At CIC, we feel like we are on the front lines of the Web 2.0 “revolution” in how consumers are taking charge in being sources of and sharing information that drives the information age. There are 162 million Internet users in China, 54 million regular BBS users and 35 million blog users (see latest CNNIC report here). In the brand/consumer relationship, brands no longer have the exclusive ability to lead the communication.
Since we are working with clients so close to the revolution, it only makes sense that we ourselves should be continually experiencing an evolution. As such, we have revised our definition of Internet Word of Mouth.
New IWOM Definition: Text and multimedia content related to companies, products or services shared by netizens, including brands and consumers, via online community platforms such as BBS (online message boards), blogs and video sites.
Here are further thoughts around Chinese IWOM.
Who are the participants? Brands AND consumers. Previously, we just included consumers (i.e. consumer to consumer). Now, as companies begin to “find their voice” online with their own blogs (i.e. Dell and QQ), their own forums (i.e. Meizu, “the Chinese IPOD”), and relationships with third party community platforms(i.e. KFC on Baidu Zhidao) (see here for more on this relationship), we can say that companies are “participating” in IWOM (how and to what degree of success is worthy of its own blog post).
Netizens, not consumers: In addition for allowing brands into the definition, the term “netizen” echoes “citizen” which implies there is a culture and community, as well as certain responsibilities. There are “good” netizens (those who contribute to the community) and “bad” netizens (i.e. companies who seed fake messages or spam or netizens who “crush” forums).
What are the participants doing? They are “sharing” content. We could say having a “conversation,” but we choose not to. Although it is widely used (see here and here), it is more and more a loaded concept (see here ). Also, it doesn’t allow for the simple act of “copy and pasting” so prevalent in the IWOM landscape in China or the sharing of content like videos and pics (see here for a more recent example of “PS” culture). Also, sharing implies two-way communication, which is inclusive of conversation, and even dialogue, which would be sharing of one of the highest forms.
What is the content about? While IWOM can include talk NOT related to brands, products and services, this is the area that we are focusing on for our clients.
Where is it happening? On community platforms (where there can be one-on-one communication) such as BBS, blogs and online video. Again emphasis on community as well as platform (not channel, which sounds more limiting and associated with media).
Word of mouth, not a media: We think the any term that refers to this “stuff” as a media is too limiting. IWOM certainly IS a media, which in and of itself makes it worthwhile for companies to understand. Just important however is that it is consumer insight–netizens expressing opinions about brands, products and services. Studying it in a systematic way is akin to market research. Also, it is a community that can be participated in by brands (do so carefully, as a good netizen).
So…that’s our definition. Perhaps overly academic and over analyzed, but hey, IWOM is our lifeblood, and we do our best to really understand it to the max so we can better help our clients to understand and leverage it.