Online reputation management in China

Online reputation management (see this blog 18/3/2013) is now being used in China – although the government isn’t too keen on it and the users seem to have slightly different motivations to those who seek to clean up their online footprint in other countries.

In a culture where face (which is sort of like reputation) is all-important it is perhaps not surprising that people worry about new threats to their reputation and new ways of losing face. Now an enterprising company has stepped in to exploit these concerns.

According to The Economist (6/4/2013) a company called Yage Time Advertising has been deriving 60% of its profits “from sales to local officials in smaller Chinese cities who wanted to delete negative reports about themselves, according to Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine.” The software cost the officials some $64,000. Now some ‘small’ Chinese cities are very big compared to even big cities in the rest of the world – but one wonders (if not for long) how the local officials managed to afford the steep price, particularly when official salaries for run of the mill officials are less than that and senior salaries are officially not much more. The police have closed the service down but The Economist says the “unofficial business of deleting posts….continues to flourish.”

Of course the Chinese have an army of people deleting posts, spreading negative posts and blocking off parts of the Internet. Indeed their success throws up some interesting perspectives on beliefs about the power of social media. The conventional wisdom had it that the Arab Spring was a product of social media even though John Howard and George W. Bush know that it was actually their invasion and large-scale destruction of Iraq which did it. However, it is now clear that it was the superior grassroots organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and trade unions (at least in Egypt) which had much to do with it.

Moreover, it is increasingly clear that authoritarian regimes can severely restrict the use and scope of social media and the internet (see The Economist special report on the Internet in China from which the information about Yage was drawn). Equally, social media as a political force in democracies might also be over-rated as much of the chatter is probably targeted to people of like views anyway. More importantly, any political social media activity tends to be drowned out by all the trivia, p….graphy, celebrity nonsense, jokes and other stuff which dominates the web.

Social media may be enormously important but we still have much to learn about why and how to use it most effectively. A starting place is probably not awe at how awesome it all is but in the detailed work done by Duncan J. Watts and others (based on Stanley Milgram’s work) around the nature of social networks. That work, interestingly enough, is based on the application of mathematics and trawling communication patterns and links to establish that age old public relations goal – identifying the key influencers in any groups and their networks.