Brands fall short on Weibo

18 January 2013

SHANGHAI: Many brand owners in China are proving slow to respond to PR crises that are spread by the nation's massively popular microblogging services, a new report has shown.

The study, conducted jointly by CIC, a social intelligence provider, and public relations specialists Ogilvy PR China, analysed 50 separate "brand crises" that occurred in the Asian nation in 2012.

It found that a brand's chances of minimising negative buzz on Weibo – China's equivalent of microblog platforms like Twitter – were highest if they issued an official response to consumers within eight hours of the crisis beginning.

By contrast, leaving a gap of 24 hours or more results in an "obvious extension of the crisis duration", the report added, suggesting that brands that lack a Weibo strategy are uniquely vulnerable to consumer backlash and long-term reputation damage.

Debby Cheung, managing director of Ogilvy PR, China, said: "It became clear in 2012 that microblogs are now the main platform for disseminating news and guiding public opinion. How far a crisis spread and how long it lingered on microblogs determined the crisis' severity.

"If the news isn't on Chinese microblogs, then it hasn't reached crisis level yet."

More broadly, CIC/Ogilvy found that brands suffering a crisis in 2012 that had an official microblog account prior to the crisis reduced its duration by an average of two days, as well as dampening down the overall level negative buzz about their brand.

Weibo services have attained widespread popularity among Chinese digital natives over recent years, with the overall user base rising to around 500 million people.

The CIC/Ogilvy report found that 80% of the crises analysed in the report were related to food safety. Further, Chinese Weibo users were observed to "lack confidence" in food brands as a result of the scandals.

For future crises, the report authors advised companies to have senior executives respond directly to crises via their own microblogs, and to implement standardised, company-wide digital crisis management policies.

Data sourced from CIC/Ogilvy PR China; additional content by Warc staff