Earlier August, five international milk powder firms and one Chinese company were fined a record US$110 million after a probe into price fixing in the sector, while a botulism scare at New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra tarnished the wider reputation of imported milk powder. Global milk powder firms are scrutinizing Chinese social media reports up to four times a day to gauge consumer reaction to a high-profile pricing probe and food safety scare that threaten their squeaky-clean image in the US$14.5 billion Chinamarket. The stepped-up monitoring of microblogging site Weibo and local online forums reflects the outsized role social media plays in China, where access to information is restricted. Chatter about food safety scares spreads lightning-fast on Twitter-like Weibo, so companies are learning to keep constant tabs on their online brand reputation. Global infant formula firms in China have traditionally benefited from high prices and a domestic sector dogged by safety fears, but the recent turmoil could mark the start of a more challenging period for firms in China.