Social media has become a major part of everyday life. Often these platforms get a reputation for sharing food choices or selfies, and the usage numbers show that Thailand’s social media has one of the highest usage rates in the world, yet there has been limited understanding of the importance of and the role it plays as a catalyst for business.
What we can see in Thailand, especially from a business perspective, irrespective of the size of the business, is the use of social to market and sell directly to consumers. There are more and more businesses using social media to engage directly with consumers. From those that are everywhere, like Facebook, YouTube, and Line, through the less hyped but no less important, such as LinkedIn and even the humble blog, social media is transforming how businesses communicate and engage with their customers.
According to research conducted by Marketbuzzz in May 2017, among n=2,000 business owners and employees, social media is impacting on business in several ways:
- Social media plays an essential role in how consumers discover, research, and share information about brands and products. In fact, around 60% of consumers who researched products online learned about a specific retailer or brand through social networking sites. Active social media users are more likely to read product reviews online. (Marketbuzzz, 2016)
- Not only has social media become an important medium for advertising, it is has become a key medium for direct, one-to- one communication between brands and consumers.
- Social media has greatly diversified the channels companies need to use to communicate with consumers.
- Consumption is increasingly becoming a public performance through social media, which is increasing the power of social influence.
- Becoming social is no longer a choice for business. It is essential for customer engagement.
According to Grant Bertoli, CEO of Marketbuzzz, the unprecedent- ed levels of access that these platforms provide allow everyone to connect directly with potential customers and buyers on an indi- vidual basis, at a much lower cost than ever before. Social media platforms have been and will continue to be an effective and efficient way of creating a sense of community with customers. These platforms also enable companies to collect important feedback about their products, services, and business in general, so it’s not surprising to see Thais leveraging this platform for business as well as personal use.
The Marketbuzzz research on social media usage in Thailand also showed that Thai businesses are already intensely using social media and messaging platforms to run and grow their businesses:
- 89% of those interviewed are using social media within their businesses. This is across all business sizes: small, medium, and large.
- Just as important, if not more so, is the level of usage, as over 70% are using social media daily.
- Impact on the business is critical, with 15% claiming they “depend on it” and 68% claiming it “benefits their business significantly”.
- While email is still prominent, Line and Facebook are being used as platforms to connect with customers or potential customers. 58% are using Line within their companies; 35% are using Facebook.
- The top four main reasons for using social media according to business owners are “providing customer service” (46%), “finding new customers” (39%), “maintaining relationships with existing customers” (37%), and “publicising events and promotions” (36%).
According to Dr Daniel McFarlane, a digital communication scholar based at Thammasat University in Thailand, the Marketbuzzz research findings indicate that businesses need to consider five key insights when developing their communication strategy:
- All market segments are using social media, but they are using it differently. Dr McFarlane says, “The communication landscape is increasingly fragmented. A communication strategy cannot depend on one or two channels; it must incorporate multiple channels to encompass any given target market. If companies focus too much on one channel like Facebook, Line and especially email, they will lose engagement chances through other channels.”
- Consumers expect to communicate with businesses using social media and messaging apps. “No longer is having a phone number and email address enough. Consumers now expect to communicate directly with small and large businesses using social media and messaging platforms like Line,” Dr McFarlane explained.
- Social media provides an opportunity to leverage the power of social influence. According to Dr McFarlane, “word of mouth has always been essential for the success of small businesses, but platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Line are empowering small businesses to harness word of mouth in ways that were not possible before. A well-planned strategy that takes into account communication behaviours of influential customers can drive business growth.”
- Consumers will share emotions, complaints, and photos of products and goods consumed. Dr McFarlane recommends companies “embrace the trend” because it represents an opportunity for business growth. He explains that “expressing emotions and consumption choices is increasingly a public performance. In the past, the consumption of ideas and products was a private affair. Due to social media, this has changed for many people. Businesses should see this as an opportunity to build their brand and promote themselves.” But he stresses that getting the channel right is key.
- Consumers use different channels for different purposes and different sets of social contacts. While Thais tend to have vastly more social connections on Facebook than on Line, Dr McFarlane argues that this doesn’t mean companies should focus only on Facebook if they want to achieve a viral effect. According to the science of social contagion and viral marketing, social influence is strongest when transmitted between close social connections such as best friends and close family members. Therefore, Dr McFarlane says that businesses need to consider whether they want to reach a high quantity of consumers or whether they want to reach fewer consumers but with a greater punch.
Written by Grant Bertoli, CEO – Marketbuzzz at Buzzebees Co Ltd