With the announcement last week that Facebook has signed an agreement with Vietnam’s largest publicly traded telecommunication and software company, there are expectations that Facebook will gain additional momentum as the social media tool of choice in Vietnam.

By the end of 2010, the number of Facebook users in Vietnam reached three million and generated 1.1 billion page views.

But with Facebook’s new agreement in place with Vietnam’s Corporation of Finance and Promoting Technology (commonly known as the FPT), many expect these numbers to grow significantly in the coming years.

Nonetheless, making use of the digital platform is not as straightforward as it appears. Below are some issues which each communication practitioner needs to think through before starting their own online campaign.

Nationwide vs. urban campaigns
First of all, of Vietnam’s population of 88 million people, 24 percent are online with most living in big cities. Thus, public relations and communications experts who are planning to execute communication campaigns on a nationwide scale should think twice about the effect of a social network. Using public relations to embed client messages in traditional media remains among the best ways to reach out to Vietnam’s hinterlands.

Which channel?
After Yahoo 360’s closing in July 2009, Vietnam’s social network universe became divided. Within only two years, social network users have witnessed a surge of local players such as ZingMe or YuMe. Thanks to strong local insights, these websites rapidly gained favor with Vietnamese users, surpassing both Facebook and Yahoo in terms of followers. To make it more complicated, Vietnamese also rely on local forums as a source of information. Webtretho, Phunuvaxehoi, Eva and YAN are a few examples, covering a wide range of topics from automobiles, houses to lifestyle and music.
With such a vast and fast-changing market like this, the very first thing every communication expert needs to do is figure out which channel will reach their target most effectively.

International vs local
Not all international social network sites work well in Vietnam. While Yahoo, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr and Blogspot have successfully established a foothold, others such as Twitter or Tumblr are still struggling to penetrate the market. Thus, successful integrated online campaigns elsewhere might have to adapt themselves to thrive here.

Keep your conversation going
Another good point to consider when conducting online communications campaign is the responsiveness. Many Vietnam companies and organizations have launched their own micro-sites or web pages in recent years. However, only a few of them have managed to maintain those platforms as an effective channel to communicate with their target audiences. Common mistakes include the lack of a long term strategy for online communication, failure to attract enough traffic as well as tardiness in responding to comments or questions.

Back-up plans
Finally, social network sites are always a very sensitive topic when it comes to censorship and governmental interference. For example, in the months prior to the agreement with FPT, access to Facebook in Vietnam was extremely difficult. More precisely, it sharply decreased by 70 percent in terms of page views and by one million users in January 2011. Therefore, when we talk about social network sites here, we must at the same time talk about back-up and crisis management plans.

Just like the economy, Vietnam’s social network sites evolve at a very fast pace. An effective channel today could soon be a fad by tomorrow. That is why public relations practitioners and marketers have to be sensitive with the way they leverage news and information. Instead of following current trends, they should speculate on future trends and put together strategic plans based on that. Or, at least, they should plan flexibly.

Son Nguyen manages campaigns for Vero Public Relations in Ho Chi Minh City.