Asia-Pacific online users are resentful toward big brands that invade their social networks, and businesses need to recognize this if they want to reach out to these consumers more effectively, according to a new study released Thursday by TNS.
The research firm found that many businesses worldwide were developing profiles on social networks such as Facebook or YouTube, to engage with their customers quickly and more cost effectively. However, if these efforts were not carefully targeted, they would be wasted on 51 percent of online users in the Asia-Pacific region.
The study found that 57 percent of people in the world's developed markets did not want to engage with brands through social media. In the Asia-Pacific region, these markets included Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The report noted that 66 percent of respondents in South Korea did not want to communicate with brands on social networking platforms. In contrast, Singapore and Hong Kong ranked the lowest for developed markets in Asia-Pacific, with 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively, indicating similar sentiments.
Misguided digital strategies also generated mountains of "digital waste", from "friendless" Facebook accounts to blogs that were not read by anyone. Alongside an increasing content produced by consumers, 59 percent of consumers in Asia-Pacific now commented about brands online.
Arnaud Frade, regional director of digital strategy of TNS Asia-Pacific, described digital waste as the accumulation of thousands of brands rushing online without thinking who they want to talk to, and why.
This would result in huge volumes of "noise" polluting the digital world, making it harder for brands to be heard and presenting a major challenge for businesses trying to enter into dialogue with consumers online, Frade said in the report.
While 60 percent of online users in Asia-Pacific said social networks were a good place to learn about products, the survey noted that most brands needed to harnass digital more carefully if they were to use it to their advantage and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.
"Winning and retaining customers is harder than ever," said Frade. "Whilst there are obvious and very significant opportunities for brands online, success will only come from a deliberate strategy, considered tactics and careful tailoring, aligned to a market, channel, category or even a group of individuals. Getting this wrong and adding to the cacophony of noise in the onlineworld risks alienating potential customers and impacting business growth."
Conducted by TNS, the study polled more than 72,000 consumers in 60 countries to find out how they behave online and why they do what they do. Asia-Pacific countries included Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
"Catch-all" approach unsuitable with geographical differences
According to the survey findings, there were big geographical contrasts which highlighted the risks of brands employing a "catch-all" approach which did not consider the needs of different consumers.
Some fast-growing markets were found to be more open to brands on social networks. Some 41 percent of Filipinos noted that they did not want to be bothered by these brands, compared to 55 percent of Vietnamese users. On the other hand, 66 percent of respondents across fast-growing countries in the region saw social networks as a good place to learn about brands.
However, brands must still plan and manage online engagement carefully to avoid alienating consumers and doing more harm than good, Frade said.
"While many brand owners understand the value and relevance of the vast online world, many fail to understand the audience they are connecting with," he explained. "Control is firmly in the hands of the consumers. The goal should therefore be to understand your target audience intimately, enabling your brand to connect openly and with integrity. This also means that selecting the right online approach and focusing on efficient messaging are critical to be relevant."
Why people engage online
Some 45 percent of those in Asia-Pacific were motivated to post comments on companies for the simple desire to impart advice to other online users--with Japanese being the most helpful online at 53 percent.
The study also found that more people in the region were more likely to take to the Internet to praise, at 14.6 percent, than complain, at 10 percent. Keeping true to this "friendly culture", 23 percent of Thais and 22 percent of Filipinos were most likely to praise online, while the Chinese and Japanese tied as the least likely in the region to praise online, at 11 percent. South Koreans, at 12 percent, were most likely to complain about brands online.
However, motivations of online commentators could be "self-serving", with 68 percent of consumers in the region driven to engage with brands online by a promotion or special offer.
While a quarter of people in developed markets viewed social networks as a place to buy products, 48 percent of fast-growth markets said the same. Some of the most eager online consumers were from India, with 59 percent seeing social networks as a good place to buy products from brands.
Fast-growth Asia-Pacific markets included China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Frade noted: "Across the region, Internet access is a source of empowerment as much as it is a source of future trade, none more so than in those markets where mobile platforms are becoming the primary way to get online.
"The power of an effective, considered online presence can enable brands to harnass the massive potential of fast growing markets to deliver superior consumer engagement and very tangible ROI (returns on investment)."