Imagethief is such a good blog I would read it even if it were not about China. It is a great example of what a blog should be. It is consistently interesting, with a clear, distinct voice, and often very funny. As a bonus, it provides great insight into China, particularly its media and its consumers. It is without a doubt, one of the best China blogs on the net.
Its recent post, entitled Chinese Bloggers Smack Dell, [link no longer exists] gives a telling lesson on how foreign companies must deal with Chinese consumers and the role of the Internet in that equation. The post describes a class action lawsuit against Dell in Chin, involving allegations that Dell’s computer speeds did not match promised specifications and on how Chinese consumers used the Internet to band together against Dell.
The reason to read this post, as well as its comments section, is to see how Chinese nationalistic fervor is so often just beneath the surface for foreign companies doing business in China. Note this key paragraph, and remember it is written by a veteran of PR in China:
Bluster? Probably. But it reveals a sentiment that often runs just below the surface in China: that foreign companies don’t treat Chinese consumers the way they would treat consumers in their home countries. Jeff Jarvis might not entirely agree with that conclusion, but it is something that those of us who do PR for foreign companies encounter regularly in China. Often one of the first accusations leveled at a foreign company in a crisis is that it is giving Chinese consumers second-rate treatment. In effect, it’s a charge of racism that seems to have its origins both in the nationalism that has been cultivated as a unifying ideology and in a post-colonial insecurity complex that invites quick suspicion of the motives of foreigners.
This is valuable insight and foreign companies (especially consumer companies) doing business in China must think about and prepare for this type of situation.
Business Week magazine elaborates on how Chinese bloggers influence Chinese consumerism in “Mad as Hell in China’s Blogosphere” and Sam Flemming nicely describes Dell’s China problem in a post entitled “China Dell Hell (aka Processor Gate).” In “Is China Going Green, Part VIII? — Well The Wall Street Journal Says It Is So You’d Better Believe It,” we wrote about how foreign companies in China are held to higher standards in the environmental arena as well.
I do not for a minute think this sort of thing is confined to China. I just finished a long layover in Seoul, Korea, and while there read of a similar incident in one of Seoul’s English language dailies. I also saw this same sort of thing happen with surprising regularity when I lived in Istanbul, Turkey.
So what’s a company doing business in China to do? I advocate the following:
- Take your consumer relations as seriously in China as you do in your home country. If you are not prepared to do this, do not go in. As a lawyer, I am always advocating companies protecting their brand in the Chinese legal arena but companies must protect it in the public arena as well.
- Monitor what is being said about your company on the Chinese net and be prepared to react. Realize that bulletin boards are still a very big thing in China so be sure to monitor those as well.
- Contact CIC Data in Shanghai and see how it can help. Near as I can tell, this is the only company in China that monitors the Internet for foreign companies doing business in China. Or, as CIC Data puts it:
We have self-developed search, harvesting, text mining, and trend analysis tools that have been customized for Chinese language and Chinese social media including BBS message boards and blogs. Every month, we collect tens of millions of consumer messages. Depending on the client, we use our Natural Language Processing tools to categorize millions of messages thousands of different ways to provide fine level analysis of buzz volume and sentiment. This allows for a a detailed understanding of consumer perception and experience regarding our clients, their competitors and their industry as a whole.
- Retain a good PR person who truly knows China.
Bottom Line. If you value China as a market, act with due care.