Study reveals China’s microblog phenomenon increases frequency, speed of crises

9 February, 2012


Ogilvy PR and CIC’s White Paper, “Crisis Management in the Microblog Era”, uncovers unique characteristics of microblog-driven crises and suggests ways that brands can minimize the potential risks

SHANGHAI — As the Chinese social media landscape matured in 2011, microblogs emerged as the source of most of the country’s most damaging and far-reaching scandals and crises. These spanned a wide range of issues ranging from the incendiary Guo Meimei/Red Cross saga to billionaire investor Wang Gongquan’s elopement with his mistress to a number of corporate crises affecting both multinational and domestic brands.

With more than 250 million microbloggers in China (a 297 percent increase from 2010), a new white paper, Crisis Management in the Microblog Era, by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide/China and CIC found that the pervasive use of microblogs has created a scenario where major public crises and scandals erupt with increasing frequency and speed. What’s more, the emotionally charged tone of discussions on Chinese microblogs and the across-the-board demographic of users means that a larger proportion of the Chinese public is now not only aware of more crises, but are also actively participating in furthering their reach and intensity – a distinct shift from only a few years ago.

“The far-reaching popularity of microblogs has serious implications for companies and brands operating in China,” said Debby Cheung, President of Ogilvy & Mather Group/Shanghai. “Today it is not only about increasing the number of fans on your weibo and creating fun contests online. It’s a two-sided coin. When information from all kinds of online platforms can be swiftly aggregated and amplified by microblogs, companies must understand how to minimize their risk and prepare for an outbreak of an online crisis. The speed and emotional ferocity with which microblog crises strike, often seemingly from ‘nowhere’, is very alarming to most companies, so early preparation is key.”

Methodology
Ogilvy PR and CIC’s research identified and analyzed the major online crises of 2011 based on trending topics on Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo microblogs, Baidu’s top searches report and various media review reports. The 30 most significant cases were then classified into three categories: public credibility crises, personal crises, and brand crises which were then ranked according to the number of microblog posts and reports they generated in traditional media sources (see Appendix 2 for full details). The research team then analyzed the biggest crises to determine noteworthy trends and their implications for crisis management, and suggest ways that brands can mitigate their risk.

Key Findings (see table in Appendix 1)
• Most major crises in China in 2011 originated on microblogs, including:
o 6 of the top 10 personal crises
- In all 6 cases, corporate executives were the ones that came under fire.
o 7 of the top 10 public credibility crises
o 8 of the top 10 brand crises
• Microblogs increase the speed, frequency, reach and impact of crises.
• Netizens now play as important a role as the traditional media, able to generate, disseminate and consume messages all at the same time.
• With microblogs, information can be posted online at anytime, from anywhere and by anyone – from CEOs and senior politicians to interns and housewives; there is no longer a hierarchy when it comes to sources of news or crises.
• While the tone of traditional media is largely unbiased and objective, the tone of microblogs is often extremely emotional and personal.
o This creates a situation where ordinary netizens who sympathize with the victims help to spread the message further and faster, multiplying the impact.
o Individual incidents become coordinated efforts on microblogs.
• Before the microblog era, coverage of a crisis would often be through newspapers or TV coverage. Today crisis messages take multiple and dramatic forms such as spoofs, videos, cartoons and re-enactments which create entertainment value and increase the chances that the message will be forwarded to more people.
• If very influential Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or media organizations use their microblogs to comment on crises, the news spreads far and wide, and fast.
• Personal and professional lives overlap online as senior executives and corporate heads, and sometimes even junior staff, can trigger crises for their companies if they post inappropriate content or comments on their personal microblogs.
• Microblogs offer crisis instigators and defendants the opportunity to respond much more quickly than was possible before. However, if defendants fail to react fast enough, and in a manner that satisfies netizens, this can easily trigger a subsequent crisis, or aftershock.

The report advises companies to do their homework and prepare for the possibility of a crisis long before one hits.

CIC CEO Daisy Zhang said, “Real-time monitoring and analysis of microblogs is especially critical at the initial outbreak of a crisis when the news being spread occurs not in hours, but in minutes and seconds. Failure to swiftly and effectively respond can easily lead to a second crisis or even multiple crises online. What we’re seeing is that often times a company’s unsatisfactory response to an initial crisis triggers a subsequent crisis, or aftershock. So it’s crucial that companies implement regular, ongoing monitoring of their reputation online so that they can respond quickly to negative sentiment before it’s too late.”

Ogilvy’s Cheung adds, “In addition to establishing a system of online buzz monitoring, brands should also create and integrate their online assets including their website, microblog and other social media channels. Brands should also maintain open and regular communication with the public and key stakeholders, including media, so that potential issues can be addressed early and so that important relationships are in place long before potential problems arise. Other ways to reduce risk including establishing codes of conduct for employees to follow online and keeping up to speed with net culture and social tensions. And if negative issues do come up, always respond as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible so that the response does not become a new crisis in itself.”


For a more information, please contact:
Sarah Guldin
Corporate Communications
Ogilvy & Mather Group China
sarah.guldin@ogilvy.com
86-10-8520-6552

About Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (www.ogilvypr.com) is an integrated global marketing communications firm, with offices in more than 70 cities around the world. We blend proven PR methodologies with cutting edge digital innovations to craft strategic programs that give clients winning and measurable results. In its 28th year, Ogilvy PR provides strategic public relations counsel to a variety of clients across its 360 degree digital influence, consumer marketing, corporate, healthcare, technology, public affairs and social marketing practices. The agency also offers biotechnology and government affairs expertise through its subsidiaries Feinstein Kean Healthcare and Ogilvy Government Relations, respectively. Ogilvy PR is a WPP company (NASDAQ: WPPGY, www.wpp.com) one of the world's largest communications services organizations.

About CIC
As China’s first and leading provider of Internet intelligence and insights based on IWOM (Internet Word of Mouth), CIC provides customized research consulting services, syndicated reports, as well as technical solutions and platforms to help companies meet their business and marketing needs. Since coining the term IWOM in 2004, CIC has pioneered the industry by supporting strategic planning and innovations across the entire spectrum of communications including brand reputation, business intelligence, product development, advertising, media, campaign planning and execution all via an objective, third party perspective. For more information please visit www.ciccorporate.com.

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