When a product generates buzz, it doesn’t happen by magic. It must be nurtured.
"You need to shape the buzz. You need to have people respond to something," said Tom Doctoroff, Greater China CEO at advertising agency JWT.
Beyond traditional media, brands now focus on the impact they can make by shaping online conversations about products. The first step is to listen; the second is to understand. Only then can you start to join the discussion seamlessly and transparently. It is no easy task.
"If you can have your own voice and have your own articles and say what you want to say, then that’s much easier," said Sam Flemming of CIC, a company that tracks internet discussions in China. However, he warns, it is difficult to do and regular bloggers will quickly become suspicious if a message is overly commercial.
"There are a lot of things that can raise red flags in bulletin board services (BBS)," he said. "PR-speak" or formal language is a definite no-no, as is anything clearly different from the traditional style of the forum.
Also, a lot of forums track how long someone has been a member and how many posts they have submitted. New users saying something very positive or negative about a specific product is, in itself, a red flag.
Ultimately, observers have to understand that online communities are just that: communities. Members know other members. They can usually spot newcomers. And they are very protective of their turf.
"If people don’t know you, if you’re not a regular contributor, then you don’t have any credibility," said Flemming. "There’s a whole ecosystem of rules, specially unwritten rules that have to be followed."