BEIJING: Increasing numbers of brand owners are using microblogs to engage Chinese consumers but social networks remain less popular, a study has found.

PR Newswire, the communications group, surveyed 1,251 executives across the country, and reported that 77% of represented firms had a formal presence on at least one microblogging platform.

Sina Weibo was the top-ranking property in the category, as it had attracted 80.8% of relevant organisations, ahead of 5.6% for an equivalent service run by Sohu and 1.4% concerning Tencent's alternative offering.

"For companies, a microblog is not only a means for marketing, but also a communications channel between itself and the outside world," said Xu Zhiming, CEO of Kuaishubao, an online bookstore. "More than 40% of the traffic to our official website comes from the microblog."

Businesses in the tourism and travel sectors posted the strongest uptake, on 91%, trailed by technology, communications and ecommerce specialists on 87%, then medical and healthcare operators on 86%.

Just 40% of enterprises have surpassed the 10,000 follower mark thus far, a figure hitting 70% for those with an annual marketing budget under RMB150,000 and 50% when such spending topped RMB1m.

Some 30% of firms added updates about their corporate activities via this channel, 23% offered insights into their industry, 22% participated in more overt marketing and 19.2% provided product information.

The study argued that 70% of corporations are still typically focused on making "announcements" instead of engaging users. Indeed, less than 5% of accounts had featured at least 20 official comments or "retweets" in the 30 days before the poll.

Only 24% of brand owners were present on social networks like Renren or Kaixin001, with big players in the aviation, retail and FMCG industries displaying the greatest levels of enthusiasm.

The goals of using social media and microblogs included connecting with a brand's core target audience on 81%, building awareness on 75%, the same score as PR, and reaching new customers to boost sales on 68%.

"Last year, 87m people in China shopped online. High technology, digital technology and social media, these are words that are now part and parcel of the basic vernacular used all over the world," said Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry.

However, a rather modest 29.4% of advertisers reported witnessing a "significant increase" in website traffic thanks to these efforts, standing at 21% for attracting new buyers, 18% for generating media coverage, and 14.6% for actual sales.

"We are seeking potential customers and in fact, customers are also actively engaging with us. This is an interactive process," said Jon Robison, IBM's VP, marketing and communications for Greater China.

Data sourced from PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff