It stung, to no end, to have a competitor announce with great fanfare that they had launched the first blog in China by a PC company. Firsts are firsts and make for great PR superlatives, but this is not a zero-sum game and the question with corporate blogs is not how they behave versus a competitor’s, but the purpose they serve in market and to customers. (and we were first anyway, having had an engineering forum in place for months)
Spend any time researching the broader topic of blogs and China and a couple blunt themes emerge. First, there are a lot of blogs in China. That is a complete and utter “duh” statement, but there it is. Blogs are big and not regarded as a freakshow exhibit. Popular portals such as Sohu offer blog services to customers, and according to some research reports, the country leads the world in terms of numbers of blogs – a statistic I suspect is difficult to verify and which may be counting entities the west might not regard as blogs.
Technorati lists yanxi.bokewu.com as the 32nd most popular blog in the world (Technorati had a Chinese blog at the top of its list at one point last year, but it seems to have vanished ((Technorati rankings are irrelevant inside of China as the service seems to be intermittently blocked)) – and a untranslated look at some top Chinese blogs shows a seeming emphasis on pop culture and a youthful slant. Political blogs – which arguably led the way in the U.S. with such properties as the Daily Kos and the dynamics of political blogs during the 2004 Presidential election – are few and far between, but technology blogs, another source of the American A-List, do exist in China.
Digital media is consumed, some experts told me last spring, more through mobile phones than PCs. While RSS is a great delivery mechanism for mobile content (it separates the information from screen-breaking designs), I have no idea how popular
RSS is as a data delivery mechanism. Let’s assume it is a high, that consumers don’t care what it is called, and that, in the long run, blog generated XML is an expedient way to publish and deliver content.
As some readers and colleagues know, I define blogs as extremely agile and inexpensive content management systems first, and community structures second. I expect, overtime, many emerging Chinese corporations will trend towards blog platforms for their primary publishing and content management systems due to low cost and ease of configuration.
The challenge for those corporations is the issue of customer comments — which appear to be the point of definition for many people when defining what a “blog” is. (I tend to agree, comments need to be enabled for the presence to qualify as a blog. Otherwise, the presence is a “site.”) When we launched blogs over the past eight months, we followed a multi-blog strategy with blogs covering our areas of special interest as opposed to a single standard corporate blog. We expect those specialty blogs – social responsibility, insider tips, design, etc. – to attract customer service and fulfillment comments, and indeed they have. We have considered launching a separate service blog, but think there is a more effective solution for that type of customer interaction than a blog format.
Customer service in China – Chinese companies serving Chinese consumers — is as large an unknown to me as the language itself. There are two significant differences in the Chinese consumer PC market and western consumer markets.
1. ecommerce is growing, but online commerce is hampered by mistrust and lack of credit cards.
2. retail is the preferred place to purchase a PC
Our China PR team is pretty sophisticated in terms of blogger relations – identifying influential IT bloggers and working with them to develop reviews and open commentary – but as they point out, the public relations/media relations mission in China is far different than the U.S. — primarily around the mission of the mainstream press. What intrigues them is the notion that we’ve adopted: that bloggers are, at the end of the day, a form of press.
The areas that concern our China team are real and understandable. For me to cite the noblest sentiments of freedom of the press, First Amendment, and naked conversational market is just that — sentimental and not pragmatic. The notion of a customer conversation – of accepting comments and then replying to them is a big challenge, especially doing so in public. I trust we’re going to get there, but wherever our blogs operate, we need to be sensitive to the local mores and not take a dogmatic approach that forces a particular “way” of operation on the local market. The worse thing about globalization, is my opinion, is homogeneity, the best thing is the sharing of best practices such as GAAP and basic human rights. Developing a global corporate blogging policy is a start, but understanding the vast difference in approaches to media, to public dialogue … let’s just say I regard the implementation of a global corporate blogging strategy to be one of the most fascinating challenges in my current assignment.