Chinese Kiwis in New Zealand are concerned about the country’s image in China in the wake of the recent botulism contamination scare. An analysis of social media in both countries has found an emerging group of Chinese residents in New Zealand vigorously defending the island nation from their fellow Chinese.
Earlier in August, NZ company Fonterra announced that a whey concentrated product that they had used in infant formula and sports drinks may have the bacteria Clostridium Botulinum. The bacteria, found in three batches of whey protein, could cause botulism, which could lead to paralysis.
The scare had forced the company to recall affected batches of their baby formula products in several countries, including China, its biggest market.
And although there have been no reports of illnesses or deaths connected with the scare, a Chinese news agency has blasted the country for its blunder.
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In defence of New Zealand, Chinese people in the country have been sending messages to consumers in China, assuring them that New Zealand products are still safe.
According to the research carried out by Dr Hongzh Gao (Senior Lecturer at Victoria Business School and Senior Research Fellow of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre), Vallen Han (Asia Marketing Director of New Zealand Post), and Simon Young (CEO of the social media consulting firm syENGAGE), the social media posts of Chinese Kiwis send a clear message to people in China that New Zealand products can be trusted.
The messages were mostly posted on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like site in China, and WeiXin, a group chat tool installed on mobile phones.
An example of messages posted in defence of New Zealand include: “New Zealand is one of the most honest and trustworthy countries in the world. It is the only country in the world that provides accident cover to everyone ni the country including visitors.
“It only uses 4 digit passwords for ATMs. Its hotels don’t ask for cash deposit when you check in. Bottled water can be carried on domestic flights.”
Skykiwi, New Zealand’s largest Chinese media Web site, also posted on Sina Weibo, telling the public that there is no reason to panic over the botulism scare.
Mr Young said that an info-graphic detailing the timeline of events over the course of Fonterra crisis has been shared more than 10,000 times on Sina Weibo, and has attracted almost 500 positive comments about the country.
“China is a relatively low social trust society in which there is a strong inclination on the part of Chinese to only trust people related to them,” Dr Gao added in the press release of the University of Wellington.
“Therefore it is critical to consider engaging with Chinese social media networks where relationship-based trust is high to restore trust in New Zealand products during the current country brand crisis.”
There are more than 200,000 Chinese people living in New Zealand, which means that their influence in China through social media could prove to be helpful.
“If every Chinese person living in New Zealand actively communicated to their networks in China via social media, they could potentially reach out to tens of millions of consumers,” Mr Han deduced.
Mr Young added that New Zealand companies should “up their game” in the digital space because it might be the thing that could save them in times of such predicament.
“Social media is one way brands can communicate directly with consumers, which just may prove essential in a crisis.”
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