SINGAPORE: Less than one fifth of businesses in South East Asia currently have an interactive social media strategy, according to a recent report, despite consumers' widespread and growing use of this channel.

A study by global law firm Baker & McKenzie, based on interviews and case studies with 68 multinational companies and companies with headquarters in South East Asian emerging markets, also found that less than 5% had a coherent internal social networking program.

The hospitality, travel and finance industries were the most advanced in their engagement with social media, while telecoms, advertising, banking, publishing, medical, retail and education trailed behind. But all had yet to reach their full potential, the study said.

"The challenge is how to maintain and adapt a consistent corporate brand across such vibrant media, especially in a culturally diverse and social media-savvy region like South East Asia," said Anne-Marie Allgrove, Head of Baker & McKenzie's Asia Pacific Information Technology and Communication Industry Group, as she noted the difficulty of navigating the various legal frameworks that applied to issues such as data protection, data sovereignty and intellectual property rights.

"Knowing how to navigate the complex world of social media effectively and manage the risks can give companies a competitive edge," she added.

The report also emphasised the need to understand local social media platforms. Too many multinationals, operating under centralised policies, simply set up accounts for the leading international sites – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Local and regional players were found to be more adept at implementing initiatives utilising the strength of local platforms, whether Sulit in the Philippines or Kaskus in Indonesia.

The future holds out the promise of a single marketplace – the ASEAN Economic Community – covering ten countries by the end of 2015, but progress towards this has been slow.

"We can only hope that the region will one day have a harmonised and robust social media legal framework in place," Ken Chia, head of ITC at Baker & McKenzie, told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific, Baker & McKenzie; additional content by Warc staff