wordormouth.jpgHere is an interesting initiative from the Chinese arm of PR giant Edelman designed to help western and Chinese companies better understanding China's rapidly changing health market, but with application in many other consumer markets.

Word of Health: China is the first-ever publication aimed at helping companies better understand and engage with online healthcare and pharmaceutical discussions in China. Each edition focuses on a single disease or treatment area and the first edition (pdf), published this month, looks at what Chinese consumers are saying online about cancer.

To product the reports, Edelman China is working with CIC, a Shanghai-based company that specialises in internet word-of-mouth (IWOM) research, meaning it tracks the brands and products that Chinese consumers are talking about in non-traditional channels such as bulletin boards or blogs. Sam Flemming, CEO and founder of CIC, said:

The Chinese internet is filled with consumer discussions and multimedia content related to brands, products, and services on online channels like BBS (online message boards) and blogs. IWOM presents an unprecedented opportunity for companies to learn about their customers and how to appropriately participate in and contribute to the communities where their customers are talking.”

Edelman says that while mainstream media still have an important role in getting marketing messages across using the so-called “vertical” communications model, brand owners miss out on the “horizontal” communications that takes place in non-traditional channels such as blogs and bulletin boards. Martin Alintuck, MD of Edelman China said:

The recent explosion of Internet usage in China has given rise to a vibrant IWOM culture. This culture is impacting corporate communications and driving the imperative for companies to rethink the strategies behind their public relations and corporate reputation campaigns in China.”

Studies in the west have shown that WOM influences consumer behaviour more than any other form of advertising, and it can be a lot cheaper than traditional channels. However, a contrasting study from BIGresearch found Chinese men gave much less importance to WOM than their US counterparts — read more in this EngagingChina story.

CIC was set up to helps its clients make sense of what Chinese consumers are saying about them in blogs, BBS and other consumer channels. It claims that 43% of the 123m internet users in China use bulletin boards, 24% use blogs, and 62% use online video sharing sites.

CIC uses proprietary data mining tools and for this particular report, it sifted through over 1.4m messages on Chinese-language bulletin boards and blogs. No information is collected that would allow the identification of the posters.

Edelman has been down this road before. It undertook a much more amibitious global blog search initiative with Technorati, the website that tracks blogs. But the project reportedly ran into problems in China because Technorati is sometimes blocked to China-based users.

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