Over the past few months, two companies contacted us with online reputation problems in China. One was in hospitality and the other was a prominent technology company. Their issues were in fact the same. When conducting searches for their brand and product terms, negative comments in bulletin board systems (BBS) in China were showing up on page one of both Google China and Baidu. For many terms, this content ranked above their own website. They understandably felt this was impacting their sales during the consideration phase of a customer’s purchase and accordingly were wondering whether some kind of Chinese SEO or Social Media reputation management strategy might be able to help them.
Did They Deserve It?
When doing online reputation management we think knowing if the client actually deserves what they get and assessing how serious the charges are is an important first step in deciding if you want the business or not. Both of these clients pleaded innocent.
The hospitality company contested it had been “misunderstood” and for every negative comment found on a BBS, it could produce a gleaming testimonial. The technology company believed it was under attack from a competitor.
The Hospitality Company
After receiving a phone call from the company, we investigated its problem to see if we could help. Although we have not heard of the company before, its website looked impressive with a number of locations and medium to high-end properties.
After initial investigations we found that the dissatisfaction with this company was widespread and was fragmented across scores of travel blogs and the bulletin board systems all highlighting a negative experience with the company.
The deeper we went, the worse it got. Quite incredibly, whilst on holiday, people were approached and lured into tours of resorts with the promise of prizes. They were given “winning tickets” and then told in order to redeem the prize, they would have to come to the resort to collect it. Once they arrived at the resort they were taken on a tour and were told the prize would be given to them later. During the initial tour all was well. But after what they thought was the end (with their defences down) a pushy sales person would appear who would try to sell further holidays or a timeshare. In many cases people were kept for up to five hours until they surrendered or otherwise found another way to escape!
After discussion with company executives about their business practices, it became clear they had no intention of changing their approach. Although the company could see that the negative search engine results were impacting its business, the executives simply wanted us to make the negative comments go away. Without any change, the company would be continually plugging the gaps as more negative content appeared. This was not the client for us!
The Technology Company
In contrast, the technology company’s problems, while the same in nature, were for different causes. After some digging, we isolated the root cause of the problem coming from three articles written by a moderately prominent blogger in China’s technology sector. The technology company in question was a large and very well known company that has spent years building a solid reputation through the provision of world leading products. In each case the blogger highlighted problems about the company and its products and suggested any Chinese company using the product was stupid. The articles were duplicated in various forms and distributed through China’s online technology forums . It was our conclusion that the client was undeserving of such an attack and any plan to protect its reputation was justified.
Managing Reputation in China – Top Tips
- SEO should be at the forefront of any social media strategy in China, as what happens on social media happens in the search results. This is mainly due to 80 percent of social media content coming from bulletin board systems, which are readily indexed by search engines and carry a great deal of weight in the search results.
- Ranking high for your brand terms is important, especially with so much potentially negative content coming from online bulletin boards. Many international companies rank very badly on Baidu for their brand terms.
- If your company registers a Chinese name for your brand or products then you have to actively optimize your site for that term and build links to support it. Unlike in other markets, brand name URLs (in Chinese) do not guarantee that you will rank well for that term.
- Monitoring your brand terms on both Baidu and Google and China’s social media platforms is critical as you may not even know when you come under attack until a potential customer tells your front line sales people.
- Much like other markets, “dominating” the search results by using paid search with SEO can steer people clear of any negative content further down the page.
Finally, using SEO as an ongoing process to promote both positive PR articles and content from blogs and bulletin boards can be a smart defensive strategy to protect your brand and dominate page one results on Baidu and Google in China.