Micro-blog marketing gaining favor among companies

16:56, March 02, 2011      

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Since Cai Yi signed up for a micro-blog account two months ago, he has attracted about 30 followers, more than 20 of which are company users, and the same thing is happening to millions of China's micro-blog users.

Micro-blog is no longer simply a platform for self-expression, gossip and networking, as it is becoming an increasingly fierce battlefield for businesses wanting to promote their products and services.

Over the last year, micro-blogging has become wildly popular in China, with some 65 million China based micro-blog accounts registered by the end of 2010 and the number is growing by more than 10 million each month, according to Data Center of the China Internet (DCCI).

China's major web portals such as Sina, Sohu and Tencent have all started micro-blogging services.

As micro-blogging becomes increasingly popular in China, more and more companies are taking advantage of the service to broaden their business network and build their brand.

At present, China's largest web portal Sina claims to have 5,000 company micro-blog users, including Starbucks, Channel, and IKEA.

On the micro-blog pages of the companies, visitors can not only view advertisements, but also see consumer feedback and even commentaries on hot social issues.

An Internet surfer nicknamed Xiaoben posted on his micro-blog page that he enjoyed drinking Puer tea, and within 10 minutes, a micro-blogger who owned an online shop selling Puer tea recommended his shop to Xiaoben. "It is a little bit like magic. I just make a wish, and then I get a micro-blog response."

E-commerce expert Lu Bowang says micro-blogging has opened a whole new dimension of marketing. Through micro-blogs, companies can quickly grasp the attention of potential consumers and interact with them on a regular basis so to foster an intimate relationship with consumers, Lu said.

A worker at the Hangzhou Green Tea Cafeteria told Xinhua that micro-blogging has helped his company raise awareness among its target consumers in a timely and money-saving way. "Micro-blog is like a virtual spokesperson working for our company free of charge," he said.

At the same time, companies can even buy followers to boost their popularity, as the more followers a company has can give the impression that consumers are interested in its products.

There are more than 100 online shops offering followers for micro-blog users on Taobao.com, the largest consumer-to-consumer trading platform in China.

However, many of the accounts for sale do not represent individual consumers. These accounts are referred to as "zombie" accounts.

Sellers of these register a large amount of micro-blog accounts and sell the micro-blog followers to the buyers. An online shop owner who refused to be named said that he has bought 50,000 followers from a Taobao shop for 500 yuan (76.05 U. S. dollars).

However, with more and more people micro-blogging to make money, experts caution that marketing via micro-blog could be a "double-edged sword."

Huang Heshui, professor from Xiamen University says micro-blogging is highly personal and private, and that too many advertising messages can annoy micro-blog users leading them to resent certain brands.

Further, a brand can be as easily damaged as established through micro-blogging, as consumers' negative feedback about a certain product or company can be very quickly spread in the micro-blog community, Huang added.

Lu Bowang says the messages that companies post on their micro-blog pages do not need to go through a strict verification process, and so some online advertisements lack credibility.

The micro-blog managers should set up some rules and regulation to supervise micro-blog marketing, and at the same time, business organizations need to enhance self-discipline and strive to build up an integrity-based business culture, Lu said.

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