It is a little-known fact* that the words ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ are derived from the terms ‘communication’ and ‘social media,’ respectively, so it should come as no surprise that consumers in China are flocking to digital channels in order satisfy their customer service needs.

Data released by Ovum yesterday shows the proportion of consumers in China using social media for enquiries and complaints has risen to 30 percent, up from 17 percent two years ago.

While a direct phone call is still the most popular option for contacting organisations, Ovum analyst Aphrodite Brinsmead predicts that social media will quickly catch up to Web chat and online self-service, which are currently used by 60 percent of respondents, a more than three-fold increase from two years ago. “In emerging contact centre markets such as China, consumers are keen to experiment with new forms of media,” says Brinsmead.

But in a digital environment where staple social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are effectively non-existent, how are marketing managers in China going about utilising this channel that is clearly in demand? It turns out the most popular forum is… well… forums. More than half of respondents in the Ovum study said they had started a topic on a discussion board about a company, with a similar proportion saying they had responded to somebody’s post. “Contact centres must evolve with their customers, providing information via the web and responding to social queries on forums to ensure that customers receive accurate product and service information,” suggests Brinsmead.

With Facebook and YouTube alternatives readily available in websites such as Renren, Youku and dozens more, it will be interesting to see whether these Web 2.0 platforms will evolve into stages for companies to present rich and interactive content to the extent that their Western counterparts have.

*It isn’t – etymologists please don’t write in.