Charting the future of public relations
Confronting crisis in China's 'microblog era'
Arun Sudhaman
Holmes Report
President/Editor-in-Chief

Confronting crisis in China's 'microblog era'

Arun Sudhaman

The impact of the ‘microblog era’ on corporate communication in China is something we have looked at in some detail, focusing on how vociferous netizens are drastically altering the transparency required of companies in the country. The biggest tangible driver of this is the online crisis and a new study by Ogilvy PR China and CIC explores this area in useful depth. The report analyses 50 Chinese brand crises in 2012, ranking them across a range of categories. One key finding is that the online crisis is no longer just an online crisis. Of the top 10, eight are the same on microblogs and traditional media, pointing to the ability of Weibo to “amplify personal influence or destroy and individual’s reputation and affiliated organization.” Unsurprisingly, the report finds that shorter response time bring better results. It also notes that senior executives should respond directly and that using an official microblog account can better manage a crisis. Ogilvy PR will know this better than most. Last year, the firm took on PR duties for Siemens’ China joint venture, following a very public Weibo crisis that saw the company part ways with Blue Focus. Siemens, however, does not make the ranking of top crises, possibly because it began in 2011 or perhaps because it is an Ogilvy client. Instead the list of brand crises is dominated by food safety scandals, suffered by such companies as Jiugui liquor, KFC, the yogurt industry, Lipton tea, Mao Tai, McDonald’s and perennial favourite Mengniu. In terms of public credibility crises, meanwhile, the increasing clamour for greater political transparency is confirmed by the preponderance of scandals that involve public officials, including Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai. It has become fashionable to say that social media can open up political and corporate discourse in countries that are unused to high levels of transparency. Reports such as this one confirm that, as far as China is concerned, there appears to plenty of truth to this type of view. The implications for the country’s PR industry should be clear.
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