FEATURE23 January 2012

Kantar Media boss on tracking online word of mouth in China

Asia Pacific Features News

Last week Kantar acquired Chinese social media monitoring firm CIC. Research spoke with Kantar Media CEO Jean-Michel Portier to hear how researchers are dealing with the rapidly evolving social media landscape in China.

Why did you choose to buy CIC? What will it bring to Kantar Media?
We have been partnering with CIC for the last two or three years, especially through Kantar Media Cymfony, so we have worked on several projects with them. We’ve also been in China for 16 years and have met with many companies, and we were very enthusiastic about CIC because they are the undisputed leader in social media intelligence. They are very innovative and, to be honest, we feel they have a fantastic list of clients. Finally, there is a very good chemistry between us and their management team.

We started [in China] with TV audience measurement and we also offer radio audience measurement, advertising research and so on, so social media is, to some extent, a missing piece for us.

What will happen to the CIC name?
We are going to keep the CIC branding for a while.

How is the Chinese market growing?
For many international groups, China is their second market. All our clients are investing and progressing in the country. Secondly, the number of internet users in China is very impressive: it is in the range of 480 million and about two thirds of these are blog users or video-sharing users. Also, I must say that social media is a very buoyant industry in China, perhaps even more than in the US. Even if the big western players like Facebook are rarely active, there are plenty of local players.

So prospects are good for continued growth in social media?
Of course. Not only will internet penetration keep rising, but Chinese consumers have a real appetite to share information. There is great interest in collecting contrasting views prior to making a purchase. Chinese people want to get information and be reassured that they are doing the right thing before they buy something. Some are already members of communities and this is going to grow in the future.

What are the challenges in operating in such a huge market?
I would say that one challenge is the volume involved. It is also challenging because of the nuances of the Chinese dialects – the slang vocabulary varies from one region to another. Yet another challenge is that there are new players popping up with new community boards and so on, so the landscape is changing fast.

What about the government’s restrictions on how people use the internet? Does that make China a tough place to be doing this kind of work?
What our clients want to know is what is being said about their brands and products on social media. [Restrictions on what people say are] a political thing rather than a commercial thing and there are not too many restrictions about any topic apart from politics. It’s not a problem for our clients – they want to know what is publicly available, typically word-of-mouth, which is legally available and in the public domain. We are not secret agents and we don’t use the tool to monitor political and social opinions.

And what about the research landscape, are there more companies trying to move in and grab a slice of the action?
Yes of course, we see the traditional suspects like Radian6 and Nielsen. But I would say they are lagging quite significantly behind CIC in terms of coverage, expertise and also in terms of consultancy service on offer. CIC has been the first in and has built a very strong reputation with clients like Nike, L’Oréal and others.