Putting out fires

Zhao Qian attended EASTWEST’s the  fourth roundtable on managing crisis management with social media. She has written an interesting article about her observations, which you can read here. By Zhao Qian, Global Times "My new car has problems," "My PC keeps burning out," "I’m worried that the baby milk power will affect my daughter’s hormone levels…" Consumer complaints and discussions such as these abound on Chinese social media sites ranging from blogs, bulletin board system (BBS) communities, and social networking services (SNS) similar to Twitter and Facebook – but what users may not suspect is that some are being monitored – and not by government censors. In an effort to put out publicity fires caused by shoddy products and services, or to quash rumors, both Chinese private firms and foreign-funded companies are engaging in public relations crisis management by hiring consulting companies to analyze the Internet word of mouth (IWOM) and suggest solutions if needed. Demand increasing CIC is one such company. It was China’s first corporate provider of Internet intelligence and insight based on IWOM. It goes through social media platforms including mini-blogs, BBS and SNS sites such as Kaixin001.com (similar to Facebook) to meet corporate demands for collecting consumer complaints. "We gather nearly all the posts related to our target customers, and classify the information via semantic analysis into several groups, such as complimentary and derogatory clusters," Gu Jiaqing, research and consulting account director of CIC, told Global Times. "The demand for the Internet users’ feedback information on social media has recently increased fast," Gu said. In a case of a consumer complaining about a well-known car brand on an auto BBS recently, CIC "detected" the post, and suggested that the automaker contact the author to offer him a satisfactory solution. In doing so it prevented the critical post from becoming more widespread, according to Gu. At a round-table conference hosted by East West Public Relations last week, Chen Chen, East West’s executive associate, showed the Global Times a table illustrating dozens of Chinese social media as its monitoring targets. "We monitor and analyze the public opinions on various social media in order to offer effective suggestions for our customers who ask for help in dealing with their public relation risks," Chen said. Positive replies "The social media have made company risk management more complicated because it is quite difficult to communicate with and contact millions of individuals who pass on negative news," said Zheng Yannong, general secretary of the China International Public Relations Association. "But a company’s reputation can be revived if it is timely about telling the truth and/or apologizing via the social media." Some companies establish their own SNS websites, so as to better understand and react to customers’ demands and complaints, said Chen. Corporate blogs are another possible choice for the companies to publicize their replies to critical incidents, such as asking detailed questions about the complaints and replying to posts via BBS. Still other businesses also post positive news on their mini-blogs, Chen said. "Some of the cases need to be dealt with quickly, while sometimes you need to let some cases calm down by themselves for several days. Replying to blogs or BBS posts with positive, honest answers to the complaints is another solution," Chen added. Unethical solutions But not all the public relation crises are settled in a professional and ethical way. A batch of so-called "public relations management companies" that offer to delete critical blogs and posts have also sprung up. When the Global Times contacted one such "public relations company" called Guanghuideqidian ("Brilliant Start") at www.fumianshanchu.com, the reporter was told, "we can delete any posts according to your demands, except for the news on government’s websites." Customers are told to send Brilliant Start the URL links to the posts they want deleted, then pay via online. The fees vary according to the difficulty of the deletions. Another company named Beijing Tianlang Plots Institute at www.tlsk.org also told the Global Times that virtually all deletions were possible. On Tianlang’s website, customers can choose categories that include "BBS deletions" and "blog deletions." "Those deletion companies are definitely banned within the country’s public relation industry," said Feng Chunhai, who teaches for public relation department with Communication University of China. "The Chinese modern public relation industry has a history of around 20 years, and we have set up a series of guidelines to regulate it. Violators such as those are not permitted." "Deleting posts is a short-term solution, and may cause more problems once the deletions are exposed," said Zheng of the China International Public Relations Association.

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