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Social media now moves into the corporate world

By Liu Jie (China Daily)

08:12, July 02, 2012

A series of numbers demonstrates the importance of social websites or social media including weibo, bulletin boards and blogs in China.

In 2001, there were 392 million urban Chinese using social websites and half of them were active on more than one platform. A netizen made 30 new friends via social media on average in China, while 30 percent of social website users made or reviewed comments about companies or their brands.

Meanwhile, users of Sina Weibo, the first and now most popular Twitter-like platform in China, numbered 300 million. Eighty percent of urban youths watch videos online and more than 356 million Chinese people use smartphones to surf the Internet.

Social media has created a new channel for corporate marketing and is booming, a report by Ipsos, the world's third-largest market research company by staff numbers, states.

According to Albert Cai, digital research director of Ipsos China, in the new digital era, which highlights interactivity and free opinion, the influence of straightforward promotion or traditional advertisements in printed media, Internet portals, outdoor facilities and TV is shrinking.

Moreover, social media's influence on brand reputation and purchasing decisions has caught up with traditional channels. Official websites of companies with interactive functions and social websites with links to companies' official websites are more effective at brand promotion.

Ipsos' online survey was carried out early this year and received responses from 1,050 netizens in China. It showed that 29.2 percent of respondents knew of brands or companies via newspapers, 27.2 percent were made aware of them through blogs and bulletin board comments, 26.9 percent through micro blogs and 37.6 percent via the companies' official websites or social websites with links to the companies' websites.

Regarding the influence on purchasing intentions, 32.8 percent of the surveyed netizens said they were very driven by advertisements in shopping malls and shops as well as LED video ads in buildings, a total of 30.4 percent said their major motivation came from comments on blogs and bulletin boards, 24.5 percent were moved by weibo comments and 47.5 percent were guided by companies' official websites or social websites with links to companies' websites.

The numbers do not add up to 100 percent because some respondents cited more than one source.

Cai said he believes the accuracy, interactivity and word-of-mouth publicity are the main reasons that increase and consolidate the influence of social media.

"‘Birds of a feather flock together' is the most fundamental characteristic of social media," he said. "People get together in line with their common interests, hobbies, favorite activities or most serious problems. It facilitates companies in finding and targeting customers and increases the accuracy of communication."

Moreover, interactivity builds a high-speed and efficient communications bridge between brands and customers.

Internet "opinion leaders" — usually bulletin board moderators and micro blog first-hand posters — are regarded as more reliable and trustworthy by netizens than "one-way" advertisements, which are regarded as nothing more than company messages.

A micro-blogger named bingxiyut said, as the mother of a nine-month-old baby, she surfs the Internet to choose and buy almost everything for her family. "Weibo is the tool I use most often when shopping. On it, I can find company and discount information, share opinions with other people, especially young mothers, and chat with some famous micro-bloggers," she said.

The Beijing resident said that through weibo she has encountered a group of parents with babies of a similar age and they often get together for group outings.

"We have created a platform for our babies to play together. It's important for our children, given there is usually only one child in a family with six adults in China.

"I have found we have generally been using the same brands, such as Abbott dairy powder, Huggies nappies and Liushen Florida Water."

The blogger added that they even buy clothes for their babies from the same shops on Taobao — the largest online shopping platform operator in China.

China's two pioneer portal providers, Sina Corp and Inc, are both keen on social media development to lure more corporate clients.

Sina invested $150 million on micro-blog development last year and allocated $160 million to it this year.

It has just promoted its 2.0 version company weibo, which strengthens brand display and offers statistical analysis and a third-party appliance platform for corporate users.

Micro blogs also created access for small and medium-sized enterprises to take full use of interactive Internet resources to promote their brands. Social media marketing is more economical and more flexible and therefore more convenient and more practical for small and medium-sized companies compared with traditional advertising channels, said Sina Chief Executive Officer Charles Chao at a news conference in April.

Sohu is seeking a breakthrough in the video sector. It span off its video advertising business from its advertising department at the beginning of this year and plans to invest $31 million in the independent sector this year.

The sales of Sohu's video advertisements increased 90 percent year-on-year during the first quarter.

"Unlike traditional Internet marketing, which focuses on offering content and integration, social media marketing requires companies to not only deliver their message to their targeted customers but also to establish sound communications with them — quick responses and reasonable solutions to any challenge," said Wang Ying, an analyst from research company Analysys International.


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