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Uncorking the full potential

Updated: 2013-04-05 10:45
By Sophie Li ( China Daily)

Strategic use of micro blogs can help companies achieve marketing success

It comes as no surprise that Sina Weibo is one of the most popular and the fastest growing micro-blogging platforms in China, considering that it had nearly 500 million users by the end of February.

Along with its popularity the platform has also become an integral marketing tool for companies across various industries in China. According to the 2012 Corporate Weibo White Paper, there were 130,565 companies that had certified enterprise micro blog accounts by the end of February. Prominent among them are restaurants (50,000), automotive (7,546) and business services (7,212).

In the Fortune Global 500 list, there were 243 enterprises that have opened micro blog accounts, while 207 enterprises in the Fortune China 500 list also have micro blog accounts. All of this clearly underscores the point that a micro-blog presence is essential for a company that is planning to operate in China.

That also raises the question on the need for a micro-blog presence. The obvious answer is not just to tap the huge market with immense potential, but also to realize some benefits that only a micro blog can bring to a business. Micro blog is known as the Chinese Twitter, but in my opinion it is Chinese Twitter plus Facebook.

First of all, micro-blogging is the way for businesses to personally interact with potential customers to build brand image and customer loyalty. Micro-blogging can also create a positive association and friendly attitude toward the brand.

Secondly, a micro blog can be used as a market research tool since the company can learn current trends, and interests as well as what people are saying about its products and services. By constantly getting feedback on their micro blog, companies can come up with new ideas to approach customer needs and expectations.

Finally, it is free to open an account or to publish anything on a micro blog, and hence an option for companies to reduce marketing costs. If a company has a relatively huge number of fans, any posting on its micro blog automatically acts as a free press release.

Though these advantages are enticing enough, it is important for companies to have enterprise micro blog accounts if they are to realize the full potential. This is especially so as there are several challenges that companies face while using social media, or more specifically a micro blog in China.

Most of the people use a micro blog to connect and interact with others as a way to relax and entertain, while certain amounts of enterprise users in specific industries are more serious than that. Therefore, how to combine the entertainment factor and commercial factor is a question that many enterprise micro blog users need to ask themselves.

Companies should look at how to draw people's attention but still focus on promoting the brands' image. This is mainly to reach the goal of getting more micro blog users to become real potential customers.

An example of this is the strategy adopted by one of the top 10 Chinese banks, with a relatively low number of fans and activities on its micro blog. The bank came up with a strategy to get more attention from the public by encouraging other users to share posts, re-posts and comments on their micro blog posting. To encourage this activity, the bank also offered an iPhone 4S for the best posting. The initiative got excellent feedback with over 26,000 re-posts and 23,000 comments on the required post "What is your love and dream?" This strategy did boost up the bank's popularity, but the post was not relevant to the business that the bank offered. Therefore, it did not really help the bank in getting more real customers but only in getting more fans onto its micro blog.

Many Chinese companies also consider micro-blogging as a powerful new media tool to build up brand image and increase customer numbers, along with the traditional marketing in newspapers, radio and television. However, the two media tools cannot be separated but need to be synchronized toward the companies' objectives.

Much also depends on the business segmentation, and companies should consider using a variety of different media channels to effectively reach all the target audiences. Companies also need to work on how to create integrated marketing in general and how to generate micro blog numbers in particular.

A micro blog is an open site for employees and customers, and once information is published, it is impossible to stop it as people can keep re-posting the original post in just seconds. Another issue of using social networking sites is the risk of leaking confidential information such as salary, trade relations and innovative technology. Companies should take this into serious consideration and come up with a better way to tighten employee activities on social networking sites.

There is no doubt that companies want to do a good job in marketing on their micro blogs, but it also calls for a talented team to run it. RMG Selection recently released the China Talent-flow Survey Report, which showed that there is still a huge shortage of qualified online marketing professionals, especially in terms of social network platforms.

Micro-blogging and its strong influence on the public is definitely a great tool for many companies. However, it is a double-edged sword that can only benefit the business if the company knows how to use it strategically. Therefore, enterprise micro blog users should be aware of certain challenges and get cracking on a detailed marketing plan to uncork the full potential of micro-blogging.

The author is marketing director of RMG Selection, an Asia-focused specialist recruitment and executive headhunting firm. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 04/05/2013 page7)

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