S'pore: Social media trumps paid keyword ads

U.K. government spent over US$9 million in two years to influence search engine results, according to report. Here in Singapore, public agencies say social media is online platform of choice for campaigns.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

When it comes to online campaigns, social media is preferred over search keyword advertising, say two Singapore government agencies.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Janice Wee, lead manager for resource development at the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB), said social media is as one of the agency's key communication channels to the public. According to her, HPB disseminates its messages through its corporate Facebook page, as well as its Twitter and YouTube accounts.

Apart from the central HPB Facebook account, Wee shared that separate Facebook pages are created for specific programs. She pointed out that a "Lose to Win" page was created for the participants of a weight management challenge to support one another, while another page called "Breathe.sg" was targeted at youth to discourage smoking.

Over at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), Facebook and YouTube have proven to be effective platforms for its campaigns.

Earlier this year, a television commercial which promoted family values was circulated on YouTube and Facebook, garnering strong support from users of the sites within a short timeframe. The video clip and a contest currently held on Facebook received the thumbs-up from about 5,000 viewers and 14,000 people, respectively, according to a report by Marketing-Interactive.com.

Social media is gaining the attention of governments worldwide as a way to engage with the public. However, industry watchers have also warned that governments should set a clear and well-defined social media strategy to prevent potential backlash.

When asked about the use of keyword search advertising for their online campaigns, both HPB and MCYS said they have not tried the option.

Richard Tan, director of MCYS' communications and international relations division, pointed in an e-mail that keyword search advertising was "not even thought of" in the ministry's media mix.

"Our ad agencies have so far not mentioned anything about it in their proposals or discussions with us," he said. "Perhaps they think it is not effective or not relevant for our government campaigns."

It is a different picture, however, in the United Kingdom. Four U.K. government agencies were found to have invested almost 6 million pounds (US$9.24 million) over two years as part of efforts to promote campaigns on smoking and the flu pandemic. By paying search engines, advertisers can ensure their Web site links appear alongside organic search results--search results based on the engine's algorithm.

In the report, the reason cited by a U.K. ministry for using search keyword advertising were search engines' prevalence in citizens' lives, which makes keyword advertising "a cost-effective way of getting important information to a large audience".

Since June 2010, the U.K. government has initiated a freeze on marketing and advertising campaigns. It reported the move has saved about 6.5 million pounds (US$10 million) in the first month alone when compared to the previous year's spending.

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