag it before the post goes out.
The tool only works on social-media posts, so it wouldn't prevent real-world gaffes like the recent Gap t-shirt design that did not include Tibet or Taiwan on a map of China, even though these are two territories that China claims as its own.
Still, with concern and even paranoia running high among brands following China's calls for 36 airlines to change certain wording on their websites or risk being banned, any help may be welcome. "The philosophy behind the tool is that better process lead to better decisions," said Andrew Collins, CEO of Mailman Group, parent company of Kawo.
Observing appropriate sensitivity in social media posts in China is a growing challenge for Kawo's clients. In the first half of 2018, Collins has seen as many as 50 posts rejected for what the largest social networks deem as containing “illegal content”.
What is "illegal" is only vaguely defined, and Weibo and WeChat often make rejections without giving a clear reason, apart from any posts that contain content that is obviously politically sensitive. "A post announcing tennis results wasn't able to be published because one of the scores was the same as the date of a sensitive event in recent Chinese history," shared Alex Duncan, co-founder and product lead at Kawo.
More mysterious was the post about a new lobster restaurant that got blocked two weekends ago. "The situation is changing every week; it’s impossible to expect content marketers to stay abreast of what they can or can’t say, especially with niche situations in certain industries, said Duncan.
A 2017 survey by four major players in the Chinese social media scene (运营研究社，人人秀，新媒体管家，上线了) found that 79% of social-media executives in China were born since 1990 and over 90% have less than three years' experience. Brands are putting a lot of risk in the hands of young, inexperienced content-marketing executives, Duncan warned.
"The consequences can be incredibly severe, so we wanted to find a way to help protect the brands who publish through Kawo by building the screening for sensitive words into our workflow." A warning, which brands must accept before publishing, pops up and explains why each term, or related URL, is either banned outright or sensitive.
Kawo compiled a set of more than 600 common no-nos (see a sample below), but brands can also configure their own lists with words specific to their sectors, including names of competitors.
Banned utterances like "18-star flag", which is associated with Chinese revolutionaries, words describing obscene acts like "bestiality", or expletives will result in the post being denied right away. For sensitive ones, brands need to exercise caution about the context the words are used in, Duncan explained.
And this is where the grey area begins. Like the mysteriously rebuffed lobster restaurant, the sensitivity of Chinese censors seems arbitrary. Last year, when Trump visited China, all the names of major US talk-show hosts were suddenly barred on Weibo, one of them being Ellen DeGeneres. Until today, the term 艾伦秀 (meaning 'Ellen Show') is still censored, but inexplicably, 艾伦脱口秀 ('Ellen TalkShow') is not.
"From speaking to senior people at some of these big companies, [I found] they're pretty paranoid right now," said Duncan. "They've all expanded rapidly to capture the market and now they have dozens of social profiles being managed by a dozen agencies all over the place in which they have little or no oversight. At any given moment some junior copywriter or marketing executive somewhere down the line could unintentionally post something with far-reaching consequences for the organisation. They have no idea what's going on. On top of that, the marketing teams are all in their 20s and they change jobs every 18 months. Even if they could do training, it would be a constant battle."
|18 star flag||banned|
|three years of natural disasters||banned|