In the wake of 2015 marking the first UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange, the Chinese unit of Reputation Squad conducted a study on the digital presence of the FTSE100 firms on the Chinese web.
China is a strategic commercial partner for the UK. In October of 2014, China was announced to be the world’s largest economy according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), surpassing the United States, and overcoming its unrelenting world dominance lasting since 1872. China is the world’s first importer and second exporter and economists predict that by 2019 China will represent 22% of the world’s economic growth.
ONLINE REPUTATION HAS BECOME A KEY ISSUE FOR UK COMPANIES ON A PROMISING CHINESE MARKET
The UK is the most popular European destination for Chinese investment, benefitting from over £8 billion in 2013/14 alone (more than in the previous 30 years), and creating or safeguarding over 6,000 jobs. Similarly, there is bound to be increasing demand for the services sector in China, which could heavily benefit many of the UK’s blue chip companies.
As Bridget Walsh, head of Greater China business services for the UK and Ireland at Ernst & Young, puts it:
“The Chinese middle class are predicted to account for more than $6 trillion of global consumption over the next 10 years and that is a huge opportunity for British companies to take their brand to China”
Brand presence will indeed be fundamental, and the web is one of the most important media if companies are to achieve this.
China is undertaking a rapid, fundamental and structural digital revolution. With 800 million web users anticipated for 2015, the Chinese web is evolving quickly. Large companies need to face the exponential growth of digital technologies in a country that possesses a penetration rate of close to 50% and its own web ecosystem and social networks, all different to what is being used in the West.
Goodbye Google, Wikipedia, Facebook & Twitter, Whatsapp and Google+, hello Baidu, Baidu Baike, Sina Weibo and Wechat.
Online reputation has become, in fact, a strategic issue and a complex matter. It is as much an opportunity in terms of visibility towards clients as a potential pitfall if the web presence is not controlled.
METHODOLOGY – THREE MAIN CRITERIA
The study analyses the digital corporate presence of the FTSE100 firms with business activities in China on the Chinese web. The study was conducted by Reputation Squad’s China unit, focusing on the presence on search results for each company as well as their social media presence.
When looking at the search results we have analysed the first page for each company’s search request, the overall sentiment, the quality of the displayed content and whether or not the company controls this content and, ultimately, its search results. The study also looks at social media presence. Scores and ratios have been applied. The aim is to establish the level of control companies have over their own web space and their ability to react in the event of a crisis or liaise with stakeholders when something important happens.
Without further ado, here is the top 20!
A FEW OBSERVATIONS…
If we look at the results from a search (visibility for the company’s name request) and content (sentiment and control of results on the first page of results) perspective it appears that there is no distinction between the various industries, be they FMCG, luxury goods, heavy industry or bank and insurance. There is no definitive trend which tends to underline the fact that online reputation is important to every large company regardless of their activity.
When looking at the average results for FTSE 100 firms on the Chinese web, we realise that the performance is average, with significant disparities between the stakeholders.
What this implies is that some companies have yet to make the Chinese web a strategic communications priority. The top 6 (Unilever, Burberry, Royal Dutch Shell, Tesco, Diageo and Standard Chartered) pull ahead by obtaining excellent scores on every criterion, indicating both a controlled and a prominent presence on the search engines and social media networks. In fact, they are the only companies with an above average score on the social media criterion (grades above 5/10). There is growing awareness over the matter, as companies need to keep up the pace with the new Chinese digital trends, and latecomers will be assessed on their ability to catch up.
The main reason for the difficulties encountered by some? The great differences that exist between the « occidental web » and the Chinese one, and the difficulty for centralised communications operations to adapt. Indeed, social networks are the difference between well ranked firms and the rest of the pack. Chinese consumers spend a lot of time on their mobile phones, on social networks, and do more and more with it. It is therefore surprising to note than so few companies have a presence on social media, considering the unparalleled audience it can potentially bring. Others, for instance Unilever, use the Chinese social web to its fullest potential, with different accounts for corporate communications and employment, and a massive followers base (420 000 followers over their three official corporate accounts).
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
So why does it matter?
You are impacted by 600 million Chinese web users even when you are 8000 kms away from Beijing
The sheer number of Chinese web users means it is a force to be reckoned with and that what happens there can potentially reach a global audience. This is especially true when it comes to crisis communications.Knowing what goes on, being aware of the conversations around your brand is therefore essential, and online monitoring should be done on a regular basis.
In China, culture is king when it comes to communicating
It is not solely about monitoring. It is about immersing oneself into a specific web culture, understanding it and adapting the online communications strategy to its audience. Going that step further will help communications executive to fully grasp the mindset of the locals and allow to make sure a message reaches its audience in the way it is meant to be perceived. And the Chinese web culture can be quite tricky for anyone not familiar with it.
The Chinese web: a better source of marketing crowdsourcing with a bigger crowd
After assessing the situation (monitoring) and understanding it (interpretation within context), it is time to leverage the information gathered into an opportunity. We have mentioned detecting crises early, but there are examples of ways it can be used to boost business and brand visibility that comes directly from the audience, as opposed to a classic marketing push strategy.