The leading brands of the world, such as Apple, naturally create a lot of interest and media coverage, both traditionally and on social media, though not always positive. Events associated with the brand can have tragic human consequences as well as take the brands’ stock in a negative direction. Seeded on social media, negative sentiment can culminate in global media recognition and that culminates in a drop in share price.
The notable Foxconn events in China, leading up to a total of 14 tragic worker suicides in 2010, and 18 attempted suicides, created a much more limited stir than one would expect on social media. A possible reason? Because the negative sentiment was contained within the Chinese social networks, like Sina Weibo.
The Foxconn suicides
More than 90% of Apple’s signature products (alongside other well-known brands such as Nintendo) were being manufactured by 3rd party suppliers in China. The most well-known of these is Foxconn. The working conditions at these factories have come under repeated scrutiny, with stories of child labour, riots, forced overtime, unfair dismissals and worker suicide all hitting the headlines in recent years. In 2010, 14 workers did commit at the company.
Social unrest and transparency
With the current favour for corporate transparency and social justice, Apple came out of this situation relatively unscathed. Yes, they and Foxconn changed their policy, to include an upper limit of a 49 hour week for workers, but this was driven by traditional media and NGO’s rather than social activism.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the social sentiment from the workers and their supporters and families was largely contained in the Chinese social network, Sina Weibo, which boasts a network of around 300 million + posting upwards of 100 million messages every day. But news reports rarely feature updates included in their news stories in the way the Western Press include tweets.
The alleged abuse at factories used by Apple generates huge debate and criticism on Chinese networks, far more than it does in Europe or America. After a riot at a Foxconn factory in 2012 for instance, many Sina Weibo users debated official accounts of the incident which barely grazed Western coverage.
Why then, the seeming lack of interest in what Chinese web users have to say? Undoubtedly there is concern over the level of control the Chinese government exerts on social media there, which could make it seem less trustworthy as a source than uncensored Western networks.
Perils of ignoring ‘foreign’ news
Almost one in four people around the world now use at least one form of social media, and there are presently at least a hundred major active platforms. With so many brands such as Apple now operating on a global basis, analysts need to engage with foreign networks that contain local debate and insights if they are to fully understand the operational and reputational challenges these brands face.
Whilst many large Western multinationals may well have a presence on platforms such as Weibo, it is unlikely they will be fully-synced to their other profiles. For example, LinkedIn is the only Western social media network currently allowed in China.
To get a fully-rounded picture then of how a company is doing, analysts must take into account what foreign consumers are saying as well as those from their own backyards. Being able to measure sentiment of brands through a social data platform like Trendensity, enables the financial community to make swifter investment decision.