April was a dark month for the Chinese stock market. One of the stocks that has fallen significantly over the past two weeks is Yiling Pharmaceutical, which has fallen more than 35% from its peak on April 11.
One of China’s top internet influencers and son of a Chinese billionaire, Wang Sicong, who has over 40 million subscribers, reposted a video and raised questions about whether Yiling’s flagship Lianhua Qingwen, had never been recommended by the World Health Organization for treating patients with COVID-19.
The issue quickly went viral on Chinese social media sites amid Shanghai’s lockdown. Yiling shares dipped below the daily limit, which is 10%, for two days. When the media reached out to the drug company for comment, they did not respond immediately.
Four days after Weibo’s post, Yiling Pharceumal said Chinese media said that “the company has never stated on any occasion that ‘WHO recommends Lianhua Qingwen'”, disputing social media posts by individuals, unlicensed media and posts by KOLs on Weibo.
But Sina’s Weibo did not act until the incident had serious consequences for the pharmaceutical brand. It was not until several days later that Wang was forbidden to post on Weibo.
Yet even though Weibo has banned KOL, social media sites have neither the power nor the responsibility to help prevent a brand crisis. When Campaign contacted Twitter in China to comment on misinformation and brand crises, the platform declined the request.
A brand crisis like this was triggered by a KOL, and in the end, the brand was hit hard. It remains unclear whether the drug company based in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province shared information with the media to exaggerate the drug’s effectiveness. What is known is that Yiling traditional Chinese medicine is one of the officially recommended products that have been widely used to treat COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms in China.
Guard against misinformation
In the age of social media, individuals, unlicensed media, and KOLs naturally share posts all the time, but not all information is verified. False or misleading information, or even rumours, defined as misinformation will not only damage brand image, but will lead to billions in financial losses in just a few days.
Ashley Dudarenok, a digital marketing expert in Chinese markets, who last year wrote a brochure on how to prevent and manage the PR crisis in China, says that from a marketing point of view, brands should “get verified, communicate and engage often with fans and other accounts and have a voice” before be victims of misinformation. “Because if you only have a voice when there’s a PR crisis to deal with, you’ll fail,” she explains.
Dudarenok also pointed out that brands should adopt social media strategies to prepare for the worst in a crisis by “developing a content guide and working with brand friends, KOCs, KOEs and others to spread curated yet personal messages about the brand, industry and product”.
She also mentioned that by working with agencies, brands could use analytics to be aware of “red zones,” or the most crucial issues to watch out for, and keep “a tight-knit community of KOCs and friends.” of the brand who can share the amplification of the brand messages”.
However, the digital environment in China is complex, warranting more than just monitoring social media channels and fighting rumours. Ad fraud such as invalid traffic (IVT), for example, can also be viewed as misinformation that can equally harm ROI and brand reputation. A Miaozhen Systems’ March 2021 report found that IVT cost China’s brand advertising market around RMB 30.5 billion (or USD 4.6 billion) in 2020, its highest level in the past three years. years.
In light of these and other misinformation risks, agency experts are urging brands to take a more active approach in monitoring the ecosystem and engaging directly with consumers to build reputation through experience. and commitment.
What brands can do to guard against misinformation on social media in China
China has the technology advantage coupled with the proliferation of the digital consumer, making it one of the most exciting environments in the world for any brand. However, an overly democratized social media environment carries risks if not managed properly. We’ve seen brands working with the wrong partners who were delivering KPIs through illegitimate means, getting boycotted by platforms because of their own brand integrity. Choosing the right partner(s) who are transparent, certified and have in-depth knowledge of the platform has become critical. Additionally, brands can consider centralizing or setting up a task force with social intelligence monitoring tools at the core of it. Cross-functional ePR, product management, and advertising/media teams can reference monitoring to act proactively from multiple angles to benefit brands.
This increases the importance of brands in building stronger direct connections between different communities, going beyond just relying on KOLs and celebrity spokespersons. This could include building a fan base for internal brand spokespersons and brand social channels to communicate. This can be seen in the rise of WeChat private traffic groups, brand-owned AI virtual bots as KOLs, and brand direct live streaming.
Transparent and intimate conversations with brands are always a good start. But more importantly, brands must provide a macro view and strategies for the whole ecosystem, so that information is sown without waste and serves a purpose in the unique nature of platforms, identifying a role and responsibility for each in a macro view. Additionally, brands need to build engagement within their social accounts and not just focus heavily on e-commerce and promotional communications.