Friday, June 5, 2009

Social media in Asia

It's been a long time since my last post. The reason is that the sheer number of social media related enquiries I have been received over the last few months has increased dramatically. This is good, not only from a business stand point, but also from the fact that social media is being seriously considered by organisations in various sectors.

However, see below for a Q&A interview about social media in Asia that I conducted with Media Magazine that may be of interest.

(1) Which are the key social media tracking tools (paid and unpaid) that you use, and why? How do they compare in terms of (a) price, (b) functionality and (c) ease of use.
We have always advocated the combined use of paid and free tools. Radian6 is one paid tool that is used globally by our agency, in conjunction with free online tools such as Technorati, BlogPulse, Twitscoop amd Twitter Grader amongst others, depending on the objectives and country. Each of the mentioned tools have their strengths and weaknesses and play a part in our monitoring process, however there is no one single tool that is able to meet all our requirements. For instance, many free online tools do not have double-byte functionality that allows us to track Chinese language.

Radian6 is one of the most sophisticated tools available, and Weber Shandwick has a special partnership in which we’re working very closely to make it even better. For example, we recently added Asian language capabilities.

(2) What are the challenges and pitfalls involved in using the tools described in (1) to track social media?
Each country in Asia has its own set of unique user characteristics, which can vary as much as the countries themselves. For instance BBS sites are very popular in China, discussion forums dominate Hong Kong while blogging leads the way in Korea. So, clients interested in their online presence or reputation across Asia will need to understand local nuances before embarking on a project.

I am not aware of any single tool on the market that allows us to automate the dissection of data to meet client needs. Most tools are able to track conversation trends, capture conversations from different sources and measure share of voice but clients often need more than this rudimentary information. They often require sentiments specific to products, and insights into key influencers, their sentiment and who they are able to influence.

That said, social media tracking tools are in their infancy and monitoring companies continue to invest heavily in the development of advanced systems that meet increasingly complex business needs. Weber Shandwick remains close to these developments and we continue to look for the best possible solution to meet our own clients’ diverse and very specific needs.

(3) To what extent can you really automate tools? How important is the human element and can you provide any examples of this?
Human intervention is crucial to any accurate and in-depth analysis. Whilst automated tools provide content, it is the human element that provides context. It is precisely for that reason that firms like Weber Shandwick are engaged to both source and interpret data in a way that allows us to define a strategic approach to stakeholder interaction. For example:

Data searches will often contain inaccuracies due to strength of key words, industry terminology and variations in vocabulary. Without it you simply won’t garner insights and understanding of the data;

Automated tools can only present raw data. It requires industry expertise to provide in-depth analyses and insight when interpreting the conversations. Clients require content rich analyses and strategic counsel on how the online conversations are affecting their brand, which only comes from consultants with an understanding of the client or industry. Clients in healthcare, technology and even financial services all have their own terminology that may seem alien to an outsider.

For example, our Hong Kong office recently conducted an online landscape audit for a healthcare client in the dialysis industry. We simply would not have been able to provide the in-depth analyses and counsel without consulting colleagues in that industry. This makes agencies with a deep bench across industries very important.

(4) Recent research (from Weber Shandwick) reveals that Asian CEOs are considerably less concerned about their online reputations. Why is this finding of concern - and why is social media monitoring important in this context? Do you have any specific examples?
This issue needs to be looked at in the wider context. I understand from the research that Asian CEOs are not ‘unconcerned’ with their online reputation, it’s that there is a lower level of ‘realisation’ compared to some Western countries. According to commScore, 35% of the social networking population is based in Asia, and CEOs here are quickly realising that this entire area will play a large role in their future success.

So you could say that Asian CEOs are quickly coming around to realising the potential of the online medium and they are amongst the most prolific users in terms of using the internet to measure reputations of competitors and business partners. There is a slight disconnect between what they think is happening and what actually is happening. But, it would also be fair to say that globally, all communications specialists are on a steep learning curve regarding the significance and potential impact of digital communications on brand perception. Which is why business intelligence has, and will continue to, become so profoundly important to clients.

(5) What are the key things for a client to remember when:(a) selecting social media monitoring tools?(b) determining how best to put a monitoring plan into action?
When selecting tools, do not underestimate the resource required to achieve quality and accurate analysis. To my knowledge, there is not one tool capable of delivering quality, in-depth and accurate analyses on its own. Like traditional media monitoring, the larger your target pool, the more resources it will take to get the job done well. There are companies out there who offer good services that can help companies shape their online strategy.

When embarking on a monitoring programme, companies should be realistic of what is achievable with the available resources and determine the objectives from the offset. This will help them deliver on set criteria and allow measurement of the programme.

(7) How can social media help a brand's reputation - do you have any specific examples?
Social media is as important to a brand’s reputation as traditional media. We know that some online personalities have as much influence as the most respected newspapers, magazines and broadcast programmes. To ignore the communities that are advocates—or badvocates—of your brand, product or service would be a huge mistake.

In an era of transparency and authenticity, companies can use social media to build relationships and engage with brand advocates. Some brands have even turned potential crisis issues into a positive interaction with the end user via social media. No longer can brands hide behind a fa├žade, like any great relationship, listening and communication is key.

Examples of brands using social media to preserve, manage or build animage vary from the likes of Barack Obama (one of the most recognized global brands today) using Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and Twitter to win the presidential election, to Dell selling millions of dollars worth of products via Twitter.

(8) Do you have any other comments you'd like to add?
The entire social media and digital communications space is evolving at an incredible pace. Trends change and it is difficult to predict what the next big thing will be because it will be the people’s choice. We are in the business of monitoring human behaviour and aligning this with how our clients communicate to their audiences, while choosing the right communication vehicles to deliver these messages.

Also, remember that each country has its nuances. Cultural differences, languages, and preferences vary from country to country, so it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.