July 13, 2008

Ad Men Fail to Keep Pace As Social Media Takes Off

By Bakht, Asiya

LIVE ISSUE How seriously should marketers in Asia be taking social media? A global study by Universal McCann suggests that the region is being far too coy.

Social media use has risen dramatically in the past year, and more so in Asia. Six of the world's top 10 blog-reading nations are Asian. So are the top seven blog-writing nations, while (less surprisingly) the region dominates the world in sheer numbers.

Natalie Pidgeon, UM's regional director of insight says: "Social media cuts across all borders. It is happening in all countries, rich and poor. In many cases what is perceived to be the developing world is leading the way."

According to the survey, Korea sets the pace with 77 per cent of internet users reading blogs each week, compared to 58 per cent which read only the mainstream press. China was the top market for blog writing with 42 million, or 70 per cent of its internet users, writing a blog. The Philippines closely follows, with 66 per cent.

Why are blogs so popular in Asia? Jeff Ooi, a prominent blogger in Malaysia, offers one explanation: "Most Asian countries have repressive regimes. The 'fourth estate' is run by political parties so there is less latitude for press freedom. Blogs fill that void."

So what could social media mean to marketers? Chris Schaumann, Microsoft's global advertising and digital head says, "Social media is about giving people a platform to talk to each other. The opportunity for marketers is to become a part of the conversation".

He suggests brands either create an engaging experience or be useful. Microsoft is already 'socially active' by developing two applications for Facebook - Officepoke and Framedagain - and made Windows Live Messenger available for Facebook users. Officepoke, its most popular widget, has been used to promote Microsoft 2007 and comes with a link to test the software. The company has also started groups on social networks to provide a forum for its admirers.

Brands need not be overly conscious of 'talking' to people in groups like these since members have voluntarily joined them, say media agencies.

Entering the blogosphere, however, requires a softer approach. "The idea is to get to know the blogging world, and give bloggers relevant information. Relationship building is key," says Tania Chew, senior account manager at Ogilvy PR.

Marketing successes in social media have been scant to date in Asia, because marketers fear losing control of their brands in unknown territory, and because not many in the industry are sure of it's effectiveness. As Damian Cummings, GM of [email protected] Singapore says, "it is hard to measure its effectiveness since traditional media measurements do not work on social media".

Adds Microsoft's Schaumann: "Asia trails the world in digital ad spend. Whatever marketers spend on these goes on proven, high-ROI media like search, display banner and email. Since social media is still very new, only very smart marketers who move with the times are making use of it."

By Asiya Bakht

Copyright Haymarket Business Publications Ltd. Jun 12, 2008

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