Expanding the Netizen Share

Over the last two weeks we have looked at engaging influential subcultures with acquiring youth mindshare & growing the women share Today we are going to introduce the third subculture that being Expanding the Netizen Share.

Michael Hauben, who coined the word in the early 1990s, defines netizens as the people across geographical boundaries who care about and actively work toward developing the Internet for the benefit of the larger world.

Netizens are considered to be the true citizens of democracy because they want to be involved in the development of the Internet. They see the world horizontally, not vertically. The content on the Internet is created and shared by the people and for the people. But they believe in total democracy and not so much in governance. They embrace openness and sharing with others with no geographical boundaries.

There are 3.4 billion Internet users—45 percent of the world’s population, according to United Nations estimates. Not all of them can be considered netizens or citizens of the Internet. Forrester’s Social Technographics segmentation can help explain why not all Internet users deserve to be called netizens. According to the segmentation, there is a hierarchy of Internet users, including inactives, spectators (people who watch and read online content), oiners (people who join and visit social media), collectors (people who add tags to webpages and use RSS feeds), critics (people who post ratings and comments online), and creators (people who create and publish online content). The collectors, critics, and creators best characterize the netizens— people who actively contribute to the Internet and do not just consume on the Internet.

Their role in influencing others is related to their desire to always be connected and to contribute.

We know that netizens love to connect. They talk to one another, and information flows as they converse. Under anonymity, they have fewer risks and therefore are more confident when interacting with others and participating in online conversations. On the Internet, their usernames and avatars are their identities.

There are many ways to socially connect on the Internet. The most popular are social networking services and instant messaging apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, QQ, Tumblr, Instagram, and LinkedIn. A relationship on those platforms usually starts as a one-to-one connection between two individuals who know and trust each other. This initial connection will lead to a linkbetween the two individuals’ separate networks, creating a many-to-many connection. From the outside, online communities look like webs of strangers, but on the inside, they are webs of trusting friends. Since it is a many-to-many network built on one-to-one relationships, an Internet community usually grows exponentially and becomes one of the strongest forms of community.

Not revealing their true identities, Internet users can be very aggressive in expressing their opinions. The negative side of this is the emergence of cyberbullies, trolls, and haters on the Internet. The positive side, however, is the emergence of brand evangelists. Netizens, unlike Internet users in general, are more likely to be brand evangelists.

In the Internet world, we know the f-factors: followers, fans, and friends. When they are passionate about and emotionally committed to a brand, netizens become the f-factors. They become evangelists or lovers, as opposed to haters, of the brand. Sometimes dormant, they often become active when they need to safeguard their favorite brand against cyberbullies, trolls, and haters.

Further, evangelists are also storytellers of the brand who spread the news about brands to their networks. They tell authentic stories from a customer’s point of view—a role that advertising can never replace. As netizens who are more high profile than other Internet users, they yield a huge influence, often having a large number of their own followers, fans, and friends.

They are called the Internet citizens for a reason. Like good citizens contributing to their country, they contribute to the development of the Internet. The work of netizens makes life easier for other Internet users. With the use of tags, information on the Internet is better organized and quality content becomes easier for others to search. By “voting” for websites, netizens recommend quality websites to others. With product ratings and reviews on the Internet, other users can easily discover the best available choice.

The most important contribution, however, is to create new content, which can be in multiple formats: articles, whitepapers, e-books, infographics, graphic arts, games, videos, and even movies. Independent authors write Web pages, blogs, and e-books. Independent musicians and moviemakers create commercial hits by becoming YouTubers and creating content on the video-sharing platform.

With new content being created every second, the Internet is becoming richer and more useful, which will benefit users and draw non-users to start using the Internet. All these grow the netizen population as well as the value of the Internet.

Growing exponentially on the basis of emotional and mutually beneficial connections, communities of netizens are the key to expand a brand’s heart share. When it comes to communal word of mouth, netizens are the best amplifiers. A brand message will flow along social connections if it receives the netizens’ seal of approval.

Youth, women, and netizens have long been researched thoroughly by businesses but typically as separate customer segments. Their collective strength, especially as the most influential segments in the digital era, has not quite been explored. Youth are early adopters of new products and technologies. They are also trendsetters, yet are fragmented as to the trends they follow. Ultimately they are game changers. As information collectors and holistic shoppers, women are de facto household managers, the chief financial officer, purchase manager, and asset manager all rolled into one.

Finally, netizens are social connectors, as they overwhelmingly connect, converse, and communicate with their peers. They are also expressive evangelists as well as content contributors in the online world. Together, youth, women, and netizens hold the key to marketing in the digital economy.

Today we are not seeking the input of a CMO; instead delving into the impact a subculture can have on campaign development.

McDonald’s Taiwan has sparked controversy with the launch of a new ad, as Chinese netizens claim it supports Taiwanese independence.

Promoting one of the brand’s signature items, the Egg McMuffin, the ad features a female student who drops her admission ticket to an exam, on which the nationality reads Taiwan.  Although the ad was only broadcast in Taiwan, some Chinese netizens still managed to view it and have voiced their belief the restaurant was demonstrating support for Taiwanese independence. Several Chinese netizens pledged to boycott McDonald’s and demanded an explanation over the perceived slight.

The video has already been withdrawn and McDonald’s China has expressed its regret over the ad, saying the ad had stirred up an unnecessary misunderstanding. The company stated its intention to “uphold a solid ‘One China’ stance and continue to support China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. McDonald’s China also made note that it was “grateful for the attention and supervision in the society”.

However, it is important to mention that McDonald’s Taiwan and McDonald’s China are two entirely different companies. In June 2017, Taiwanese restaurant chain operator Deyu Co. acquired McDonald’s assets in Taiwan. Meanwhile, in China, McDonald’s has been owned by CITIC Capital Holdings Ltd. and the US-based private equity firm Carlyle Group through an acquisition deal since January 2017. McDonald’s Taiwan has made no statement on the matter as of writing.

Because of this distinction, some Taiwanese netizens have ridiculed their Chinese counterparts, pointing out that vows to boycott and complaints made against McDonald’s in China were attacking the wrong company.

At this point, it may almost be ironic that the Egg McMuffin or Man Fu Bao, is pronounced in Mandarin to sound like “full of good luck.”

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