Byravee Iyer
Sep 30, 2013

What’s plaguing social media strategies in SEA?

SINGAPORE – Fewer than 20 per cent of companies operating in Southeast Asia have an interactive social-media strategy and even fewer (5 per cent) have a coherent internal social-networking programme, according to a study led by global law firm Baker & McKenzie.

The report identifies that in terms of usage companies in the region are lagging behind
The report identifies that in terms of usage companies in the region are lagging behind
Across Southeast Asia, the corporate approach has largely been tentative, at the experimental early phase. A number of industries in Southeast Asia, such as telecommunications service providers, agencies and the print media, find themselves in this early-stage phase. However, both customers and clients increasingly expect more once they reach this point, and staff must be trained to mitigate the risk arising from negative activity. 
Engagement indicates that the company is not only listening to the feedback but is beginning to incorporate those responses into product development, strategic initiatives or customer relationship monetisation. The most engaged phase of social media are about the deep capture of the data that social media provides, leading to better market understanding and better, and more dynamic, market positioning, the report stated. 

The report was developed based on research conducted by TRPC Pte Ltd, which conducted in-depth interviews and discussions with 68 organisations operating in Southeast Asia. The participants from these organisations included senior executives who are involved in or have oversight of their firm’s social-media strategy.

Sector study

The report also found that specific industries in the region are at different phases in terms of their engagement with social media, and none have managed to maximise their potential in social-media engagement. The hospitality, travel and finance industries are leading the pack; and telecom, advertising, banking, publishing, medical, retail and education are trailing behind.

The local versus global debate

The report also highlighted the importance of local social-media platforms. Where region-level strategic social-media initiatives are being undertaken by corporations, they are being implemented by local and regional players, rather than the larger MNCs. This is counter-intuitive given the greater resources and deeper global experience MNCs bring, but is often the result of centralised governance policies. The result is that many of the larger MNCs go ahead and set up Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts but do not go much further, even when local staff recognise the strengths of local platforms. While the top five social network sites by country may look similar at first, the reality is far more competitive and diverse. The takeaway is a simple one: to be successful over the long term, you need to understand the local social-media platforms.

In Thailand, a leading entertainment company and local telecom company have the most number of members across social networks. In Malaysia, a leading aviation company and tourism board have a strong network of users. In the Philippines, FMCG companies and telcos lead the pack. Finally, in Indonesia, a surf company and auto player are doing fairly well in the space. (Baker & McKenzie is not legally authorised to name the companies.)

The choice of social media

In terms of usage, Facebook dominates Indonesia, its fourth-largest market. But Indonesians are not monogamous in their use of social media. Indonesia is also the fifth-largest Twitter market in the world and Blackberry’s second-largest market (driven by free instant messaging). The key local platforms in Indonesia are Kaskus and Detik.  

While in Malaysia no prevalent local social-media platforms yet exist—Malaysians prefer Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and others—social-media pioneer Friendster is now headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, which may be an early indicator of knowledge transfer and a reverse brain drain given the levels of top-down attention focused on the social media sector, the report noted.

The Philippines has always demonstrated a healthy appetite for new media communications. There was phenomenal SMS uptake in the late 1990s, with SMS use helping to organise the protests and rallies that were instrumental in the uprisings that overthrew the president. Smartphone uptake in the Philippines is also reportedly the fastest in the region. Innovatively, the carriers have all begun offering “dedicated social-media data packages” in response. Sulit is the top local social-media platform in the country.

Singapore has seen the success of two local online real-time restaurant reservation systems, Chope and Reserveit and can be attributed to their keen local understanding of Singapore’s obsessive fascination with food. Capitalising on these compulsions has created a new expectation among Singaporeans: any restaurant worth its salt will have some form of direct online seat and time reservation system available.

Thailand’s key local platforms include Sanook, Pantip, Kapook and VoiceTV while Vietnam’s local sites include, Bao Khuyen hoc, Dan Tri Online and Vatiga.

Regulatory concerns

The report also highlights the lack of consistent regulatory response to contentious issues encountered during social media usage

Companies who want to successfully leverage social media need to be aware of the many local law issues they face. Such issues may stem from differences in cultural norms and varying religious, ethnic and political sensitivities in each jurisdiction.

“Organisations have a lot to benefit from embracing social media,” said Ken Chia, head of information technology and communication,  Baker & McKenzie. “However there are real legal risks involved, particularly given the porous nature of the Internet and the fact that most regulations in this region have not kept pace with the development of new features on social media platforms.”

Some governments in the region have attempted to put in place new regulatory frameworks governing the use of social media, but these regulations frequently give rise to new issues and uncertainties.

In Thailand, companies that have expanded into social media are still facing increased corporate risk from exposure on various platforms. There is a risk from lèse majesté violations under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, which holds both users and intermediaries (such as webmasters and content hosts) accountable for controversial or illegal content deemed derogatory to the monarchy.

In Vietnam, provisions of the recent Decree No. 72 could be interpreted to disallow posting news stories (or their links) on social media sites. However, according to representatives of the Ministry of Information and Communications, these provisions are intended to distinguish between personal websites and websites that provide general information as de fact, and unlicensed news sites.

“With the possibility of an Asean Integration looming ahead, we can only hope that the region will one day have a harmonised and robust social media legal framework in place,” Chia added

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