Compared with their Western counterparts, Asian firms are still in the nascent stage when it comes to using Twitter, said public relations managers who strongly support the idea of firms adopting the technology for building brands.
"Many companies tend to set up a Twitter account because it's trendy, but they fail to use it to its fullest potential," said Mayda Jutahkiti, deputy general manager at The Hoffman Agency Singapore.
Some bigger brands may have started using Twitter, but Willy Lim, co-founder of Singapore-based NetProfitQuest, noted that not many small and midsized businesses (SMBs) have jumped onto the Twitter bandwagon yet.
The SMB marketing trainer added that even for SMBs that have started using the microblogging service, the platform is usually used as an extension to their Facebook page to function as another broadcast channel.
According to Jutahkiti, apart from publicizing the latest information about a brand and directing traffic to the firm's landing page, Twitter is great at building individual relationships as well as tracking the sentiments surrounding a brand and its competitors.
Bob Grove, managing director for Edelman Southeast Asia, said Twitter has become a dominant online channel for news and views of technology brands across the region. In a nine-month tracking of online conversations in Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, Edelman found that brands are increasingly using Twitter to broadcast product announcements and support marketing campaigns.
However, it is not all gloom and doom. Hoffman's Jutahkiti noted that brands such as budget carrier AirAsia and Singapore-based microbrewery restaurant Brewerkz have invested time and effort, and have done well in using Twitter to reach their target markets.
"AirAsia beefs up its tweets with photos, contests, promotions and travel information, as well as tunes into users' queries, providing real-time answers and responses," she said.
"Brewerkz takes the effort to track positive reviews and thank the tweeple tweeting them," she said. Tweetple is a combination of "tweet" and "people" and refers to those who tweet.
She added that apart from updating their followers on discounts and promotions, Brewerkz also takes the extra effort to engage in conversations with followers even if these conversations have nothing to do with the brand.
Grove also pointed out that Asian car manufacturers Kia Motors, Tata Motors and Toyota are also great examples of brands "at the forefront of creating a direct dialogue with customers".
Twitter vs. SMS
Although both are limited to around 160 characters, Twitter wins hands down when compared with the more traditional SMS advertising.
"There really is no comparison," said Grove. "Much SMS advertising is seen as spam, while in the right hands, Twitter can become one of the closest connections that a consumer has with a brand."
Jutahkiti pointed out that Twitter is opt-in and followers are more likely to listen to what the company has to say, compared with SMS advertising's push marketing.
She added that followers can choose when and where they want to receive Twitter updates, but mobile phones are more personal, so SMS advertising can be seen as intrusive.
Tips for managing Twitter accounts
While Twitter is proving to be successful in branding, Grove cautioned firms against relying on just one channel and recommended a multi-channel, multi-message approach instead.
Policies and guidelines are critical and should be put in place when it comes to managing the company's Twitter relationship with its clients, he added. Other than that, the person in charge of the account should enjoy building a relationship and should be passionate about the brand.
The company should also know how to manage streams of information and results arising from the Twitter account. Tools such as Tweetdeck will help with categorizing and structuring information, but the success is "much more about commitment than it is about technology", he added.
Jutahkiti added that the person in charge must be able to sustain a conversation with timely and quality responses. "Invest in someone who has good communication skills, can dedicate the time, and has enough knowledge of the brand and service or product," she said. "Think about him or her as someone advocating your brand and managing many conversations at once."