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Unilever Shares Practices in Social Communication

“Weibo is media, while WeChat is social”. This was the main point stressed by Wu Liang, director of corporate communication and sustainable development at Unilever North Asia, during a discussion on the topic of corporate social communication at the recent PR Newswire Summit. As a large B2C company that has been in existence for nearly a century, Unilever has, in recent years, done its share of experimenting in how to best use social platforms to disseminate news about the brand. The company implemented differentiated communication strategies for Weibo and WeChat platforms.

Wu Liang, director of corporate communication and sustainable development at Unilever North Asia,     speaking at the 2014 PR Newswire New Communication Annual Summit
Wu Liang, director of corporate communication and sustainable development at Unilever North Asia,
speaking at the 2014 PR Newswire New Communication Annual Summit

Wu explained: Weibo (also referred to as microblogs) and WeChat, each of which have hundreds of millions of active users at any time, play different roles in their respective communication channels: Weibo focuses on specific interests and hot topics, while WeChat is, for the users, the place to share news and information about their life with people who they are most familiar with. As a result, when a major event occurs, people tend to use Weibo to learn the details.

Wu also pointed out a trend in the making: With WeChat gaining popularity, and Weibo is comparatively less active, more people are viewing WeChat as one of their major communication channels, keeping in touch with their own circle of friends and keeping up with the topics that their friends are talking. To a large extent, the exchange of information on WeChat users is limited to what the user’s network of contacts are interested in, while major news and events may be overlooked. In the days when there was, for all practical purposes, a defined and limited set of media outlets, the average person would keep up with all the major news events through the available array of communication channels, whereas now, in the age of information overload, the important news of the day can be completely overlooked. This is a major challenge for corporate communications: how can companies find their audiences and how should they deliver their corporate message so that it gets seen and read?

Weibo: The “we media” channel for companies

Unilever positions Weibo as the “we media” channel for companies – the platform from which the enterprise can deliver their message far and wide.

Firstly, there is the high speed of delivery: when faced with a crisis or event of major import, the enterprise can deliver the corresponding message most quickly through Weibo, without the need for intermediary channels.

Secondly, there is the breadth of distribution: Wu said that approximately 80 per cent of reporters monitor Weibo every day and look for story ideas through the platform. Unilever releases company information through its own official Weibo account, stimulating discussions around the topic. When faced with a crisis, the company’s statements on Weibo are rapidly and widely distributed.

WeChat: the platform for building the personal corporate image

Unilever opened its official account on WeChat this year. The account is managed by the company’s corporate communications department and now has about 4,000 followers and its fan base is still growing. Wu positioned Unilever’s account on WeChat as the personal corporate image, providing a venue for an informal exchange among staff and a kind of “neighborhood communications channel” for the staff and their circle of friends and acquaintances. She mentioned several examples of Unilever’s communications efforts on WeChat:

  1. Positioning WeChat as an internal communications channel.

The majority of Unilever’s staff working in Shanghai takes a daily shuttle as part of the daily commute as the office is located in a relatively remote area of the city. Unilever allows working remotely on fog or high wind warning days. So how to inform them? Wu Liang said WeChat is a better communications channel than having HR call every employee by phone once the weather warning has been issued. Unilever on WeChat, which has as its audience the staff and their circle of friends, can assure itself of delivering real-time announcements to the staff in a timely way. Wu also cited an example related to the launching of a new policy. On September 1st, the first day of the scholastic year in China, many employees are obligated to take their children to school for registration. Unilever published a notice online through the WeChat account, informing employees that they were allowed to arrive at the office later after completing the school registration process. Although the account had only about 3,000 followers at the time, the notice was read by more than 10,000 people, including staff and their family members and friends, and received many “likes”.

  1. WeChat’s level of influence in the communication about unexpected events.

Wu also gave an example concerning WeChat’s influence in encouraging employees to take action. When the family of an employee of the dining planning division was hit by an unexpected financial crisis, the dining planning division, via WeChat, called for employees and customers to take part in a compassion donation. The WeChat article attracted more than 11,000 clicks and raised over 13,000 yuan (approx. US$2,131) within three days, proving WeChat’s effectiveness in comparison to that of a donation box or any other means. The example shows WeChat’s high level of influence and ability in inspiring employees to take action.

In addition, Wu shared Unilever’s integrated practices in combining Weibo and WeChat. The most typical example is Unilever’s Family Day event, which has run for eight consecutive years. Each year, Unilever employees and their family members are invited to the one-day event. The company uses Weibo and WeChat to communicate with employees before and during the one-day event, including registering for the event and claiming rewards. Unilever also users Weibo and WeChat to encourage employees to share pictures taken during the event, extending the one-day activity into a two-week one and expanding the communications around of the event.

Lastly, Wu pointed out every one knows content is king. However, how to share good content with media organizations and the target audiences will continue to be a challenge for PR professionals, whether or not it is in the social media era.

Translation based on the original Chinese post abstracted from Wu Liang’s speech at “2014 PR Newswire Summit”, first edited & shared by PR Newswire’s Coco Qi, Assistant Manager, and Multimedia Services –

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