Asian governments are wrestling with the impact of social networks exposing their populations’ true fears and bigotry: should they censor, or let the people fight it out online?
China’s netizens, for instance, tiptoe around the government’s sensitivities by developing more or less subtle innuendoes to express their support or outrage – every entry into the Grass Mud Hut Lexicon tells a story of China and the pulse of the nation; and this week, the Uzbek’s effort to overthrow Facebook as the No1 SNS shows a palpable evidence of a government trying incredibly hard to leverage social media… to its own advantage: can it work? We also take a look at the impact of smartphones in various markets across the region, and look at some of the implications for marketers and brands.
Censorship, revolution and controlling opinion – what lessons can brands learn from governments?
Not long ago I found it fascinating to see that the UK government’s response to social media’s role in orchestrating the recent riots in London was much the same as how many less “liberal” governments in Asia and the Middle East react to similar issues. Clearly the prospect of losing control of a nation is terrifying. It is a natural reaction to focus immediate attention on the channel used to broadcast the message. But these knee jerk responses tend to result in the public simply turning their rage to react against such short-term remedies, or to resort to an alternative channel to crowd-source and broadcast.
As these social and political issues play-out in Asian nations, I think they provide a tragi-comical narrative that has direct relevant to brands from which brand owners can take some important lessons in how to manage their own strategy and approach. It is just as terrifying for brand guardians to lose control of their cherished brand and have people sometimes maliciously, sometimes more innocently, slander a brand in public. But as with managing nations rarely, if ever, does the short term solution involve “shutting down the channels”; even “controlling the flow” of content should be seen as less impactful than understanding the root emotions that drive euphoria or that result in hysteria.
Faced with the menace of the Internet, Asia’s censors are not giving up the ghost
This is an interesting article based on the Economist’s own experience of being censored in countries like Malaysia, China and Thailand. Governments in Asia have long resisted the tide of unfiltered news, rumour and comment washing over their citizens via the Internet. Across Asia, governments find it hard to cede their power to control flows of information. Will they open up with the times, or will censorship prompt immigration and in-fighting? Marketers face exactly the same challenges, but sometimes it is easier to understand why and how to act when the broad principles are played out on a national scale.
China – Get to know netizen speak – the Grass Mud Hut lexicon quiz
(Caution – contains some disturbing questions)
Measure your knowledge of the Chinese web. Is Chongqing “the Sicily of the Orient” or “the even bigger Apple”? Does the New China involve “burying Chairman Mao’s pickled corpse” or a surge in panda population? Behind each of these mainly humorous questions lies a much deeper insight into what is delighting and what outrages public opinion in China. Understanding the broader social and cultural shifts is essential to giving marketers some real substance through which to connect with target audiences – and the Grass Mud Hut lexicon is a good source!
Uzbekistan – Watchout Zuckerberg – Uzbekistan’s government creates Muloqot
The government in Uzbekistan has unveiled its own social network. Currently, Facebook is the most popular social network in the nation, with 83,000 users. This new social network is called Muloqot, which means ‘dialogue’ locally, and is set to launch publicly on the country’s twentieth anniversary of independence on September 1st. The government believes Muloqot “will create conditions…for the formation of high morals, for creation of spurs to successful development of modern knowledge and achievements of technical progress, with objective of realisation of the idea of the comprehensively developed person.”
Smartphone use and its impact on brands in Asia
Smartphones are important to Marketers because they truly empower consumers. In some recent research from Ogilvy on how shoppers use their mobiles through the “shopper” journey we saw strong evidence that at least 70% of shoppers regularly search for products when they are in retail outlets, compare prices and even use their mobiles to download coupons and negotiate prices with retails in store. In most Asian markets even though smartphone penetration is soaring, it is interesting to note how many first-time smartphone owners there are. In Korea for instance 85% of users are first time users, which means that consumers are still in a highly experimental stage of usage – prepared to give anything a go but quick to dismiss and move on. What is most significant for marketers is that the phone is fundamentally changing consumer behaviour. It is changing where and when they access content, and it changes the sort of information they are looking for and in what format. This means that both communications and services need to be designed with mobility in mind. The biggest mistake of most Asian markets is to look at penetration figures and think “they’re not high enough, yet” without realising how much time it is going to take them to change the form, factor and substance of their messages so that they are suitable and engaging to mobile consumers. Learning to build the mobile devices into the marketing mix is as big a task as integrating the fixed internet into the mix; except it all needs to happen in the next 18 months rather than the 18 years we’ve had for the internet.
Google survey reveals smartphone usage trends in Hong Kong
Google has completed its first-ever user survey of smartphone usage around the globe (in thirty different countries), and with it comes the most comprehensive look at smartphone usage in Hong Kong. First of all, only 35% of mobile phones in Hong Kong are smartphones. This still ranks it third in the region, behind Singapore (62%) and Australia (37%). Hong Kong also ranked in the top ten for smartphone users most likely to complete and e-commerce transaction on their phone.
Interviews with Koreans about how they use their smartphones
This is an interesting set of interviews with Koreans. The uptake of smartphones has been transformed by the arrival of the iPhone in late 2009. At this stage very few people had smartphones, just 18 months later and 27% of phones are now “smart”. 85% of smartphone users report that this is their first smartphone, one of the highest proportions of any country in the world – 72% are using search on their smartphones on a daily basis and most of them use the phone as their primary access point to the internet.