Jeremy Webb
Feb 7, 2012

Five things about social media in China: Is it about to stop being 'cool'?

Beijing-based Jeremy Webb, digital influence strategist at Ogilvy PR's Digital Influence in Beijing, outlines five things to expect from companies’ use of Chinese social media in the Year of the Dragon.

Five things about social media in China: Is it about to stop being 'cool'?

Social media in business is 'cool' because it’s new. It’s cool because we also use it in our personal lives. It’s cool because its ROI is yet to be subject to the scrutiny experienced by other areas of business.

But this year will see social media in business lose this cool status; social will grow up in 2012 and good social strategy will be defined in new ways. People will continue to get excited about social, only now for different reasons—reasons decidedly less cool.

1) Social will be asked tougher questions

After recently quoting a monthly fee to a travel brand, the China president turned to his sales head, having divided my figure by 30, and asked: “Will this bring in RMB xxx in daily ticket sales?” This is typical of brands I speak to here, many of whom are moving out of an experimental phase where tactics were given a try. Instead, brands are now expecting to evaluate social media for its ability to help meet real business objectives—sales, market share, and so on.

2) Brands will get tougher on their staff

Cool though it was in 2011 to talk about your job on Weibo, brands in China are realizing the associated risks. High-profile incidents involving companies such as retailer Dangdang and China Southern Airlines, which both saw their images tarnished when employees entered into public spats with Weibo users, highlighted the danger of this in 2011. Employee guidelines will become commonplace in 2012 and highly 'uncool' decisions must be made when policing them.

3) Social will expand to less cool business functions

My case in point is customer service: consumers have long voiced complaints online, but increasingly they expect answers. Brands, therefore, need a channel from which to respond and the support mechanisms to ensure this response is both rapid and consistent—listening, escalation/response protocols, etc.

This need was brought into focus in 2011 by a number of incidents involving the complaints of both ordinary consumers and those of a new breed of super-powerful Weibo consumer activists. 

4) Engagement will move to less cool parts of the Internet

I’ve said for a long time that brand people must move out of their “Sina comfort zone” and onto platforms that they and their friends do not use. Tencent Weibo, whose growth is coming from smaller Chinese cities, is catching up with Sina and is home to valuable engagement.

As Tencent and other platforms develop their platforms and more people begin using them in 2012, marketers will begin expanding their social media boundaries beyond the cooler platforms that they, as cool Beijing/Shanghai residents, have previously overlooked.

5) Will consumers stop thinking social media is cool?

This is a big question that could have huge implications for brands’ social media activity. As 2011 government Weibo crackdowns are consolidated and expanded in 2012—directives to force real-name registration for new users may be extended to existing users, for example—there is a danger that social media will offer less opportunity for free debate and, as such, the major platforms may become less cool for and, ultimately, less used by our target audiences.

Campaign China

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