Asian firms must adapt

16 February 2011

HONG KONG: Most major Asian brand owners have been reticent to embrace social media, although firms like LG and AirAsia are assuming a status as early-adopters in this area.

Burson-Marsteller, the PR giant, reported that 60% of 200 leading companies based in the region currently do not boast a presence on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

A further 24% were active on one channel, 8% had established formal profiles on two, another 3% engaged consumers via three of these properties, and 5% recorded greater levels of uptake.

"The Asian multinationals are far more tentative and circumspect with respect to social media than their Western counterparts," Bob Pickard, Burson-Marsteller's Asia Pacific chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal.

"Social media is agile and nimble and opens a conversation that makes people feel important to the brand."

"But it can also be fluid and out of control. The risk of losing face creates a dampening effect on adoption."

LG, the South Korean electronics manufacturer, utilises several Web 2.0 services, and ran a dedicated Twitter feed related to a fridge recall in Australia last year.

"The mentality in many Asian cultures is that you want to be in control," Kenneth Hong, LG's global communications director, argued.

"And taking risks, such as changing your communication strategy, using digital more is, well, risky."

Additional contributors behind this reluctance to participate include rigid organisational structures, which often lead to difficulties when seeking to execute innovative schemes at speed.

A comparative inexperience concerning online means the safety of tried-and-tested models also appeals to brand managers.

"From their perspective, you can't be fired for doing TV," argued Joe Nguyen, vp, Southeast Asia at research group comScore.

"So you do TV and you do print and you reach 98% of the population without having to take a major risk."

A short-term approach to marketing efforts like microsites equally encourages underwhelming results, Nguyen continued.

"Once the campaign is over they forget about it," he said. "The agency that handled it goes away and the people who followed the site stop doing so once it's not longer regularly updated."

A different attitude similarly pervades among many chief executives of Asian corporations, demonstrated by a lack of enthusiasm for making public pronouncements.

"There are few superstar chief executives with a big personality," argued Nguyen. "You don't see them expressing industry opinions. They tend to keep to themselves and run the business."

AirAsia, the low-cost carrier, is an exceptional case, having frequently leveraged internet advertising, and now secures approximately 13% of traffic to its website from its Facebook page.

"We started our presence on Facebook in April 2009," Tony Fernandes, AirAsia's chief executive, said. "We did it for various reasons, but the most important was because we wanted to humanise our brand."

"When we advertise on social-media channels, we create a dialogue with our online audience. We get feedback on what they feel and think about our offerings by looking at the comments and the number of 'likes' and 'share'."

The company also has an official blog, which is refreshed every day and offers information regarding destinations on its routes, and asks netizens to submit their own stories.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff