Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


If China is important to you, Sina Weibo is important to you.

One thing journalists really hate is to be told by their editors that they have “buried the lead.”

It means the point of the story is not obvious from the first few paragraphs, and that the “lead” or premise of the story is buried too far down in the story.   

As always there is a lot of news right now about China. These are all important stories.

But look closely here, because none of these stories directly affects you or me:

  • A strike by journalists at a newspaper to protest censorship over their stories.
  • The government tightening control over the Internet and of Western media.
  • The air pollution that is literally off the charts and besieging everyone in Beijing.
  • The challenges facing Yum Brands, particularly in its lucrative KFC unit, in China.
  • And more.

The media have buried the lead. The real story, the only one that really matters to global companies conducting business in China, is tucked inside all the coverage about Yum and the supposedly tainted chicken from one of its suppliers.

Are these stories true? It doesn’t matter. Because people spread rumors faster than the flu.

Consider this comment deep in a story by The Wall Street Journal

“Companies everywhere have had to adapt to the Internet’s power to affect their reputations. But responding to the growing power of China’s digitally connected and increasingly quality- conscious consumers can be especially tough. Local sites and social media frequently carry allegations against companies, many of them ill-founded and outlandish – thanks in part to skepticism born of the government’s long-standing lack of transparency. Foreign companies face particular scrutiny, and guessing which rumors might mushroom into a crisis isn’t easy.”

I don’t agree with that last comment, because actually it is easy to guess which rumors might turn into a crisis. If there is a rumor, there will be a crisis. The reason is Sina Weibo.

Sina Weibo is the Chinese version of Twitter, although frankly it might be better. There are more than 400 million people on Sina Weibo. They talk about anything and everything, because they can.

That is, Sina Weibo is the one channel most people have available to them to learn what is happening in the country, and to offer comment and opinion on these events.

Inevitably, the fact that people talk on this social network about everything that they learn from this social network, spawns rumors as well.

This is precisely how news stories broke about the supposedly tainted chicken that KFC was receiving from one of its Chinese suppliers.

(Yum and KFC apologized in China, but elsewhere maintained that those food supplies are safe.)

Because there are so many people talking about so many topics on Sina Weibo, journalists scour Sina Weibo much as they do social networks here looking for discussions that can yield stories.

Sina Weibo is about to launch an English version. That means that not merely Chinese journalists or other journalists who can read Chinese will have opportunity to investigate Sina Weibo for stories. So will anyone who can read English. And that means many, many more journalists trolling for stories.

What does this mean for you?

You cannot ignore this social network.

In fact, you cannot simply monitor conversations about your company in an effort to identify potential problems. That won’t be enough to prevent or mitigate problems that erupt via Sina Weibo.

You have to participate on this network.

You have to be there, and you have to talk about trending topics on this network with others.

If you have Chinese customers and employees, they are already on Sina Weibo. Certainly they will read anything about your company. But more importantly, they will read everything from your company too. And that can keep customers and employees loyal when any rumors start about you on Sina Weibo.

If China is important to you, Sina Weibo is important to you.

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