BEIJING: Advertisers looking to engage with web users in China need to take a different approach than in other countries.
Research conducted by CIC, the consultancy, found that 81% of Chinese netizens who are active on blogs and forums check online feedback about individual products prior to making purchases.
According to Violet Fu, CIC's marketing director, it is therefore essential that brands do not treat internet word of mouth (IWOM) as a form of "bought media."
"Simply sending out fake messages in social media will be a losing strategy and can result in a credibility crisis," she said.
While this is true in all nations, Fu suggested critical comments can have a particularly powerful effect in China, as KFC recently discovered to its cost.
"The IWOM environment in China is more developed than in the West," said Fu.
Another study published earlier this year by CIC and Ogilvy relating to buzz surrounding the Shanghai Expo revealed bulletin boards and blogs generated 68% of the conversations about this event.
"In general BBS and blogs are important because of the massive volume of bloggers in China," said Chris Reitermann, president of OgilvyOne China.
"China is one of the only markets where recommendations from online friends or contacts is much higher than face-to-face recommendations."
With regard to the sponsors of the Expo, China Mobile, General Motors, the Bank of Communications and the State Grid were the subject of 50% of all relevant chatter on the internet.
However, firms like Sina, Sohu and Netease secured far better scores on this measure despite the fact they had no official tie-up with the global showcase.
This result was achieved either through their own coverage of the Expo or via programmes that were broadly equivalent to "ambush" marketing.
One organisation which has successfully tapped in to the benefits that can follow on from successfully connecting with the Chinese web audience is L'Oréal.
The cosmetics giant has established a branded community, called Rosebeauty, which is directly linked to its Lancôme range.
This is now the third most popular forum related to the beauty category in China, helping L'Oréal build a stronger bond with its customers.
It also recently created an ad campaign based on an anonymous poem that was uploaded to Rosebeauty, which described the positive results one consumer experienced after using Lancôme.
The company launched an effort to identify the author of the poem, operating under the title "Who is the Rosebeauty girl?", which attracted 100,000 participants in all.
By contrast, Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, made reference to the negative views expressed by many web users while apologising for the recall of some of the company's vehicles earlier this year.
"I'd like to express my sincere apologies to Chinese customers for the impact and the worries this incident caused," he said.
"Toyota as an automaker thinks it is important to not cover up and to put consumer safety first."
Data sourced from China International Business, BBC, Ogilvy; additional content by Warc staff