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The Art of Weibo Crisis Management


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Why are companies averse to Chinese social media? How can communications professionals fully leverage Weibo while avoiding social backlash? Despite the rapid development of Chinese social media and …

Why are companies averse to Chinese social media? How can communications professionals fully leverage Weibo while avoiding social backlash? Despite the rapid development of Chinese social media and the demands for businesses and brands to engage directly with consumers, brands fear such channels will become a platform for consumer complaints. Read our report to understand how Weibo works and how your brand can establish measures to manage any crisis.

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  • 1. MSL China Executive Whitepaper The Art of WeiboCrisis ManagementHandling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media Authors: Johan Bjorksten, Catherine Cao, Derek Dong, Enson Hu
  • 2. About MSL ChinaFollowing the union with Eastwei MSL, MSL China is now a top 5 international strategiccommunications agency in Mainland China. With 200 colleagues across 4 offices, MSLChina brings together over 20 senior consultants with more than 12 years of strategiccommunications experience in this key global market. Part of MSLGROUP Greater China,the largest PR & social media network in the region today, MSL China provides knowledgedriven, integrated campaigns and advisory services spanning nearly every industry andcommunications discipline. MSL China has received recognition from the InternationalBusiness Awards, The Holmes Report’s “PR Agency of the Year,” the China InternationalPR Association and China’s New Media Festival for its creativity and effectiveness instrategic communications and industry-leading social media MSLGROUPMSLGROUP is Publicis Groupe’s PR, speciality communications and engagement group,advisors in all aspects of communication strategy: from consumer PR to employeecommunications, from public affairs to reputation management and from crisiscommunications to event management. With more than 2,900 people, its offices span 22countries. Adding affiliates and partners into the equation, MSLGROUP’s reach increasesto 4,000 employees in 83 countries. Today the largest PR network in Greater Chinaand India, the group offers strategic planning and counsel, insight-guided thinking andbig, compelling ideas – followed by thorough execution. Learn more about us at: Twitter+ YouTube
  • 3. Table of ContentsForewordEssentials of effective social media crisis management P5 Re-engineering your company for the Social Age P6 Setting up your organization for great executionWhat causes an issue to escalate into a crisis? P7 When does an issue become a crisis?Social Crisis Management Tactics P9 What if McDonald’s hadn’t had an official weibo? P10 Accelerate – Is 24 Hours Quick Enough? P10 Human Touch – Winning the case or winning hearts? P12 Ethics – You can’t hide in the social age P13 Data and Analysis – Li Kui or Li Gui P14 Flexibility – Change is the Only Constant P16 Clarity – Drafting a 140-character Modern Classic P17 Customization – What should be the Role of Traditional Media?Conclusion – Social Crisis Management Starts Before the Crisis P18 Practice Makes Perfect P20 MSL China Social Media Crisis Simulation System
  • 4. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 4Foreword Who was behind the smear campaign against Zhang Ziyi? Who came up with “trust McDonald’s, don’t trust CCTV”? If Siemens had proactively apologized, would Lao Luo still have destroyed his refrigerator? How did Guo Meimei, within two days of posting a picture, become the discussion point for over a million netizens?Chinese social media have developed rapidly over the We don’t have an officiallast ten years. Starting with BBS forums and moving account in Sina Weibo yeton to blogs, the focus today is on social networkingsites like the Chinese equivalents of Facebook and because we are afraid itTwitter: and Sina weibo, respectively. For will become a platform forthe first time, social media allows the Chinese public to consumer complaints.circumvent the traditional state-owned media, givingthem a platform to express their opinions. Social mediaauthors are sometimes surprised to discover their newability to influence public opinion. Many weibos haveaccumulated more than a million views, shares orfollowers succumbing to the snowball effect. Journalistsalso turn to influential weibos for stories.Social media allows businesses and brands to engage intimely and continuous dialogue with consumers and thepublic. By the end of February 2012, more than 130,000businesses had registered official Sina weibo accounts.Pressure to increase follower volumes and activity Comment from a PR manager in retail industrylevels have led PR managers and digital agencies todo all they can to attract the attention of netizens. Inaddition to daily posts about the company, companiesoffer everything from raffles and free trials to in-storepromotions and after-sales services. Even polls on weibogenerate volumes of activity. should companies respond to negative online “voices”? How can they manage issues and prevent crises, so as toJust as companies continue to leverage social media protect business and brand reputation?for marketing purposes, negative coverage – and thepotential for issues and crises to develop and escalate The Art of Weibo Crisis Management tries to answerin online forums – is an increasing source of concern for these questions by employing best practices fromPR professionals. In fact, fear of negative comments is our own experience of managing social media crisesone of the reasons that some companies have not yet for large multinationals in China. We hope that thiscreated official weibo accounts. whitepaper will serve as a checklist and source of ideas for corporate managers, as well as for all of our PRSo how can communications professionals fully leverage colleagues fighting on the weibo frontlines at companiesthe weibo channel while avoiding social backlash? How and agencies in China.
  • 5. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 5Essentials of effective social mediacrisis management Re-engineering your company for the Social Age To manage social media properly, especially in challenging situations, companies must begin by reviewing internal processes and establishing internal consensus around the challenges that social media place on all parts of the organization. We outline the key steps from our experience with clients in China. Channels – Establish an official social media "face" of the company Some companies are still considering whether or not they need to establish an official presence in Chinese social media. In our opinion, this is no longer a matter of choice: consumer companies as well as industries need to realize that, even if they opt to stay out of social media networks, their customers, partners, and competitors are already there. If a crisis appears online, the only way to address it effectively is by utilizing your own social media channels. Accelerate – Prepare the organization for faster response For many years, PR professionals have talked about the “24-hour response”. But reaction times on social media presents unprecedented challenges; in fact, best-in-class companies have already replaced the 24- hour principle with a “2-hour response”. How should organizations adjust their crisis alert and management systems, so that they can respond quickly and effectively to any issue that arises? Ethics – Watch out for shortcuts that may look effective but will most likely cause further damage Many managers in China still believe - to their detriment - that its possible to cover up or remove negative reports using money or "guanxi". This is no longer the case. Although such solutions may initially look "successful", they are tantamount to sweeping the real problems under the carpet. And the risks of discovery are increasing - recently, a number of companies have had positive commentaries or deletions traced back to their PR departments or agencies, leading to public outcry and damage to their reputations. Human touch – Put yourself in the shoes of your audience Companies in China have largely failed to understand that social media are inherently different from outdated, one-way communications: only if your audience feels engaged, and is willling to accept your dialogue, will they believe your authenticity. The Chinese online public is cynical and disenfranchised; they can scent when a company is being disingenuous, and this will often lead them to sympathize with disenfranchised individuals or organizations that are critical of this company. Social media and its advanced technologies can never replace basic human interaction.
  • 6. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 6 Setting up your organization for great execution Understanding the strategic requirements of the social media environment is important – but this can only address half of the challenge. The other half is implementation; in order to be successful you need to deliver the strategy. This requires the right tools, precise execution skills, and an experienced crisis management team. Data – Access to the right information and evaluation tools Communications professionals understand that keeping cool and controlling facts and data are the basic principles of crisis management. Never regard criticism or negative information as false before checking your facts. Today, companies tend to overreact to issues online. Fortunately, there are ways of quantifying your decisions and letting the data stand on its own. Flexibility – Stay on top of developments and quickly adjust direction as an issue develops Change is the only constant. Social media crises tend to be extremely fast-moving, undulating by the minute with the flow of public opinion. Because of this, companies need to develop attentive listening skills to online commentary. They must also build the capability to instantly analyze and gauge online opinion and continuously adjust strategies and tactics. Clarity – Getting your full message across in 140 characters Space restrictions in social media, especially weibo, make it difficult or near impossible to introduce every facet of a story. How can we deliver the key information to all interest groups involved, in a way that will come accross as sensitive and credible, within a limited space? In this context, drafting a response to a social media crisis may seem like an artistic endeavor, akin to composing a haiku poem. Fortunately, some companies have already developed best practices that we can learn. Customization – Understanding the different roles that social and traditional media play in a crisis Social media and traditional media each have their own advantages. Communications professionals must become skilled at choosing media strategies tailored to the characteristics and challenges of each particular issue or crisis that confronts them.
  • 7. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 7What causes an With social media, news is no longer local or isolated.issue to escalate Anything can gain widespread exposure on the Internet.into a crisis? Before, a single consumer could purchase a fake product, post a disgusting photo ofBefore presenting and implementing detailed strategies it on weibo, and have mediaand tactics to resolve a crisis, PR professionals must first tag it to make it go viral.understand how managing a crisis in the social media Now, netizens don’t need theenvironment differs from traditional environments and media: they just see the photo,which factors are worthy of special attention. our brand, and have a negative association, damaging our overall reputation. Comment from a PR manager in food industryWhen does an issue following a major crisisbecome a crisis?Every PR manager has experienced the following evolves in social media?situation: Negative information begins to spread on Sina,Sohu, Netease, Tencent, or some other portal or news Of course, the most important determinant is the overallsite. The crisis management team begins to prepare attention received. So how can we evaluate the level offor action. Then, somehow, the negative commentaries attention, and when should we prepare for action? Thefade out and the issue resolves itself without developing following observations can help us form a framework forinto a full-blown crisis. Yet, many managers have also making decisions.experienced the opposite: a small piece of negativeinformation rapidly spreads through social media and There is no single blanket number or percentage:escalates into a crisis that disrupts business, causes Companies and products have different criticalgrave management concern and ultimately impacts the attention levels. Some products are used by millionscompany’s reputation and brand. So how can we better of people while others are more exclusive. A ruleunderstand how negative information spreads and of thumb: the larger the volume of consumers, the
  • 8. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 8higher the probability that small issues will escalate. communications crisis and the ratio is irrelevant.However, some companies have adopted a useful toolfor analyzing and predicting the crisis potential of a imilarly, when there is exposure in major traditionalsocial media issue: the “first time user tweet ratio”. This media – such as the CCTV Consumer Day Programconcept is applicable to many different types of social – you can move directly into crisis managementmedia, so we use Sina Weibo as an example: mode. Determine the “communications cycle time” for the You still need to immediately launch real-time social media channel in your industry: for FMCG social media monitoring in both cases. Regardless (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) brands on Sina of the source, the most important factor influencing Weibo, for example, this is around six to eight hours. transmission on social media is the breadth, speed and intensity of public discussion (which are factors Analyze a previous issue to determine how many measured by the ratio). consumers discussed or shared a negative comment within your industry’s cycle time before it went The ratio gives companies a quantitative benchmark for viral or precipitated into a crisis: the “first time user the course of action when confronted with an issue. It tweet ratio”. The best way of establishing this ratio also provides objective data which can help the company is by looking at cases from your own company; if standardize its issues management and crisis prevention you don’t have such data available, you can analyze processes; if an experienced colleague leaves the competitor issues in the same product category or team, the company will have documentation for future industry instead. evaluations. Determine the threshold that requires crisis management action. For example, if the total number of consumers in China for a particular FMCG brand is 1.4 million, and the brand establishes a “first time user tweet ratio” of 0.05%, then if within eight hours, more than 7,000 consumers discuss and/ or share a negative topic, you should classify it as a potential crisis. Continuously monitor social media and adjust your ratio as you track more data and build more experience related to your own brand.The “first time user tweet ratio” is thus an empiricalconcept which is based on calculations from a numberof recent crises in China. In addition, we need to payattention to a few other factors: Issues with high public interest have obvious crisis potential. For example, if your business is part of the food supply chain and the issue is related to food safety, then the issue will surely escalate into a
  • 9. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 9Social CrisisManagementTactics “McDonald’s Official Verified Account: McDonald’s China is very concerned with the reports on CCTV about non-compliant operations at our Beijing Sanlitun restaurant. We are launching an immediate investigation into this isolated incident and will deal with the issue in a serious and resolute manner, taking concrete measures in order to express our regret to consumers. As a result of this issue, we will enforce the implementation of all standard procedures, and provide safe and sanitary food for consumers. We welcome and are grateful for oversight from the government, media, and consumer.” ”What if McDonald’shadn’t had an official the incredibly fast transmission in Chinese social This issue also illustrates another important point in social media issue management: you must have a readilyOn March 15, 2012, also known as “Consumer Rights available channel so that you can respond quickly andDay” in China, McDonald’s experienced every PR effectively when challenged online. When we discussedmanager’s nightmare: CCTV’s annual Consumer Day the Consumer Rights Day issue with in-house PRProgram aired a story where one of the company’s managers and other colleagues, they frequently raisedrestaurants changed the freshness period on its food that “McDonald’s had an established official weiboand sold them to unsuspecting customers. account which helped them deal with this issue. Frankly, I am really scared what would happen to our companyFor many companies in the past, this kind of exposure if we faced an issue like they did. Up to now, ourhas led to drawn out media crises that have immediately management has not been able to agree on establishingaffected sales and caused long-term damage to the our own social media channel. If we had an issue, webrand. However, in as little as an hour, McDonald’s wouldn’t have a channel to defend ourselves.”took the lead by publishing a frank apology on socialmedia. The apology was widely accepted by online We know that many managers, especially those thatcommentators; within a short period of time, some 1,000 work in highly visible industries such as food & beverage,consumers commented on the apology. Many expressed retail, consumer electronics and services, are worriedopinions which included criticism of McDonald’s and that social media platforms such as official weibo sitesblamed the company’s management for the problem. can provide a platform for consumers to complain. InBut many others expressed their understanding and spite of these worries, we strongly advise companiesdeclared their willingness to forgive McDonald’s. Some to establish their own channels. It is possible, however,even offered support and admiration for the swift and to create multiple platforms with different purposes: asincere apology. By 11 pm, the statement reached over brand weibo, CSR weibo, product weibo, and after sales10 million consumers through more than 8,400 retweets service weibo for example. Having several platformson the @McDonald’s official weibo, the @Sina Finance administered by different departments not only helps toand Economics account as well as other media accounts. avoid content clutter, but also provides more effectiveThese 10 million retweets in such a shport time illustrate interaction with different types of followers.
  • 10. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 10Accelerate – Is 24 in the Social Media Age, but companies must also ensure that Crisis Team members are internet-Hours Quick Enough? savvy. Decision MakerEvery PR professional knows the “24-hour rule”: take President or Managing Directoraction within the first 24 hours when a potential crisishas been identified. The crisis management team goes Crisis Team Marketinginto action, starts monitoring the media, appoints an Crisis Manager, PR Manager,official spokesperson, prepares statements, drafts Q&A Management HR Manager,documents, verifies the necessary communication Team In-house Counsel, etc.channels to deliver its messages, and so on. But in the PR Agency, Law Firm, etc.age of Social Media, 24 hours is no longer fast enough. External support Legal consultant, One of the insights gleaned from the McDonald’s Government relations consultantexample is the importance of speed: imagine what Analyst Support mediawould have happened if McDonald’s have adhered to Opinion leadersits traditional media crisis process and waited a day or ...two before releasing an apology. Modern consumerswould have been infuriated with the perceived lackof responsiveness. So how can a company compress Human Touch –what used to take 24 hours into two hours? In workingwith clients to resolve such issues, we conclude that a Winning the case ortotal re-engineering of the company’s communication winning hearts?processes is required to attain the desired responsespeed. More specifically: Every experienced PR professional knows that a crisis will not be resolved until all stakeholders see the An official weibo account needs to be in place and company taking concrete action to solve the issue, and active; it is too late to register one and to train the communicating these actions in a tone that resonates team on how to use it after a crisis hits. and creates sympathy among stakeholders. When dealing with social media, this approach needs to be The company must have pre-prepared statements further refined: whether or not we are dealing with a for the most probable scenarios to avoid wasting bona fide mistake by the company or a malicious rumor, time on drafting messages in the face of an issue. we must involve the online communities in real two- way discussion, allowing them to discuss, question and Determine how responsibilities can be delegated, challenge our solutions and remedies. Consumers want so that the Corporate Communications team can you to give them confidence: “Do you care about me?” make decisions quickly without waiting for senior and “Can you help me solve the problem?” management approval. So what does this mean in practice? A well-trained, experienced Social Media Team needs to be in place. The language tone must be casual and personal, in line with the online community you are addressing. The company’s Crisis Team must be up-to-date: Language that comes across as formal, “corporate clear responsibilities and reporting lines still hold speak” or aloof will hazard immediate outcry.
  • 11. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 11 Remember that a weibo discussion is similar to avoided. However, instead of immediately engaging in an oral conversation. Your need to address your dialogue with Lao Luo and the other affected consumers, audience’s emotions at the same time that you Siemens simply published an “official announcement” address the facts of the case. saying that “any consumer encountering a problem should contact Siemens’ 24-hour customer service Be mindful of who you are talking to: the majority number” and declaring “Siemens Home Appliances is of audiences or online “participants” in a crisis are committed to contacting every customer immediately to not necessarily directly involved. A few customers provide on-the-spot service”. In particular, the company may have a real grievance, but most of the people did not admit to any quality problem with its products. commenting are there to “join the crowd”. These “secondary stakeholders” want to be noticed The issue did not go away. Consumers complained and feel that they have contributed to an issue’s online that they had indeed been contacted, but that resolution. Again, this is an emotional need rather Siemens failed to provide any solution. To address than a rational issue. the increasing amount of negative comments online, Siemens published another statement in November,One example of this is the well-known crisis involving nearly one month later, containing the following mainLuo Yonghao (“Lao Luo”) that Siemens Home points:Appliances faced in September, 2011. Luo bought aSiemens refrigerator but found that the door could not Siemens refrigerators adhere to Chinese qualityclose properly. He published a weibo comment and standards;found that many other consumers had experienced thesame problem. He therefore felt that this was more than Siemens has already discussed this matter with Luo;an isolated incident – it was a product quality issue forwhich Siemens should publicly apologize in addition to Siemens has already expressed its stance on theproviding remedies to all affected consumers. matter and is willing to provide service to any consumers that have any issues.At this stage, the crisis could probably have been This statement highlights some of the main lessons from this case: Your attitude is insincere, and we don’t feel you care Several weeks into the issue, Siemens still Official announcement about us. considered Luo as the main problem, but in fact, an analysis of the online sentiment shows that ordinary consumers were more upset with Siemens’ “cold attitude” and “lack of responsibility”. Online commentators increasingly felt that Siemens was trying to hide a major quality problem from consumers. On the surface, Siemens’ statements look like a company trying its best to take responsibility, but instead, consumers interpreted the “lack of A coolly-worded statement will only upset an apology” as a reason to criticize the company consumers further. A different tone would have made a huge
  • 12. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 12 difference to online sentiment. You’re cheating and I will find the clue...The issue continued to escalate, culminating into thefamous incident where Luo took a sledgehammer to hisfridge in front of Siemens’ headquarters, to the delightof gathered journalists and consumer representatives. Atthis stage, Siemens finally published an official apology,admitting that its refrigerator doors were faulty. Butat this late stage, even a genuine apology generatedonline commentary asking “why didn’t Siemens acceptresponsibility in the first place?” and celebrating“consumer victory” over the corporate giant.To avoid misunderstanding, we are not advising clients Anyone can be Sherlock Holmes in the Social Ageto apologize unless the company is clearly at fault;the legal implications may prevent the company fromimmediately accepting responsibility. Still, it is almost Trying to address the symptom rather than the causealways possible to use language that conveys a humble, illustrates a legacy problem in Chinese PR: a decaderesponsible attitude in a way that garners sympathy from ago, it was possible to control, or at least heavilyonline stakeholders, even when they feel they have been influence, traditional media coverage through personalwronged. relationships, guanxi, or by bribing journalists. However, this is no longer an effective approach in traditionalIn the end, Siemens was forced to apologize. If the media and nearly useless had taken a more humble attitude andengaged consumers in real dialogue from the outset, Because of the speed and broadness of communicationsthe worst effects of the crisis could probably have been through social media, it is impossible today to control anavoided. escalating crisis by deleting negative posts. Professional PR agencies and in-house managers now understand that deleting or “sinking” negative comments risks moreEthics – You can’t hide negative online sentiment. In our opinion, there is only one situation where deleting information is warranted:in the social age when a company is facing a systematic campaign of malicious gossip or untrue accusations. In this situation,There is also another lesson to be learned from the Lao companies should openly and transparently cooperateLuo case: you cannot mend an issue, real or perceived, with media and related online platforms to deleteby trying to address its symptoms. Companies often such content. There are two reasons to avoid any otherrely on PR agencies to remove negative commentary intervention through deletions:by negotiating with web sites or “sinking” the postsby spamming forums with positive messages, as well Deleting a weibo post may seem easy, but unlessas other methods typically used by so-called “digital” you are a highly capable hacker, you will leave a trailagencies. However, the Lao Luo case shows that this is that can be traced in online communities. Severalno longer possible in the present environment. After the companies have recently been exposed through thecrisis, Siemens changed its PR counsel to a well-known actions of their PR departments or PR agencies thatinternational firm. promise “quick solutions” to issues.
  • 13. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 13 In the era of social media, the speed of deleting Done? information will never be as quick as the ability to share it. When consumers see a company trying to remove or hide negative information online, they Sure. may conclude that there are corporate secrets and will continue to take an interest in the issue.Therefore, removing information that relates to the issueitself can lead to wider questions about the company’sintegrity, causing greater loss of trust and damage to thebrand.On the other hand, as we can see from the McDonald’s It’s not uncommon to see brand attacks incase, a company that is seen as taking responsibility will Chinese social mediaget the benefit of the doubt even when the problemis real! Consumers willing to concede that “a companythat is prepared to apologize and make corrections is results for themselves, as well as to attack competitors.trustworthy, whether or not they are in the wrong”. We already introduced the “first time user tweet ratio” asMost companies now understand this, but some still a reference point for PR managers, but how do we knowwant to remove negative comments, particularly after that the data is credible? When the ratio is large, can wethe crisis has ended. In our experience, this is a needless be sure that there is already broad consumer interestuse of resources. Leaving the full story of how the over this issue? In short, how can honest companiescompany took responsibility for its mistakes, real or differentiate legitimate concerns and real complaintsperceived, actually builds long-term confidence and from malicious, deliberate attacks?brand equity. Another famous online case can serve as a perfect illustration of this point: the smear campaign againstData and Analysis – Li leading Chinese movie star Zhang Ziyi.Kui or Li Gui Zhang was invited to serve as image ambassador for one of our client’s products. At the time the actress was also thIn the 14 Century Chinese novel Water Margin, one of the subject in a speculative poster outside her homethe characters named Li Kui is a famous hero whose which had been disfigured with black ink. Suddenly, areputation is known throughout the country. A bandit number of online postings appeared, ruminating aboutnamed Li Gui assumes the identify of Li Kui in order to Zhang’s finances and personal life, and questioning herattack and rob highway travelers. One day, Li Gui meets moral integrity.the real Li Kui who is upset with the impostor and quicklydefeats him in a duel. The story illustrates the danger of In the course of a single week, the MSL team collectedusing a fake identity to cheat and blackmail others for more than 14,000 related posts from various socialpersonal gain. media platforms. A closer look at the data revealed something interesting: many of the posts were related toIn modern China, there are many online “Li Guis”: each other.companies or their so-called PR agencies use “zombieaccounts” to achieve superficially strong marketing The wording of most posts was identical or highly
  • 14. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 14 similar; only a few posts displayed major textual Content is only posted during working hours differences. Many accounts show common behaviors such as writing about a similar topic within a short period of Page views were high, but response levels were time low. With the exception of one lively discussion on leading BBS Tianya, few people seemed to take any If we find that a certain issue is not real stakeholder real interest. discontent, we need to treat it differently: Most postings were published during short, Interest Genuine Malicious Level Issue Attack concentrated time periods. In fact, the postings gave the impression that someone was moving Prepare and In addition to the from platform to platform, posting comments in release an official official statement, statement; if you take immediate one forum after the other with little or no activity in don’t have the measures to facts, acknowledge remove malicious between. High stakeholder content and seek concerns initially legal support. and convey howWith our suspicions raised, we took a closer look at the the issue will be addressed.Tianya discussion. The situation looked serious: therewere more than two million page views and some12,000 responses! But when we looked at the data, we Evaluate crisis Prepare official potential and statement fordiscovered a number of questions: Low how to prevent use in case of escalation or escalation. prepare for a crisis. Two-thirds of the people using highly negative language about Zhang Ziyi, including the originator of the discussion thread, had registered their accounts within the last four weeks. Flexibility – Change is The online identities used to attack Zhang did not the Only Constant discuss many other topics; the only topic of interest it seemed was to promote a local sports brand! One of the greatest challenges of crisis management is never being sure how a crisis will develop. In AprilOur conclusion seemed obvious: the negative 2012, a major tea brand faced what became known ascommentary about Zhang Ziyi was a deliberate and the “pesticide issue”. At the time, Greenpeace had justorchestrated malicious attack for some purpose. released its “Greenpeace 2012 tea leaf investigative report”, which claimed that several of the brand’sThis pattern is a general one; most internet identities products contained trace amounts of pesticides.launching attacks on brands are “zombie accounts”.We have established the following rules of thumb for Consumers are emphatically concerned about foodidentifying zombie attacks: safety and wide-spread debate was unavoidable. Some 60,000 weibo discussions appeared from April 24 to May Registration is recent, usually 2-3 weeks 31, and by the middle of June the number had grown to The account lacks original content over 900,000. Content is business related, especially brand promoting But the real crisis began when the company released a Content is identical or similar to other comments statement on its official weibo account.
  • 15. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 15In the message, the company stated that “our products believe McDonald’s and not CCTV” and urged netizensadhere to Chinese standards”. But in its pesticide report, to “use your voice to support McDonald’s”. Soon, otherGreenpeace had actually used EU standards, so by online commentators became suspicious: was thisdeclaring that its products adhered to Chinese standards McDonald’s or its PR agency orchestrating a behind-the-was interpreted as “treating Chinese and foreign scenes campaign against CCTV? In response to theseconsumers differently”. Any indication of a double comments, the company immediately released a secondstandard is one sure way of angering Chinese netizens statement which thanked consumers for their supportand sure enough, consumers were outraged. while emphasizing that all such expressions of support were spontaneous and in no way arranged or promotedOne netizen, Monoer, summarized the complaint: by McDonald’s. Thanks to the company’s swift and“Unless you guys provide proof, who will be willing to bet unambiguous response, this “second wave” issue quicklytheir health on your so-called ‘credibility’? I am certainly died down.not going to continue drinking your tea.” The companyhad now cornered itself by moving the debate to doublestandards, which is even more difficult to address. Theissue continued to escalate.Luckily for the brand, the China Tea Association entered @McDonald’s: We have observed that some netizens have startedthe debate stating that “there is a need to raise Chinese spontaneous weibo campaigns to express support for McDonald’s.standards relating to tea”. The debate switched focus We express our sincere thanks to netizens for this attention, and at the same time want to officially announce that such campaignsagain, with the industry becoming the main topic of are in no way initiated by McDonald’s China. McDonald’s Chinadiscussion. This highlights the volatility of online opinion continues to sincerely welcome the scrutiny of the government,in China. media and consumers.Compare the brand’s handling of the tea issue with thesensibility of McDonald’s Consumer Day issue. After We must be cautious whenthe release of the company’s first statement, some facing negative news inweibo users actually started a movement saying “I today’s social media. One slip and it’s another bad news cycle. Even worse, it could escalate into a crisis. A PR manager comments about social media crisis management
  • 16. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 16At any time during the evolution of a crisis, there @McDonald’s: McDonald’s China is very concerned withis potential for renewed attention, escalation or the reports on CCTV about non-compliant operationsdeterioration. Typically, this will be due to: at our Beijing Sanlitun restaurant. We are launching an immediate investigation into this isolated incident and The increased severity of the underlying problem. will deal with the issue in a serious and resolute manner, For example, the victim of an accident is in a worse taking concrete measures in order to express our regret condition; to consumers. As a result of this issue, we will enforce the implementation of all standard procedures, and provide Shifting attentions to deeper causes: a product safe and sanitary food for consumers. We welcome and quality issue reveals fundamental management are grateful for oversight from the government, media, and problems; consumer. Additional stakeholders become involved: new The statement contains four key messages: It defines dissatisfied customers appear or government starts the issue; shows sincerity and concern; promises specific an investigation. actions; and speaks directly to key stakeholders. Let us look at each of these messages more closely.In the age of traditional media, companies could gaugethe reaction of journalists by looking at the articles Defining the issuethey published, but it was difficult to obtain directfeedback from consumers and the general public. The CCTV report only broadcasted hidden cameraToday, social media gives companies a great opportunity material from the Sanlitun outlet but it implied thatto understand their stakeholders: online audiences all McDonald’s restaurants in China had compliancewill engage the company directly with critical and problems. This gave McDonald’s the opportunity toconstructive opinions. Companies must pay constant immediately start limiting brand damage by focusingattention to this feedback and respond in a timely attention on one specific location. By talking about anmanner. “isolated incident” and “non-compliant operations”, the company indicated that this was not a widespread problem. Show sincerity and concernClarity – Drafting a140-character Modern McDonald’s used strong language to show that it took the issue seriously: “very”, “immediate”, “serious andClassic resolute”, “concrete measures in order to express our regret”, “enforce”, and so on. This is a proven approachJust like on Twitter, weibo messages are limited to that has become even more important in the sociala string of 140 characters. Although the Chinese media context. Sure enough, netizens applauded thelanguage is more compact than English, the amount company for its serious attitude.of content you can input in each tweet is limited. Using ·140 characters to write an effective statement in a crisis Prove that you are taking actionsituation is the ultimate test of the company’s publicrelations competency. In our opinion, the gold standard By strengthening management, McDonald’s promised toso far comes from McDonald’s; the company’s Consumer “enforce the implementation of all standard procedures,Day apology is still available in the Baidu Library: and provide safe and sanitary food for consumers”. This
  • 17. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 17showed that the company was taking responsibility, a two-pronged approach: employ traditional mediabut also defined the issue as a management problem: to explain its strategies and actions in-depth, whilethe only thing needed was to ensure standards were leveraging social media to communicate directly withenforced, and the company could continue to provide local audiences.“safe and sanitary” products. As a rule of thumb, the use of social media is warrantedSpeak directly to key stakeholders when:The final sentence in the statement is worth highlighting, The issue concerns only the company itself, assince it is different from the declarations of most opposed to government agencies or the entireother companies that we have analyzed: McDonald’s industry;specifically addressed “government, media, andconsumers”, which builds positive sentiment with its The issue mainly affects consumers or end users, asthree most important stakeholders. opposed to partners or other stakeholders; The issue is relatively straightforward and the risk of “secondary issues” and complications is relativelyCustomization – What low.should be the Role of Traditional media still provides an authoritative platformTraditional Media? for companies to clarify the facts and to lead and guide public opinion on a complex issue. Therefore,Experience has shown that there is a strong link between it’s sometimes necessary to focus first on traditionalsocial and traditional media. It is often impossible to media, sometimes to the point of avoiding social mediamanage a crisis by addressing only one or the other: both engagement altogether. Social media should also bedemand our attention. When the issue is complicated, avoided in highly sensitive cases such as when thereit becomes especially important to use customized is strong nationalist or patriotic sentiment or whenlanguage and channels to communicate with various consumers may be prone to other extreme emotionalstakeholders. reactions.Returning to our McDonald’s example, the highly visiblefood brand needed to immediately address the TVreport by directly communicating with consumers. Insuch a case, social media becomes the most effectiveand timely communication channel. In other cases,the immediacy and brevity of social media is ill-suitedto the dynamics of an issue. Take BP’s oil spill as anexample. Large numbers of citizens went online tocriticize the company’s handling of the disaster, buthaving an in-depth discussion of the underlying causes,potential methods to stop the leakage, clean up actions,progress and follow-up measures, damage estimatesand compensation policies and more would clearly not Traditional media or social media? A crisisbe possible using short tweets. Therefore, BP chose management balancing act in the Social Age
  • 18. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 18Conclusion – they occur. Best-in-class companies tend to consider the following three areas:Social Crisis Conduct a "Social Media Immersion Workshop" to help the Crisis Team and senior management understand the social mediaManagement landscape and how a communications crisis breaks online. This hands-on workshop gives attendees common knowledge about a crisis and build consensus on the appropriate systems andStarts Before mechanism to manage it. Understandthe Crisis Develop a crisis management manual with a detailed structure of the Crisis Team, roles and responsibilities, reporting lines, and decision-making framework. Conduct scenario planning with pre- prepared statements, standardized Q&A, and relevant action steps. Include external resources and outside support where relevant. PreparePractice Makes Perfect Give the Crisis Team the opportunity to fine-tune its skills in a full-blown Social Media Crisis Simulation, which combines theCrisis management poses a number of well-known challenges of managing traditional media with real-time simulationchallenges on organizations: of the online environment. Ensuring that the Spokesperson communicates Practice “according to script” Building consensus within the Crisis Team on the causes and appropriate remedies of an issue Social Media Immersion Workshop Coordinating the actions of different departments to avoid conflicting messages In our experience, the senior management of most companies does not have a deep enough understandingThe social media environment now requires us to of social media to be able to respond adequately inconsider new questions. How can we: a crisis situation. Companies should complement traditional Media Training with a "Social Media Ensure that the company has access to minute-by- Immersion Workshop" where the companys PR minute monitoring and analysis of online opinion? professionals as well as senior managers can attain a Ensure that the company’s Crisis Team and joint understanding of the dynamics of social media and decision-makers understand the requirements of the new demands placed on crisis management. social media communication, such as the limitations on length and the appropriate tone? During the workshop, managers should have the Avoid wasting valuable minutes or even hours opportunity to experience online user behavior first- on translation and approval of statements, if the hand and to interact with online stakeholders using the company’s top decision-maker does not speak appropriate content and language tone. This will allow Chinese? them to see things from the viewpoint of the audience when addressing hot topics.As such, traditional crisis management wisdom is morerelevant than ever, but it also needs to be revised to Updating the Company’s Crisis Managementaddress these new challenges. The only way to ensure Systemsthat your organization will handle a crisis in the mosteffective way is to address common challenges before Every aspect of the company’s crisis response
  • 19. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 19mechanisms need to be revised to meet the challengesof social media: Update the Company Crisis Manual Ensure that the Crisis Management Team understands social media in addition to having a clear work process with detailed roles and responsibilities Ensure that the company can get response times down to “social media timing”, usually two hours, by re-engineering Decision Processes, simplifying approvals, etc. Update the companys scenario planning and develop statements and Q&As that can be used for both traditional and social media Make sure that your list of External Resources includes online KOLs in addition to traditional groups like Government Officials, Associations and Academics
  • 20. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 20MSL China Crisis offices or at MSL China.Simulation with Social Every effort is made to make the simulation true. ByMedia using our proprietary tools, participants are pressed to respond quickly to broadcasts, articles and news flashes. The MSL China team prepares message documentsWe believe the best way to prepare for a crisis is to targeting various stakeholders, media interviews, legalexperience one. In the MSL China Social Media Crisis documents, and other materials depending on how theSimulation, participants are presented with a case tailor- crisis media team behaves during the simulation.made for their company and industry, which tests theirability to manage and resolve the situation as realistically The MSL Crisis Communications Team has created,as possible. customized and conducted crisis communications training and simulation exercises for managementMost crisis communications simulations in China groups in a wide range of industries and geographies.still focus on traditional media and conventional Recent assignments include clients from the followingtechniques. As our whitepaper has shown, managing sectors:a communications crisis in the Social Media Age posesnew requirements on companies and teams. A different FMCGapproach is needed to replicate the pressures and Retailchallenges associated with social media. To re-create Utilities and energythose settings for participants, MSL China has developed Constructionweb-based tools that simulate a social media crisis with Manufacturingreal-time interaction from social channels such as Sina Public sectorWeibo and Renren. These tools are hosted on a virtual Professional Services, for example investmentprivate network so participants can practice in a safe and banks and law firmsclosed environment. The MSL Crisis Communications Team has vastObjectives of the MSL China Social Media Crisis experience within crisis management, crisis benchmarkSimulation workshops, developing crisis plans and handbooks and post-crisis assessments. Ask us how we can adapt one Train the senior management team on how to of our offerings for you. manage a communications crisis in China Sensitize senior managers on the challenges of Chinese social media Develop the knowledge base with example scenarios from which to act in the case of a real communications crisis Update existing checklists, policies and protocols for more effective operationsStructuring a Social Media SimulationA simulated case takes two- to three-hours to completefollowed by thirty minutes of feedback and discussion.The simulation can take place either at the client’s
  • 21. MSL China Executive WhitepaperThe Art of Weibo Crisis Management - Handling Issues and Preventing Crises in Chinese Social Media 21 Simulation management – MSL China NEWS PORTAL SOCIAL CONVERSATION Client’s Crisis Management Team (CMT)
  • 22. MSL China regularly publishes Executive Whitepapers with insightsand comments on trends, the industry and society as a whole.To get information from MSL China or to subscribe to futurewhitepapers, as well as to contact us for any other matter, please sendus an e-mail on greaterchina@mslgroup.comor call us +86 21 5169 9311 (SH) or +86 10 8573 0688 (BJ).MSL China Executive WhitepaperDecember 2012Copyright ® MSL China