Weibo and corporate communications: Tencent vs. Qihoo 360

There have been many cases of Twitter being used effectively as a corporate communications channel, yet we see regretfully few companies using Sina Weibo – China’s answer to Twitter – to build and protect their corporate reputations online.

But last week I came across two very interesting examples of just this, from Chinese Internet giants Tencent and Qihoo 360. Using a platform like Weibo could not be more important than during times of controversy, and do these guys have controversy right now…

A vicious feud is taking place right now between Qihoo 360, China’s biggest antivirus provider, and Tencent, maker of QQ chat and other online services. The controversy centers around accusations of spying on users and anti-competitive practices (more here).

With both their corporate reputations at stake, both Qihoo and Tencent have turned to Weibo – thought to have 10-20 million active users – as a direct and instant channel to communicate with consumers, journalists, and other interest groups.

Tencent’s Weibo Feed
Qihoo 360′s Weibo Feed

Each has been keeping their large followings (Tencent: 60,000+ fans; Qihoo: 80,000+ fans) up-to-date with their own side of the story. And people have been listening too, with some updates being forwarded and commented on many thousands of times.

More important to these companies, perhaps, is that the press has been closely following their Weibo updates. Rather than waiting to hear statements from a company spokesman, dozens of journalists are now quoting these feeds directly as they cover the ongoing feud.

Global Times, just one of hundred of articles to directly quote from Weibo

Qihoo, which had been building its following for a year prior to the controversy, is making more of Weibo’s potential than Tencent (admitedly, Tencent is probably eschewing Sina Weibo in favour of it’s own, far less popular, version of the microblog system). Qihoo is updating round the clock, responding to comments, and engaging with third-party content; Tencent, in contrast, has put out only a dozen or so infrequent posts without any interaction since the controversy began.

C-suite social media involvement is another good way to build an authentic corporate voice. Here, Qihoo seems to be trumping its rival again — on Sina Weibo at least. Zhou Hongyi, chairman of Qihoo, has been providing views on the situation to his almost 400,000 followers. Tencent’s Ma Huateng, on the other hand, has remained quiet on Weibo, sticking instead to his personal feed on Tencent Microblog.

Which company, if any, emerges from this feud with a communications victory will of course depend largely on their offline response; action taken by on Weibo should only be one part of the overall issue management strategy. Yet the value of reaching and engaging with Weibo is clear: direct and instant communication with between 10 and 20 million of the people that matter the most.