It’s only my second time at this conference and I must say I was really impressed by how it improved in a year. I’ll do a summary in a next article when I wrap things up about thess 10 days in the Philippines, but I need to stress from the get go that you’ve got a world-class event here. Better than conferences I attend in more traditional cities like Singapore for instance.
My task on that day was to participate in a panel about how brands can become social. I was sided with George Foo, the Founder and CEO of iHub media, the Facebook Official Sales Partner for South East Asia, South Korea, Japan & Taiwan and Frederic Levy, #3 of Netbooster Asia, a subsidiary of the French digital agency, headquartered here in Manila. Good mix: a platform, an agency and a business consultant.
In a society where women have such an importance  what a relief to see one moderating the panel: Crisela Magpayo-Cervantes, the head of ABS-CBN Interactive, the biggest multi-media conglomerate and TV broadcaster in the Philippines.
Whew. Lots of great minds around me. Let’s take a notepad and my favorite Mont-Blanc ballpoint pen which never leaves my side. 
The panel took cues on what Jeremiah Owyang, Maria Ressa and other speakers presented before us and built upon it, in a slightly more interactive way (hey, we’re talking social, right?), the public being able to ask questions and get varied answers from three cool guys.
Interactive is not social
Is social good for all brands? That was the first question.
My starting point, which is kind of becoming a motto now, is that interactive is not social. These are two different approaches. In interactive, there’s a people to machine and machine to people interaction, while social is a people to people platform -I sometimes call that C2C in the pure business sense.
The dynamics are different. I think it is key to understand this, especially with many agencies in the audience. Campaigns and discussions are linked, one can empower the second, but while campaigns tend to limit themselves in time, people go on with their lives and have on-going conversations -including those about products and companies.
It’s no different here in the Philippines than elsewhere.
The Philippines social numbers
With the staggering 79% YOY growth, reaching the 17m mark, the Philippines now stands as the 7th biggest Facebook market in the world in terms of active users. Up to last September, Friendster was still the top social networking platform here and seems to be going down the drain everywhere else in South East Asia too -it’s former last stronghold.
Extrapolating on the recent ComScore numbers, Twitter is reaching 2m users here, the 6th biggest Twitter market worldwide with a reach of almost 15%. Not bad. Not bad at all -and again, what a striking difference from the time I was living here when Plurk was leading.
Interestingly enough, while mobile data is still limited in the country, AdMob ranks it 10th for mobile usage [pdf], based on ad requests. Add to the mix that it is the texting capital of the world -I’d say over 1.5bn SMS with a subscriber base of slighlty over 50m- and you’ve got a pretty interesting picture: social networking + mobile = traction.
Now, the most important numbers, in terms of social strategy, are still lacking in the Philippines: What are people exactly doing online.
How long, where, when, how? Which demographics is where? What are they doing? Social games like Farmville -hint, they tend to drive a big female demographic? Are they on Tumblr? Are they active during the week and not the weekend? One needs to survey the market with all those questions. The absence of these more ingrained numbers limit the creation of valid strategies for brands here.
I’m sure that, by this time next year, those will have appeared on the market, though. It’s an absolute certainty. Jeremiah hit the nail multiple times.
Research, Strategy, Preparation
Coming back to brand strategy, going social is first about knowing where your customers and prospects are & what they do. It’s fashionable to open Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, but it is often done without doing research, without preparation. This is step two after intent. Research, strategy and preparation.
To quote myself: “there’s no such thing as a Facebook strategy, only business strategies”
The lack of deep demographics and online behaviors -the point I just made above- is limiting the research. But Filipinos brands haven’t waited, obviously.
In all cases, lack of strategy creates more problem than it solves. A very simple example: my airline of choice, Emirates. I don’t have any insider information on their strategy -or lack thereof- but opening a Twitter account then abrubtely stopping it (last tweet was on Jan 6th) shows a lack of long term planning.
On the other hand, look at Air France, the airline I used to fly the most when I was a resident in Tokyo, which offers great customer support through its social tools. When, as a customer, I was reacting on Twitter to the fact that my miles card didn’t get accepted in one Singapore hotel, they went as far as sending me an email within 24 hours, explaining them the differences in hotel miles rewards across continents. They couldn’t send me a direct message on Twitter -one needs to follow an account to get those direct engagement-, so they went and looked my email up in their database. Good stuff!
Nice for Emirates that I only have good things to say about them. Imagine the contrary. No one would have reacted. This is how stories like the Montrin Moms against a brand go in overdrive.
Negative comments are usually an overblown matter. I estimate they don’t surpass 20% of the comments -or reviews of a product. They act as validation for the positive ones -is there such a company or product that really gets 100% of satisfaction rates? Dream on-.
More importantly, and this is a motto of mine, by humanizing your brand, since going social is a people to people business, forgiveness is higher.
We, humans, do forgive others for their mistakes -unless too grave or repeated. I don’t want to forgive a machine or a brand. I don’t care. But I can forgive a humanized brand. Negativity is soothed by this process -unless you really have a crappy product, that is.
Preparation does also mean not giving these social tools to the new hire, just because he’s young and Facebook is a “teen thing” or whatever. First, it’s not a “teen thing”. Second, it leads to the Nestle brandjacking debacle, where the employee, while maybe not a new hire, had no clue about crisis management. You don’t say to people to shut up. Imagine Nestle telling you to shut up. This is not communication on a professional level. Lack of training which led to a backlash against Nestle that got the world headlines.
Social media is a serious matter. It’s a job. With skills, both soft -empathy, sensibility- and hard -crisis handling being one. It requires both carefully choosing the pool of talent that will represent you online, but also training them on a on-going basis, while offering support (the Nestle Facebook page employee could have gone and ask what to do about it -he might have, again, I don’t have the specifics).
That, with the previous point, answers one of the question Crisela asked us: how to minimize the risks of social media.
Fred made an essential point there: life comes with risks. I’d add: deal with it. But I’ll advise: prepare yourself (with the risk of repeating myself).
This also applies in the choice of community managers, probably one of the most sought-after profile companies will get for in the coming years. Chose carefully. Pick a good listener. Think diplomacy.
Social Media doesn’t scale
Social media doesn’t scale. Repeat that in your head. Do that again, repeat it. Churn on it. You will never be able to follow the amount of conversations -including criticisms that need attention- especially with the high growth rate of social platforms adoption. You need tools to monitor, prioritize and group. Social CRM, in analysts’ talk.
Whether you’re a small company or a big corporation, this is tantamount. This requires investment. People’s investment. Money investment. You cannot escape this.
This would require a full analysis by itself. It was a 45 minutes panel -and I tried not to keep talking at the expense of my two great co-panelists-, I only touched the surface.
I however quickly mentioned the Apple case. Besides an App Store Facebook page, the Cupertino company seems absent on the social networking platform. Really?
Do you really think Apple is not listening the online chatter? Do you really believe Apple reacted to the recent antenna-gate issue because some big newspapers started talking about it. Apple listens. You can listen without being present. That’s your choice. Not always a wise one, but in case of Apple, they addressed the mounting complaints with a official press event. They were listening.
Being social is about being a good listener first. Not about babble skills.
Listening with the appropriate social tools also allows a brand to measure the success or failure of a campaign. And it’s immediate. The campaign can be refocused -let’s say on the part that click with people, abandoning what doesn’t resonate. Quickly.
Use the feedback loop to full effect.
Listen, measure, track, rinse. And restart.
Use what people are telling you to get better, to evolve. Whether it is during a campaign or not.
Interactive can become social
Ken Mandel, head of Yahoo! South East Asia, said it best during his keynote: “paid media priming the viral pump”. Yes, an interactive campaign can generate conversations -and great ones. This is why I talked about interactive and social in terms two different approaches: they are still part still of an ecosystem. This was a main point in my keynote on day two, I’ll write about it on a subsequent post.
Going Agency or not?
This question comes a lot when I talk to clients. Coca-Cola is using an agency to run its Twitter, so it’s not something only small companies do because they don’t have the right staffing. The advantage, as my presentation on the corporate impact of social pointed out, is the professionalism. The disadvantage is the disconnect.
An agency, when it comes to listening and engaging in conversations, is not as passionate as you. It’s, at least, difficult that it will reach the level of knowledge you have for the brand that you do. Moreso the passion that you do have as you can imagine. Agencies are still, for the most part, in a broadcast culture, not in this C2C world I’ve mentioned. Beware. Only a handful of agencies understand this.
A very small amount compared to the massive presence of “social media experts” -you can replace that last word with gurus, rockstars, etc.- and to phony agencies -adding a social page to an existing agency website is easy, even famous ones do.
Be sure you get an agency that knows what it’s talking about. It should have done its homework. It should have deployed -it’s so easy to fake the appearance of seriousness and expertise.
Ask for credentials. Be social: ask around you. Why not create a Filipino website with reviews of agencies, that’s surely a good opportunity for someone!
I’m sure I’m missing lots of what has been said during these intense 45 minutes. I hope I gave you a good overview though.
More to come about this IMMAP experience in the days to come.