In this exclusive interview we have Belinda Ang (Digital PR Strategist, MS&L Singapore), sharing her thoughts on digital PR, marketing, and social media (recorded on the sidelines of CommunicAsia 2010).
Having been immersed in many fields as far-ranging and diverse as film or food and beverage, Belinda surely has the laurels and experience worthy of a story in itself. Here she tackles the workings and effects of social media, digital PR and marketing in the context of both Asian and Western markets.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the video are the personal views of the interviewee and and do not necessarily represent the philosophy or viewpoints of their organization or clients.
Transcript of the Interview
My name is Belinda; I’m a digital strategist with MS&L Singapore. My job revolves around digital PR. I deal a lot with the sites for my clients and how to help them engage the consumers and other businesses through various social media channels and platforms.
Focusing on engagement and communication
Engagement and communication is important because that is what PR is all about. It’s mainly about putting the “public” back into public relations.
Delving into the Asian market
I think Asia is slow, but we’re catching up. A lot of the examples and footsteps where we take our cues from are obviously Northern American or European. But I would say that there are still a lot of Asian companies (especially SMEs) who are not so open to trying things out and in a country like Singapore where budgets are a lot smaller (due to a smaller market share), there is a limit to what we can do. What a lot of people don’t understand is that firstly, if they outsource social media, it’s not something that’s cheap. Secondly, if they want to do it internally, it will probably change the entire business structure and framework. A lot of Asian companies are not prepared to do that because most of them are more focused on sales rather than on brand equity compared to Europe and Northern America.
But I would think that social media’s end destination and end objective will be brand equity because when you try to build advocacy with your fans and consumers, what you are trying to build is a form of loyalty to the brand and a channel for direct response. It becomes a means where you (not only on a day-to-day basis) engage with your target market. You also get to understand what’s wrong with the product and what to improve on thus enabling you to lead your business direction and your product innovations positively according to their feedback.
Lead nurturing and lead generation using social media
I would think that those are short-term gains. In terms of social media we’ll most definitely look at both short and long-term. You still need to establish yourself with a certain set of ROIs and keep your eyes open for short-term gains because that’s where the most money is involved. You need to be accountable to whoever is up there. So lead generation I think would be a short-term gain. On the day you would want it to be converted into sales, yes social media can help do that. You do not want your customers to be a one-off. So you have to build a cycle where you use social media as a way to get your consumers involved before, during and after the entire experience.
In advertising and traditional sales, the consumer experience stops immediately after the purchase. That means the brand no longer engages with them. So what social media helps in doing is to continuously engage your consumer even after they have bought the product and that is what builds brand advocacy and equity. Everyone wants to be an Apple in the end … to be a company where you are able to market the product effectively, partly because you have a huge brand that has fans advocating everything you do.
I think it really depends on what are the objectives. Each company, big or small, has different goals and priorities and what you are trying to measure should be tagged to them. I can’t tell you exactly how to measure effectiveness unless I have an objective to gauge it on.
The changing face of marketing
When we talk about social media, I think that it has not changed anything. If you put it simply, it’s an additional channel to the pre-existing marketing mix. It does for TV what TV did for radio and what radio did for print. The marketing mixture just gets more vibrant as the years go by, with a lot more different channels opening up where you can piggyback on. So in that regard, social media has not changed communication but it has added one more channel in terms of the way people communicate with each other. It also has an impact on our tonality and manner of talking to each other. But the bottom-line is that humanity’s desire to communicate has never changed. When the “media” is in the middle, people find that there is a barrier to communication and that’s one of the reasons why social media evolved. But in terms of marketing I don’t think it has changed anything. Advertising and traditional PR is still important because everything you do still needs to be integrated.
The right choice of language
For me, a lot of people are just trying to save their necks so that they wouldn’t get into trouble. If they are venturing into unfamiliar waters, naturally they don’t want to say the wrong things. That is the problem with a lot of people. Let’s put it this way … when you write a script or piece for a radio ad, you would not be using that same script for the TV version. And whatever you would do for a TV ad won’t be used for print. In social media the same concept applies. Whatever you say and however you craft your messages, it will usually differ slightly from the way you would do things for the other channels. Obviously when you are writing for a print ad, you do not know who your audience is. But when talking to someone in social media, I think you must first understand that it would be a direct communication with someone. You are always talking to a “face” and with that in mind you would want to be a real person as well. You would want to be “humanized”. So marketers would just have to learn the hard way. I think the last point is that they must be in that circle themselves for them to communicate effectively on that platform.
Rules of Engagement: the difference between East and West
Obviously there will be differences (especially cultural ones) between Asia and the Western countries but there are things that can set Asian markets apart from their neighbours. I believe that it is a lot more “different” in terms of language, consumer behaviour and trends and there are tons of varying shades to these differences. For example, China is very different from the rest of South East Asia and so on. So I think in terms of rules of engagement, the “humanizing” and personalizing part are still pretty much constant everywhere but we need to be a lot more sensitive in using language and when we are making references to certain events. To sum it all up, you have to be a lot more sensitive because of the diversity of cultures and religions.