Corporate Blogging in China – part 2

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.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Corporate Blogging in China – part 2”

  1. David,

    As you point out, the internet is global, and as such globally enables readership by language. However, culture , societal rules, and perhaps stakeholder votes of whether or not they want this content still exist within borders of countries, regions, or perhaps even business units within a company.

    As individuals, we are fairly free to write as we will in the blogosphere, but are well served by asking ourselves if we would want what we wrote, read out in front of friends and family. In my case, and I suspect yours, that is a real litmus test everyday.

    When you factor in the complexity of a gloabal company’s policies and proceedures that vary by the countries in which it does business, which in turn are established in accordance with each respective country’s laws, I can imagine it is a challenge to find a least common denominator for rules and content while still being able to create compelling value for all.

  2. I’ll reply to both parts of this post on this single comment, although I think the first one yields technical questions and the second one is more “philosophical” if you will.

    .Language is a challenge, and I couldn’t agree more on not using automated translations. They simply suck. I’m pretty certain grammar rules between English and Chinese are so hard to match that a human translator is the only way to go.
    As Tim said, translate only posts, not the comments. Although you’ll end up having separate threads I don’t think there is much benefit from translating all comments. That being said I think the comments in Chinese should be translated for the author to read and even to reply to. The conversation is a must, you already state that.

    .Tim also mentions different homepages for different languages. I agree completely with this. I would only add some language links to the sidebar or some other visible place, so if you end up in a post you know it’s available in another language (Chinese in this case)

    .Contemplate the possibility that not all blogs and not every post might need to get translated. Example: If someone posts about how to use WWAN of a particular US provider that might not be very interesting for a Chinese audience.
    Is there a way to find out if the current blogs are of interest to Chinese audiences? I have the “feeling” that they are (not so sure about the “heart”… maybe if it had a couple of posts on Philanthropy in china). The same is true the other way around a blog might be a huge success in China, but prove not so great for US. The funny thing about English is that it enables not only native English speaking people, but people from all around the globe.

    .I think you need to look very carefully into mobile devices, not only in China, but also in the rest of the world. Although feeds are the easier way to get mobile content I think some re-work for mobile devices might be an interesting challenge and a nice new channel for blogs. “wap.lenovoblogs.com” comes to mind.

    .A good insight into Chinese way of life (and blogging) is fundamental. PR-China is your best friend, unless you want to move over there for a Decade and then launch a blog. Besides PR, try to get the insight of other Lennovians in china, they can provide insight into what might interest them, and thus help you map the wide Chinese population. It might be interesting to know what a factory assembler, an accountant, a web developer or an engineer have to say on this.

    .I hate to bring this up, and I know it’s already in your mind, but have you weighted the impact a Chinese blog(s) might have in western media, given all the fuzz around the “great firewall”? It is both a huge chance and a huge risk. Media might crucify Lenovo as demagogue or applaud it’s efforts towards liberties (or ignore the thing altogether). You know the press much better than I do, so I’ll quote uncle fester: “follow your gut”, Mark already states what a huge challenge this is.

    .This might be just the tip of the iceberg. I feel there might be some hidden corporate bloggers amongst the ranks of Lenovo willing to write in Europe, Japan, India, Latin America, etc… build the thing with expansion in mind. It might not happen soon, but I think it’ll happen eventually.

  3. Go beyond the blog…

    and forget Flickr but you need photo host across all of this. I like smugmug to the flickr but there may be something else…use the gps/googlemaps function on whichever…

    Pictures need no translation. Your shots at World Cup speak volumes…

    you’re talking about corporate communication on a different level and that’s always dangerous. There’s a reason why precious few in any organization are ever allowed to speak outside the company womb. that’s not a china issue. Once authorized, that communication is blog, picture, video, personal appearance, whatever. It’s communication, conversation, engagement…

    a quick search on smugmug doesn’t yield too many thinkpad pics. flickr has more. I’m just guessing thinkpads have been to every corner of the globe and there are pics of them everywhere…someone should compile

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