PR and Social Media in Asia

I stumbled upon this wiki on social media when I was doing random surfing this morning about PR in Asia. It is really quite interesting and I believed it is put together by some university students.

I’ve been invited to a couple of social media events/ gatherings and the discussion topics have always been focused on which tools/ networks/ channels/ methods are best to reach out to the audiences. I realised there is always a tendency to generalise too much and assume that what works in US will work in Asia when we discuss marketing communications, public relations and social media.

The last couple of months, I’ve been traveling to different parts of Asia and spending time, trying to understand the different markets that I am managing in Asia Pacific region. It’s interesting to note how diverse and unique each Asian market is when it comes to managing PR/ communications in each country. It is even tougher to come up with a regional campaign that works across several Asia countries. When we talk about Web 2.0, PR, communications in general, at times we forget that there is the cultural element. Communications in an emerging market versus communications in Latin America will obviously be very different. How consumers in different market consume information is also very different and that should affect the way we plan our communications campaigns. As much as we have all heard that in the Web 2.0 world, it is all about the people, the online communities gathering together, sharing information, contributing to conversations, everything is becoming  more globalised. However, as I’ve observed and agreed with the students who wrote in the wiki, i think we’ve missed several points.

So obviously despite the market’s globalization process, there are differences between countries …because of cultural factors…which are partly responsible for the marketing environment in that market. Asia is a region with many layers: different languages, different cultures, and different technology preferences….all in a region filled with different countries, laws, etc. It does pose a tough challenge, not only for inter but also for Intra-national communication.

These observations are quite accurate. There are a lot of so called “social media experts” out there who sometimes called me up and said, “hey, we can offer you help on regional campaigns using social media….”

My immediate thought is, do you really know how people in India consume information? Have you stepped into Bangalore and understand the language difference? Do you understand the technological great divide between different cities in India or do you know what’s really big in Vietnam right now? Do you know that, web/ PC penetration is so much lower than mobile phone penetration in many Asia countries? So, it makes me wonder at times how companies and agencies hire their “experts” who hardly step out of their own country and hardly understand communciations on the web, let alone the 2.0 or the ability to reach/ engage consumers out there in Asia. Sure, some of us may understand how the web2.0 and how PR works (in general) but to put together some really successful campaigns, it takes much, much, much more than that.

In HK for instance, there are three primary communities in Hong Kong. The expatriates, who favor English, the local Chinese whose first language is Cantonese and the increasing numbers of mainland Chinese immigrants who use Mandarin. These differences are important to businesses as based on their target audience; their medium of advertisement has to change.

While we raved and make a huge fuss about Facebook, nobody really bothers about it in countries in Asia. In China, Korea and Japan and other emerging markets, there are some really big and powerful social networks that are locally relevant to the people.

When it comes to PR, it doesn’t really matter if Techcrunch or New York Times are raving about a certain product or website, if i’s not locally relevant to ie: Thailand or Vietnam, (that are not even english speaking markets) or big markets like Korea, India and China, honestly, the key media there don’t really care.

I have always hoped to find more great bloggers, influencers and thought leaders in Asia who cover topics on social media and communications, especially those who have not only in-country knowledge but cross-cultural, cross countries expertise. If you are one of them, please do drop me a note. We’ve heard so much from the US and UK folks, I think it is time to hear from Asia’s point of view on the topics of Social Media and new media. (honestly, it’s really not about knowing how to set up a second life account and far more than using facebook to set up an event invite).

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Are we really influencing our audiences?

My stack of new books from Amazon.com had arrived! I am now flipping through Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae and Brian Solis & Geoff Livingston’s Now is Gone.

Meatball Sundae

Both have some really interesting points about new media and new media marketing. Since I have not finished reading them, I shall reserve any comments for now. Both are definitely worth reading!Recently, I’ve observed that some PR folks have decided to completely ignore / not get involved with the new media, leaving them in the hands of the community managers. I am not saying that’s right or wrong, I am just considering what it means for us, as PR professionals, to only care about getting what our clients or companies want us to say to our “target media”. Do we, at some point consider what our CONSUMERS are thinking, saying, commenting, wanting, needing from our company?

A recent chat with a PR friend made me ponder more as she pointed out that, “UH! It’s so hard to CONTROL bloggers, sometimes, they get their facts all wrong and refused to hear us out..”

Another girlfriend commented, “Why pre-brief bloggers? Why even bother talking to XX business magazine? I just want to get this story out in 3 key dailies and i get my REACH! It’s just too much effort and trouble to talk to XX business magazine and YY trade media because their reach is so much lesser…” 

There are some truths in each comment but something tells me, we are moving backward rather than forward. I realised what happened to many PR people. We are extremely busy folks, sometimes we get so bogged down by work, we become very reactive and we just keep on doing doing doing the same things, hoping for different results. We forget about exploration, learning new tools, new communications strategies as we move on into a new technological era.

At times, we are so narrow-minded. We are given a set of “key communications statements” from our clients or our corporate communciations department and we follow them so strictly, we forgot that our consumers and the media are not stupid to believe a  set of statements that doesn’t make any sense to anyone else but us.

I realised I am trying to make several points here. I guess, what I am trying to think through is, as much as I believe and blogged quite extensively about how PR folks should always go back to basic and get our messaging/ foundation right before we move on to new media. On the other hand, there is frustration with PR people who are too afraid to move on and get too engrossed in trying to make sure that they have coverage in the 1 or 2 newspapers (that might have readership of 200,000) but is that enough?

Some XX company might have a full page coverage in The Sunday Times (Singapore’s most-read broadsheet) last week but I was on the plane, my boyfriend was sick and slept through the day and my brothers were out and not touched the papers. So, even though we might be the target audience of that XX company, we missed it.

So, explain to me… how is the excuse of targeting only 3 key media every time we have news announcements (because they have the most reach) ensure that most, if not all our target audience (consumers) read about our announcements? How is that making an influence? How is that moving the needle, making an impact for the business you are in?

My good friend and a fantastic blogger, Melvin Yuan recently stated in his blog post…

In the same way, PR professionals could never master the craft of Influence because our tools for the task were ineffective (think press releases, articles and events) and our measurement was flawed (think size of news coverage and the ad-dollar equivalent). Both never did translate to direct impact and measurable results that businesses really need.

But today we have the right tools (think blogs, micro-sites, e-mails, search engines etc.), the right knowledge (in search, digital storytelling and social media), and better ways to measure business (not communication) results (think click-throughs, readership and online decisions).

We have what it takes to communicate directly, track and measure results effectively, making Influence as much a science as it is an art.