Despite an economic slowdown, the rout of its stock markets, a plunge in exports, and a crackdown on free speech and the media under Xi Jinping, China remains a huge opportunity for local and foreign companies alike.
And while the internet, mobile and social media are powerful tools to raise awareness, connect and drive sales and loyalty, they are also highly demanding and unpredictable platforms for competitors, customers and others to attack you, something that is done with real relish in China.
How big a problem online attacks are in China, what form they take, and how they should be handled is the subject of an in-depth Forbes interview with yours truly.
I hope it sheds some light on China’s idiosyncratic internet culture and how it can best be tackled.
You might ask – perfectly legitimately – why I have taken the trouble of writing 60,000+ words about something that should now be well understood. Surely it hardly needs saying that Google, Twitter and Weibo make it harder to manage a company’s name and image, opening it to the whims, prejudices and ulterior motives of disappointed customers, aggrieved employees, malicious competitors, enraged activists and recalcitrant algorithms?
Yet it remains the case that many organisations (and individuals) remain unclear how best to insulate themselves from trouble online, and continue to mess up their response when things go public.
It has not helped that there remains a dearth of practical, common sense advice in this area. There are many reasons for this, from a tendency to see social media as a business and marketing Holy Grail while overlooking the hazards of the conquest, to the fact that most existing guidance is written from a social media marketing, public relations, technology or legal perspective when effective online reputation protection and defence is about all of these working together. Things have also not been helped by a cottage industry of ‘online reputation management’ specialists selling puffed-up search engine solutions.
Managing Online Reputation draws on what I have learned over many years as a communications strategist, PR practitioner and digital/social media marketer mining the seam where communications and reputation, and the internet and social media meet. Accordingly, reputation is tackled primarily from a communications perspective – albeit a broad one – and I make no apologies for this: if issues are left to fester long enough they will almost inevitably become reputational – and hence PR – problems and must be tackled as such.
However, to understand more clearly the risks to reputation posed by social media, and to appreciate the many different response options, I talked with experts in fields such as media and IP law, social and environmental activism, IT security, digital forensics, crisis management, emergency response, social media monitoring, search engine marketing and Wikipedia management.
Given that the social web impacts so many areas of an organisation it should come as little surprise that online reputation is a complex topic. However, Managing OnlineReputation tries not to over-complicate or over-sell the issue. You’ll find it avoids talk of ‘social media crises’ and other hyperbolic marketing phraseology, just as it makes no grand claims about what the many social media business and listening tools now available can do for you. Rather it looks at social media in a broader context, and offers practical, realistic, common-sense advice in plain English.
It is also intended to be interesting. Sprinkled amidst tried and tested ways to categorise, assess and respond to potential problems online, and detailed guidance on how to develop (or update) your crisis plan, you’ll find vignettes about the culture of smears in China and political protest in Hong Kong, the easy and pungent opium of online petitions, the perils of companies attaching themselves to social movements, and what a black swan looks like online. There are also detailed case studies of companies of all shapes and sizes responding successfully to and recovering from fast escalating negative incidents and bona fide crises.
Here’s more of a taster:
More than anything you should come away from reading Managing Online Reputation with the notion that, despite the scepticism in which companies and institutions are held today, and the innate tribalism and volatility of life online, your organisation’s reputation is eminently knowable, manageable and redeemable – as long as you prepare well, keep your head and play it straight.
Managing Online Reputation is available in paperback and as an e-book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, 800-CEO-READ and other outlets.
You can find out more about the book and how to order it here.
Data from Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer suggests search engines are regarded as more trustworthy sources of general news and information than all other forms of media, including the traditional/mainstream media and online word of mouth/social media.
It is an interesting finding that raises all manner of questions for traditional news publishers, social media platform operators, marketers, public relations professionals and others.
But the research also begs the question: should search engines really be classified as a media ‘source’?
We expect search engines to deliver a good range of links to relevant, timely news coverage either when a story is breaking or when we want to get a sense of what others beyond my staple news provider(s) are saying. They are also useful for conducting research on a company, industry or topic.
While we may trust Google to dredge up a decent sample of the latest news coverage research studies consistentlyshow we continue to trust news and information from the mainstream media, companies and brands, and through friends sharing experiences and making recommendations above other sources.
The fact that an article or video analysis is produced by a recognised journalist at the AP or BBC or by a blogger or colleague who we figure knows what he is talking about continues to determine whether we take it seriously, irrespective of whether the content is viewed on the publisher’s website, mobile app, Facebook or Google.
Edelman’s annual trust updates provide fascinating insights into the nature and dynamics of trust across the world, but in the area of media sources it seems to be comparing apples with pears.
Yesterday I was asked by my friend Stephane Prudhomme to talk to year 3 communications and journalism students at Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Management College about crisis communications and social media.
I started by looking at different types of negative situations and outlining some of the top threats posed by the web and social media, before exploring how four companies (FedEx, Applebee’s, Tesla, Gushcloud) responded to incidents and crises using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al.
With MH370, MH17 and now QX8501, food safety and health scares in China, ongoing supply chain issues, hacks aplenty, popular protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong and terrorist attacks in Australia and China, it has been a busy year for public relations and crisis communications professionals across Asia.
Here are the most popular articles published to this blog over the past twelve months.
The fact that anyone can turn to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to post a negative review of a hairdresser, plumber or politician, indeed to denigrate whatever or whoever they choose, in the heat of the moment or otherwise, has resulted in defamation being employed increasingly regularly as a legal tool.
Yet the nature of social media means, like it or not, that the resolution process is also increasingly likely to be played out in public view.
In such instances, legal and communications teams must work closely together.
A prominent London-based media and defamation lawyer with whom I met recently advises the following broad principles for dealing with online defamation:
Balance the legal and reputational aspects of defamation carefully from the get-go
Negotiate a reasonable solution where possible and deploy litigation only as the final solution
When an issue is legally black and white, move fast to limit the potential for the falsehood to escalate
Make sure to use language that is user-friendly rather than overtly legalistic in all instances.
This is music to the ears of communicators, who are often left to deal with the reputational impact of legal strong-arming.