Malaysian firms warm up to new media, slowly

New media will take off in Malaysia when local advertisers and companies realize social networks can help attract their targeted audience, say industry watchers.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

MALAYSIA--Enterprises in the country are becoming more aware of the impact and reach of new media, but there is some ways to go before they use the platform widely, say industry players.

Claus Mortensen, IDC's principal for digital marketplace and new media, noted that while the research firm does not track vendors or service providers engaging in new media as a tool for marketing, it has seen many anecdotal examples of such activities.

"The big global brands are the ones that have been pushing the use of new media for marketing and brand-building purposes in Asia," Mortensen told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. "However, Asian companies, including those in Malaysia, have been a bit slower to embrace it."

The IDC analyst said two factors contribute to this phenomenon: eyeballs and relevance. "Advertisers will always go where the eyeballs are--where people will see ads," he explained. "As people spend more time online and less on traditional media, it makes sense to move online because the Internet is a much better platform for getting your ads to reach relevant eyeballs."

Mortensen added that in the online space, companies have a higher chance of getting their advertisements viewed by consumers who might be interested in their products, instead of a random audience. For example, he noted, a camera vendor would advertise at a online forum dedicated to cameras, as it is more likely everyone browsing that forum will be attentive to the advertisement.

Vlasta Berka, general manager of Nokia Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, said people are communicating in different ways than before. "[Today], social media and new media have become more widespread," Berka said, adding that Nokia itself taps social media through programs such as its Nokia Insider. Through this initiative, he said, bloggers would have access to the mobile phone maker's latest devices via seeding or loans, so they could try first-hand the technology it offers.

"With social media, we look beyond marketing as it's about creating open communications and dialog with audiences that are interested in having a conversation with us," he explained. "It's a two-way conversation, and not [just] one-way marketing."

According to Sreedhar Subramaniam, CEO of online news portal, The Malaysian Insider, new media is still nascent in the country but advertisers will start taking note of Web sites and new media if they can attract the right visitors. The Malaysian Insider was launched last March and mainly reports political and economic news.

"With the Internet, anyone can have access to information and the public can also have a point of convergence," Subramaniam told ZDNet Asia in an interview. "But, for advertisers to seriously take note, Web sites must have relevant and credible information for their readers and at least 100,000 unique visitors per month."

He said Insider had targeted 250,000 unique visitors in the first year of operation but managed to secure over 700,000 unique visitors since its inception. "Besides this, advertisers have begun knocking on our door, ahead of our own expectations," he added.

Not that easy, not for everyone
Despite the potential new media platforms bring to the market, Subramaniam acknowledged it is still not easy to convert new media business as acceptable and profitable as mainstream platforms.

He said he operated Insider on a lean model, by using open source technology to host his content and employing 22 people. The company has yet to break even, but the CEO said he expects to garner positive cash flow on a month-to-month basis by end-2009.

"We've been fortunate as we were the early birds that entered this space, offering a breath of fresh air where news is concerned," he said. "But, we've still some ways to go as we want to be a full-fledged [online] publication offering an entire spread of news to our readers, not just politics and economics. Only then will more advertisers bite."

Biresh Vrajlal, director of Infynyte PR, noted that new media platforms do not suit every type of business, but agreed that social networks could be used as a powerful marketing tool to reach specific audiences. Infynyte is a public relations company specializing in clubs, fashion and music industries. The firm does not have a Web site, but markets itself and its clients solely by using Facebook.

"I've never promoted any of the events and PR functions we've organized using traditional flyers or print ads," Vrajlal said in an interview. "To me, using 'old media' is a waste of money and I rely solely on Facebook because its interactivity and networking elements allow me to personally reach out to my audience."

He added that word-of-mouth marketing is most effective, and this is also most effectively done through social mediums such as Facebook. However, Vrajlal said not all industries can benefit from these new platform, noting that early adopters include companies in lifestyle and events-based markets. He added that industries that rely on people-based marketing would benefit more from promoting their companies via new media platforms.

Regardless, IDC's Mortensen believes traditional brick-and-mortar businesses will eventually have to embrace new media platforms to reach their customers. "A company will have to ask itself whether it wants to engage its customers in every way possible," he said. "For now, face-to-face meetings will remain the most personal way of engaging customers, but the Internet is fast becoming the best and most effective platform to engage customers."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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