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Social media most evolved in S'pore

Singaporeans want their virtual world to be similar to that of their real lives, finds new global survey, which also reveals that online consumers don't want marketers to turn social media into "marketplace".
Written by Tyler Thia, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The city-state is among the world's most evolved social media markets and its people's national pastime, shopping, is clearly reflected in their online habits, according to a research conducted by Firefly Millward Brown.

Released during a press briefing here Thursday, the survey findings revealed that Singaporeans' lives converge online and offline, where their families, friends, interests, work and hobbies could be found in the tangible as well as virtual world.

Nichola Rastrick, managing director of the research firm, said: "For example, if they can see branded products in a shop, they expect to also find them in an online environment." This was unlike other countries in the region, where Internet users relied on social media more for communication, she said.

Covering 15 countries including Singapore, China, India and the United States, the qualitative survey was developed based on the observations of 32 selected bloggers in each country, according to the Firefly.

Christoper Madison, the company's regional director of digital strategy, said Singapore's evolved social landscape is due to the fact that its citizens are brand-savvy and genuinely want to be associated with fashion brands even in the digital world.

"The things that they do in [Singapore's shopping strip] Orchard Road, can be very similar to what they are doing online, such as to find out more about discounts and events offered by the popular brands," said Madison.

Hence, he noted that companies and marketers are also more proactive in making their online presence felt by engaging consumers through Facebook and other social media platforms, in the form of viral videos and regular news updates.

Besides shopping, food blogs and banks were also some of the more popular "encounters", or mentions, in Singapore's social media scene, according to the survey.

It added that easy and cheap access to the Internet, as well as the comfort level with going online, are some of the reasons why social media is more pervasive here.

While the study showed that the experience and behavior of social media users did not vary too much among the 15 countries surveyed, the "shopping association" was less obvious in Thailand and Indonesia.

Firefly's findings revealed the Thais used social media to create a sense of community, and much of the online conversation revolved around expressions of friendship and connectedness.

Indonesians, however, regarded social media as a way to establish social status, success and as a platform for self-promotion.

Rastrick added that mobile penetration rate is extremely high in Indonesia, and with the constant traffic jams, platforms that provide brief and quick means of communicating such as Twitter are gaining popularity.

And while Facebook might not be readily available in China, the country's online citizens were still active participants on social media networks, turning instead to local platforms such as Renren for online conversations, according to Firefly.

However, due to the restriction of Facebook, Chinese social media users felt left out of global dialogues, the survey found.

Businesses still figuring out social reach
But while social media may be the rage now, companies and marketers are still grasping to find the right way to reach out to consumers, according to Firefly.

Rastrick explained that the survey findings clearly showed that consumers did not want social platforms to turn into an avenue to hawk goods and services. Instead, they wanted marketers to engage them in dialogues, she said.

She warned that the biggest mistake marketers can make is to treat social media networks as a "marketplace".

Madison added that businesses should cultivate a two-way conversation with the online community and establish a proper social media team to run effective campaigns.

"It's easier to get on than [keep a campaign going]... Once you start something in the social media space, it is a commitment," he said.

Using Singapore as an example, Madison said consumers are savvy and know what they want, and companies should invest in the social media space to respond to this market.

He also identified some rules for social media engagement, such as being selective about the platforms and using tactics to motivate the influencers and social media "stars", or high-profile social personalities. This can be achieved by having good knowledge of the local market, he added.

Other rules include paying attention to small details, allowing negative comments so that consumers can make informed decisions, and building social media credentials through "humanization" of the brand, he suggested.

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