Racheal Lee
Jun 28, 2011

Online protests keep brands on alert

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia is one of the most active nations on social networking websites, with local industry leaders saying that while this is great for sharing positive brand messages, a number of recent high-profile online protests has shown there can be a down side too.

Vic Sithasanan, CEO FutureLab Malaysia
Vic Sithasanan, CEO FutureLab Malaysia

Leaked news of a potential ban on file-sharing websites by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) triggered more than ten thousand Malaysians to voice their frustrations via a new Facebook page last month. More than 11,000 supporters joined the protest site within three days.

Participants of the poorly organised Energizer Night Race in Kuala Lumper also built their own Facebook pages when complaints on the event's official Facebook page were clearly censored. More than 5500 people joined a community of protesters, creating a viral protest that spread throughout the country, with a severe impact on the key sponsor's brand. Energizer eventually issued a public apology and also promised to refund runners' entry fees.

Vic Sithasanan, CEO at FutureLab Malaysia, says the fear of online rants and complaints going viral is real, but the topic has to be near to the public heart. “These pages can have an impact depending on how aligned the topic is to the hearts and minds of the audience," he told Campaign. "If you complain and rant, people will see it that way too. Some will sympathise; others would wish you didn't waste their time,” he added.

He noted that social media – being one of the channels for marketing, customer service, landscape knowledge and relationships – needs to be managed well and should work in harmony with each of the other channels. He says brands need to get knowledgable about social media, both the risks and the opportunities, as soon as possible - with two thirds of Malaysians expected to be active on some form at the phenomenon's peak.

Dinesh Sandhu, Malaysia country director, Media Contacts, says the key word for social media is 'management'. Responding to posts in a timely manner and being polite, while avoiding getting into clearly standardised PR answers is vital to successful engagement, he said.

“What we are seeing today is only the beginning of a tidal wave in consumer empowerment," he tells Campaign. "Technology will continue to evolve to become more accessible and user friendly. As such, we will continue to see an increase in the rise of the knowledgeable ‘I know what I want; so don't treat me like an idiot’ consumer.”


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