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China digital mini-series #6 – Beware of ‘zombie fans’ who engage with your social media campaign

Fake data is not just a problem for paid media. Social media campaigns can be contaminated with fake comments and reviews that have been paid for by unscrupulous vendors. The Chinese term for writers of fake copy on social media is ‘zombie fans’. Microsoft Research Asia reported that Chinese celebrity tweeters zombie followers can account for up to 17%, whilst experiencing up to 56% on Weibo. This research highlights a worrying trend for the ability of brands to measure their success on Chinese Social Medias.

This dubious practice is common knowledge in the trade, but many brand managers still ask themselves why their social media campaigns fail to generate sales. The reality is that there is no such thing as a regulated ‘social strategy’ in China. Brand managers may be tempted to use social sites like paid media: many marketers or agencies think that a successful social campaign either consists of Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) talking about your brand or setting up brand-led social sites that offer cash incentives to generate ‘fans’. Brand managers who use these tactics make two major mistakes. First of all, they assume wrongly that KOL blogs comprise people (or Weibo IDs) whose work is followed by genuine fans who have not been paid. Secondly, it is far too easy in China for unsuspecting brand managers to pay for zombie fans and fake interactions, such as ‘forward recommendations’ and ‘likes’, when setting up branded sites for social campaigns. These so-called fans may be keen to write reviews for money, but they have no intention of buying any goods and services. Zombie fans often leave brand managers and marketers feeling disillusioned with the effectiveness of social media in China.

chinese digital graph

The basis of a good social strategy must be an acceptance of genuine feedback on social media networks, whether consumer comments are positive or negative. Some brand managers in the marketplace are not prepared to face truthful opinions about their brand or products. These executives would rather run social campaigns in a controlled environment where the brand managers themselves are in charge of interactions on the site. Soon, however, brands will come to realise that this old model of running social networking campaigns is a waste of money as such tactics will not increase sales. Brand managers will start to embrace the value of unregulated social media in the near future.

A related problem is that some media vendors have started to introduce this type of ‘paid for’ social media engagement on their websites. When vendors pay bloggers to write about your brand or incentivise users to ‘like’ your social activities, they diminish the value of real social engagements. I advise that clients and agencies refuse to buy into this model, preferring instead to employ best practice when building solid, long-term social strategies.

This article is released as part of China digital marketing mini-series. To to learn more about  the Chinese digital landscape  please view our service social media page. To contact us  please use the contact information at the bottom of the page.

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