Digital Dragons, Elephants and Tigers
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Digital Dragons, Elephants and Tigers

Burson-Marsteller's Zaheer Nooruddin discusses the challenges facing the development of a social media industry in Asia.

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Zaheer Nooruddin is regional digital CMO and lead digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific. Based in China, Nooruddin recently authored a chapter on social media in Asia in the new book, The Social Media MBA. In the interview below, Nooruddin discusses the challenges still facing the industry in Asia.

What are trends you are seeing regarding investment in social media?

As a region, I wouldn’t say clients aren’t taking it seriously but I wouldn’t say they are taking it as seriously as they should be. I feel that it requires a lot more attention. North Asia seems to have reached the point where it is getting attention. (In the West) you have firms like Altimeter and Forrester, and the industry as a whole is really listening to them. The issue is we don’t have that over here. I think clients here are still a couple of years behind the curve in terms of really understanding the area from a business perspective and a more integrated, holistic perspective. There are clients taking it seriously in terms of marketing, pumping in investment - but not in terms of social media comms, social CRM and social business - the serious long-term organisational game-changing elements.

Why do you think they are not taking it seriously enough?

It’s highly confusing for brands and marketers. Those struggles that mature markets were having in 2007 and 2008 are what Asian markets are having now. Obviously they have the benefits of learnings. In terms of social CRM, I think it’s not picking up because organisations never figured out how to do CRM. For social business, Asia is obviously culturally different. The hierarchical, societal structures are very apparent in business. Social business means an organisation can’t work in that way. So this is a transformational concept and I think Asia, from a cultural perspective, will struggle with it. I think the MNCs will do better than the local brands.

Are there any local brands that are doing it well?

There are some big local brands - in India, the telcos come to mind, like Tata Docomo. In China, a couple of financial sector companies - China Merchants Bank has really embraced social media in its many manifestations. China Mobile as well. In China, what surprises me is that one would have expected the MNCs to have done better with social media but actually it seems to me that some of the best cases are, oddly, some of the homegrown local banks.

What are the most important factors to bear in mind about social media usage in Asia?

It’s kind of a paradoxical answer. The first thing in terms of counselling clients who aren’t familiar, the same basic principles apply here, even in more unique markets like China, Korea and Japan. You have to start by listening and monitoring, gather the intelligence. The planning process is largely the same. But the channels are different. User behaviour in terms of how people react to content is vastly different in terms of cultural triggers. There are parts that need to be hyper-localised.

Which new platform has caught your eye?

Sina Weibo was the story of 2011. It has been so hyped, and justifiably so. It’s pretty much unprecedented in terms of how it’s led the rise of microblogging in China. I do see China being the standout market - a lot of innovation is coming from China. I don’t see any serious innovation coming out of India. Japan has the whole mobile space. The one case that stands out for me is Tencent in China - it’s got the largest system but it’s really the untold story. Their traditional user base is tier two and three and four cities, which gives marketers a huge new demographic. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Tencent Weibo is the big story in 2012. I think Sina Weibo is going to put up a tough fight but I see Tencent gathering pace really quickly.
 

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