In my last post I suggested 7 things to do when up against a Chinese social media crisis. In this post I explore the bit after the crisis, when the situation is more akin to a serene Li River than a choppy Tiger Leaping Gorge.
So China’s netizens have moved on. They are no longer slamming your brand on the nation’s hottest platform Sina Weibo. Instead they are directing their ire at a beleaguered official. So far, so good. These are ideal moments to begin rebuilding your online reputation.
Where to begin? Here are several tactics to consider:
- Continue monitoring social media. Previously, I wrote that international journalists maintain a strong interest in Chinese social media stories. Therefore, you might want to keep an eye on mentions beyond China. Interestingly, a critical story could even resurface in domestic online media: when the New York Times famously reported on Foxconn labour practices in early 2012, the article was republished in China by Caixin. Both original and reposted articles attracted strong online interest. Also, do you have a Wikipedia page? Watch that, too.
- Keep communicating. You’ve launched an investigation into root causes (and updated your crisis manual). What did you learn? What will you do next? Communicate corrective actions on your website. You might also want to start a Baidu paid search campaign, now that you have more time to surmount bureaucratic hurdles. Another opportunity still is a “micro-interview” on Weibo Talk. Be well prepared for this – UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon received thousands of questions in his July 2012 chat.
- Reach out to detractors. “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” were wise words repeated by Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II (admittedly, I often receive blank looks if I quote the line in China). Identify your most hardened critics throughout the crisis and draw them to your business: take them on a tour of your facilities, invite them to flip a burger and/or introduce senior management to them. I wouldn’t ignore them.
- Feed your allies. Not literally, of course (unless you want to). Create an online hub for your most ardent fans and offer them tools, information and regular access to people in your organisation. Get it right and these fans will become your most passionate brand ambassadors, quelling negative sentiment in online communities. How cool is that?
- Launch new online activities. Similar to the above, consider fresh initiatives to expand online attention – a promotion, perhaps, or an app. Amplify any social responsibility efforts. Be wary of activities like flash mobs (China isn’t a flash mob-friendly environment), so take your time to arrive at the right approach.
I will conclude this three-part series with two lines from Sun Tzu, who knew a thing or three about strategy: “In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.” and “Know your enemy and know yourself.” These observations are as true now as they were more than two millennia ago.