Leveraging social media in Asia

When global firms discuss implementing their social media strategies in Asia, we always remind them that the stakes are higher than just engaging more closely with potential customers. It’s really about winning your next generation of customers in the fastest growing area of the world. Here’s a look at how marketing managers can prepare to leverage social media in Asia.

First, know where you’re going and why. There are some basic questions to ask as you prepare your social media strategy for Asia. What are the top three to five markets in this region that your company should target through this channel and why? How is your brand currently perceived in those markets? Where is each market in terms of maturity in your industry sector? Which groups do you hope to reach? What fundamental message(s) will you convey to each group? How will your local strategy fit within your overall corporate media strategy?

Track down the virtual water coolers. Find out where your targeted audiences are gathering online to stay informed about your industry — its trends, products and services. Experiment with the tools they are using to do so. Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn will not get you very far in countries such as China, but Kaixin, RenRen, Tianji and the blogosphere will.

Do some competitive research to ground yourself. If your competitors — local, regional or international — are actively using social media in some or all of your targeted markets in Asia, they may have already set some expectations among your potential customers in this area. Identify the groups with which they are engaging, such as developers, power users, user groups, end users and brand advocates. Then determine how they are communicating with each one in terms of messaging, style, content type and language, along with the platforms they are using to reach them.

Harvest both local and corporate perspectives. As when entering any new market, local input is invaluable. Your in-country offices, partners, distributors, top customers or public relations  firms may be pushing you to engage more effectively with your end users in certain markets. Ask them how they would recommend you use social media as a way to do this. If they don’t know, have them find out.

Headquarters staff can also provide a unique perspective. This excellent source of information in the form of employees who are from another country is typically missed. These individuals are often well attuned to what’s going on in their home markets. Their advantage — even over in-country staff — is that they can interpret what’s going on locally through the filter of the home market culture of corporate headquarters. With their input, you will have a higher chance of succeeding.

Implementing social media in Asia

Once you are ready to actually engage specific audiences through social media in Asia, here are some initial areas on which to focus your efforts to ensure that you’re a hit.

Assign a marketing resource. As with any new initiative that is customer-facing, your team should strive to get it right the first time. Therefore, it is critical to assign a marketing resource — whether it is headquarters staff, an in-country marketing manager or an outside consultant from a local PR agency — to make certain that the right decisions are made at the right time in order to build a credible social media presence in your targeted markets.

Carefully determine the type of social content required. Your content will be determined by the communities you target in each market, such as localized videos for Japanese developers or locally produced blog entries for power users in China. Whatever is delivered must be communicated in the preferred style, tone and language of each local audience. It may be more cost-effective to have content created locally, whether by in-country staff, local user groups or recognized developers. Whoever creates the content must be closely in touch with your targeted audiences.

Make social media in Asia an integral part of your overall media strategy. Integration with your corporate media strategy is key to your medium- and long-term success with social media in Asia. You need to identify your organization’s overarching corporate marketing goal for social media. Is it thought leadership, market awareness, relationship building, sales cycle acceleration or something else? Then determine how to integrate Asia’s needs into the overall strategy. At the same time, review the other marketing/media campaigns that your company is running in Asia to identify how they can benefit from the addition of a social media piece.

Engage your local partners and employees to help you get started. Solicit ideas from your own local staff and partners to help jump-start the social media campaign. If it’s Twitter in Japan, make it your goal to have 75% of your local or partner staff tweeting within six months or run a contest to see who is the first to connect to 20 people who are important locally in your industry. If you are targeting bloggers in China, set a goal for your “feet on the ground” to contact the top ten within two months with information or data that they are missing about your industry.

Additionally, don’t ignore the basics. This means promoting your new social media efforts through links in ads or blurbs on homepages, along with providing more local content for local websites to highlight what you are doing in this space. At a more advanced level, you should consider adding a social media component to a user conference or invite local customers, brand advocates, super-users, developers and bloggers to appear on your social media properties.

Watch out for three pitfalls

When global firms ask for advice on implementing their social media strategy in Asia, here are three mistakes that we tell them to avoid.

First, don’t overwhelm your marketing manager. If you are a start-up with only one overworked marketing manager, then we recommend that you target only one or two audiences in one market. Focus on them and leverage local customers, brand advocates, user groups and developers to spread the message. Avoid the temptation to squander your efforts by trying to accomplish too much at first. Social media activities require a high degree of monitoring and interaction in order to be successful. Taking on more than you can handle may result in your company having a stagnant profile with no new content, which in some cases is worse than having no social media presence at all.

Second, don’t assume that every market is the same or even similar. Each country in Asia will have its own take on social networking and how to apply it in businesses and so will each targeted audience within each country. For example, China’s social networkers prefer to leverage the power of groups rather than to promote individual members. Japan’s social networking is all mobile, so content needs to reflect that, as does the choice of platform. Therefore, Twitter may well be a good way to engage with users and developers in Japan, but not necessarily in China.

Third, don’t forget to integrate your social media content with local search engines. Potential customers and developers can identify you only if their preferred search engines can find you. Therefore, social media content optimization for search is a must. If you need help, engage a language service provider who has the expertise, and treat the project as the creative content development project that it is. Otherwise, the rest of your company’s investment and effort in this area will be for naught.

Not only does social media offer the potential for companies to increase their revenue and market share, but more important, it may hold the key for certain sectors — especially high-tech and consumer goods — to win their next generation of customers. However, to reach your current and future customers in Asia successfully through social media, you must do it on their terms. Determine your top markets in the region, leverage your local resources to better understand the market, and identify your target audiences. Then customize your message, content and delivery platforms so that your customers and prospects can more easily engage with you.