According to research giants, Nielsen Global Trust, word of mouth recommendations from friends and consumer opinions posted online are the two biggest factors influencing purchasing decisions online. Online video and banner ads placed just 15th and 17th on the list, respectively.
With such weight placed on recommendations from third party sources online, known as peer reviews - it is not difficult to see how some PR firms have seized the chance to undermine their clients’ competitors.
One firm, Beijing Erma Interactive Marketing and Planning Co, which used a “water army” of fabricated Weibo accounts to spread rumours and influence consumer perceptions, is now under government scrutiny.
While using social media to promote products and services has long been a useful tool for marketing and PR firms alike, using grassroots microblogging to generate negative traction for companies is now facing new government legislation that would make it a criminal enterprise.
Even China’s most popular microbloggers – or “Big V’s” - with over 5m followers each are being closely watched. Recently, Xue Manzi, a blogger with over 10m fans who became famous after a 2011 campaign to rescue abducted children, called for an end to the “wild growth” of rumour mongering on social media.
As well as spreading rumours, many marketing firms offer services such as “scrubbing”, where damaging content is forcibly removed from peer to peer sites along with paid posts, where key opinion leaders are given cash to publish ‘personal’ recommendations.
Social media is unlikely to stop being a useful marketing tool any time soon, however, companies - especially international firms delegating to local marketing companies - need to be aware of exactly how it is being used to generate traction for their brands online.
Published 25th September, 2013
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