Companies & brands using microblogging in china

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microblogging platforms like Twitter, Fanfou, and Jiwai (see this previous Friday 5) are used by Chinese netizens to pass around links, memes,shayari short tidbits of breaking news, and other kinds of information that can fit into 140 characters. In other markets, particularly the US market, companies and brands have long been taking advantage of this platform as a communications / marketing tool, and while the tactic still seems to be in its embryonic stage in China, a number of commercial entities have found success with their interactions with audiences on microblogging platforms. The below five-point brief outlines a several examples of this, and provides a reasonably comprehensive overview of what companies and brands are using microblogging in China and how they are using it.

[Note that because micrblogging platforms are often used by netizens to share “sensitive information” and Coordinate related offline political activities, etc. (see recent events in Iran and Xinjiang), the Chinese government occasionally interferes with their operation. This week is unfortunately one of those occasions. Twitter is currently blocked on the Chinese mainland and Fanfou has been inoperable since Tuesday night (following a brief “maintenance hiatus” over the June 4 Tiananmen Square anniversary). As a result, some of the links below may not work properly if you are accessing the web from mainland China without a proxy or VPN. All links will be fine once accessibility to Twitter and Fanfou is returned, hopefully soon.]

cars :
GM has a Fanfou account launched with little fanfare in February. It now has 14,469 followers, placing it fourth out of all organizations on Fanfou (the rest of the top five are media outlets and Fanfou itself, although the rankings are a little suspect: see HP below). A Global Entrepreneur article on microblogging(whatsapp status) in March featured the GM Fanfou experiment, and it has since become a standard case study example of a major brand taking advantage of a microblogging platform in China. GM updates its Fanfou page every few days with links to videos and photo collections of offline promotional activities, most recently the Transformer 2-related Camaro push. The individual maintaining GM’s Fanfou account interacts with followers fairly regularly: about a third of the recent updates are replies to other Fanfou users, which have included topics such as 4S shops, fuel economy, the official status of the account, and its 10,000th follower on June 26. By comparison, check out Ford China’s official Fanfou page, which is far more recent and has just a couple dozen followers. A fan-maintained account for Ford Racing is more popular and provides links to race information, results, outside blog posts, and to the Ford Racing website.

computers :
Hewlett Packard leverages its Fanfou account basically as an interactive customer service hotline. Fanfou users following HP ask the company questions about its product specifications and service issues. Fanfou users accustomed to inauthentic company / brand accounts frequently inquire about the account itself: is the account HP-authorized or just run by a fan? Replies generally include a customer service number and a link to the HP homepage. HP has recently had to deal with other Fanfou users asking about the controversial Green Dam filter software. The account also makes use of Fanfou’s photo sharing capabilities to post images of cool HP and Compaq-branded gadgets. Dell’s home sales service has a popular English-language Twitter account, DellOutlet, which posts product announcements and cool online deals. It has tens of thousands of followers. By contrast, the Chinese versions on Fanfou, and Jiwai, had only a couple dozen followers and mostly stopped updating in April. However, Direct2Dell’s Chinese Twitter account run by @Jaqui Zhou, who maintains the company’s Chinese-language corporate blog, continues to update with product announcements and links to articles, so it appears that Dell’s success with microblogging in Chinese has been mixed. Lenovo has two accounts on Fanfou, one for the company itself and a second for its ThinkPad brand. The Lenovo account mostly reposts updates from the ThinkPad account, which mostly posts links to the Yamato Lab blog on Sina, which is kept by Arimasa Naitoh, head of Lenovo R&D in Japan, and which, thanks to its promotion on Sina’s tech channel, has a far greater audience than either of the Fanfou accounts.

software :
Opera, the Norwegian web browser developer, keeps a popular Fanfou account that has several thousand followers. The company has been actively targeting the Chinese market for several years and has cultivated a dedicated user group for its desktop and mobile editions. It uses its Fanfou account to interact with other users, which has recently included information on how to post from the Opera China BBS to Fanfou, font issues in Opera Mini and China recruitment. By contrast, its less-trafficked Jiwai account is mostly devoted to reposting news from its official China site. Applications software developer Kingsoft has microblogs set up for many of its utilities, such as Defender (金山密保) and Shield (金山网盾), along with its Labs (金山互联网安全实验室). These Jiwai accounts mostly carry notices of and links to incremental software updates, virus definition updates, and bug reports. Kingsoft has customized the right-hand sidebar of its Jiwai pages to include a button that allows netizens to download the software directly from the page itself rather than having to click through to the Kingsoft website. Kingsoft’s Fanfou page for Antivirus (毒霸) is mostly devoted to feeds from its official blog, but the company has personalized the page: “Antivirus Safety Bulletin” enjoys the music of Aerosmith, Radiohead, Coldplay, and Jonathan Lee, and likes the films Fight Club and Amelie. Perhaps because of the sheer number of Kingsoft accounts, none is followed by more than a couple hundred people at the moment. Not to be outdone, Rising, another anti-virus company, has its own Fanfou account that lists the latest additions to its list of websites that contain trojans or viruses. This information is normally sent automatically to users through virus definition updates, which may escape the notice of ordinary users, so its presence on a daily Fanfou update gives followers an image of a company that’s committed to its software.

media :
Microblogging would seem to be a perfect fit for online media outlets: as more and more people are using Twitter and Fanfou feeds to locate interesting links, media entities can post teasers to their microblog and direct their followers to their website. The Southern Media Group, known for its investigative journalism and incisive commentary, is using microblogging in a big way. Southern Metropolis Weekly (南都周刊), for example, has around 1,500 followers on Twitter and over 20,000 on Fanfou. Another publication, Southern Weekly, has 3,268 followers on its Twitter, which it gratefully acquired from a fan just a couple weeks ago. Malicious username squatting and hoax Twittering usually makes the headlines, but once in a while a brand can obtain an easy-to-remember account from a benevolent microblogger who registered it first. Southern Weekly has several thousand more followers on Fanfou. The Beijing News, which is affiliated with the Southern Media Group, has a popular Fanfou account as well with upward of 15,000 followers. Muckracking business magazine Caijing has a Fanfou account with 1300+ followers. None of these accounts is interactive: they all make use of the easy link sharing functionality of microblogging, but do nothing else in the way of brand building or engaging readers / audiences in conversation or dialogue about news, events, etc. General exposure and traffic back to the main publication website is their aim – a missed opportunity indeed.

local brands :
Smaller local brands can use microblogs as an efficient way to interact with increasingly wired audiences. A boutique chain like Sculpting in Time Cafe (雕刻时光), cafes that cater to a young, hip clientele, is a perfect fit for the sort of netizen that follows microblogs. Its Fanfou account, run by one of its Nanjing staff, interacts with other users and posts news tagged with its locations in Beijing, Xi’an, and Nanjing. The account was recently upgraded by Fanfou to become an “official” microblog. Recent updates include a link to a blog post about romance writers visiting a Beijing location, and a number of exchanges with followers about the identity of the person behind the account. Guangzhou’s Tophour bar is fairly Web2.0 enabled, with a Douban group that lists QQ, MSN, and Google groups, as well as a Fanfou account. Tophour is a venue for salons on literature and current events, so many of its updates involve spreading the word about upcoming items of interest. It’s also fairly interactive with its roughly four hundred followers, including a recent exchange about how it conducts promotion for concert events. Yilin Publishing House, which issues translations of foreign literature, launched a Fanfou account in June that currently has more than 800 followers. It interacts with other Fanfou users and posts links to new titles, cover photos, and reviews on Douban. Recent interactions include a user asking about how illustrators are recruited, and a joking personal response to another Fanfou user that came with a prominent disclaimer, “This does not represent the official position of Yilin Publishing House.”

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