The role of Chinese social media in reputation management : the case of Fonterra

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Fu, Shenghan
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Master of International Communication
Unitec Institute of Technology
Rolland, Deborah
Williams, Jocelyn
Masters Dissertation
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
reputation management
corporate image
crisis management
public relations
Chinese social media
Xinhua net
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Fu, S. (2014). The role of Chinese social media in reputation management : the case of Fonterra. An unpublished dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Communication, Unitec Institute of Technology.
In this research project Fonterra was chosen as a case study in order to evaluate the effectiveness of its reputation in the Chinese market and to see Chinese social media's impact on its reputation during a time of crisis. The research explored how Fonterra managed its online responses to negative news about its 2013 crisis situation over a quality issue in order to improve its reputation. The aim of the study was to explore the role of Chinese social media in a New Zealand's reputation management during a crisis situation. In general, the goal of the research was to contribute to the research field of reputation management communication and social media. In order to complete the research project, a mixed-methodology approach was chosen for the data collection. Data was collected from a semi-structured interview with a Fonterra staff member whose position is social media specialist. Also, postings were selected from Chinese social media platform Weibo and Xinhuanet within given time frames in order to conduct a content analysis. The interview with the Fonterra staff member aimed to gain information about Fonterra's communication strategies and guidelines concerning their social media uses. The data gathered from Xinhuanet and Weibo helped the researcher to assess whether or not there were differences between Chinese mainstream media and social media content during Fonterra's recent quality crisis situation. Also, data from Fonterra's Weibo account helped the researcher to assess its reputation management on Weibo. The dissertation found that even though Weibo postings indicated much public opinion (including ones with different point of views) when compared with Xinhua Net, it did not indicate that Weibo is out of the influence from the mainstream media and the political and social environment. Fonterra did provide official statements about the quality issue, and also updated detailed information about it’s own investigation of the quality issue. There were three strategies utilised by Fonterra during this time which were then evaluated for their usefulness in its reputation management on Weibo. The three strategies were 'precautionary recall', organising a campaign called 'Fonterra Dialogue- Please Ask Me', and appropriately selected leadership words. However, it was concluded that Fonterra was not fully successful in its management of public opinion postings on its Weibo accounts, engagement with Weibo users, and thus reputation management of the quality crisis on Weibo.
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