Social networking has been a goldmine for many of the businesses proffering their products or services via social mediums. In most western markets, businesses join social networks both to share information and engage with customers. However, research shows that Asian companies are not as keen on using social media tools, or at least have different interests when it comes to social networking.

According to research done by public relations company Burson-Marsteller, less than half of companies listed in the Asia 200 Index of the Wall Street Journal use social networks. Of these, more 55% are inactive, or actually just using their social media accounts as name- and place-holders. In contrast, 79% of major companies in the world actively use social media as part of their corporate communication strategies.

Bob Pickard, President and CEO of B-M believes that Asian companies should better leverage social media and its increased user uptake in the region. He adds, "Few companies are approaching this area strategically; most appear largely driven by short-term marketing considerations, or are hampered by concerns about resourcing, cost or lack of control over message and content."

Local Sites Dominate

A separate study by Gartner (newssite) has determined that use of social networking in Asia is largely dominated by local brands or locally-developed social networks. "While global sites fare better in more westernized Asian markets such as Australia, some of Asia’s biggest markets have evolved their own unique social network services distinct from those of Europe and North America," says Nick Ingelbrecht, Gartner's research director.

A big part of social networking done in Asian countries is mainly niche-based. For example, in Japan, China and South Korea, social networking tends to revolve around online games. Meanwhile, in India, online dating and matchmaking sites are among the most popular. 

The Asia-Pacific region actually has some of the earliest success stories in the social marketing realm. Websites like Friendster, Cyworld, Mixi and RenRen have thrived in Asian markets. However, outliers remain. For example, some countries in the region are big users of social media. In the Philippines, Facebook is the #1 visited site.

Also notable among Asian users is the prevalence of mobile use, particularly in emerging markets, where mobile penetration greatly outweighs traditional means of accessing the Internet and social networks (i.e., computers).

Engaging Stakeholders

There are marked differences with how companies use social media to communicate with their audience. On one end of the spectrum are businesses that simply use social media tools to push information. On the other end is a scenario where representatives actually engage the audience actively.

Somewhere in between are companies that use social networks as customer service hotlines, and manage video channels for interactive programming. In the analysis of the Asian scenario, most companies are using social media to soften their corporate image, in a way that tends to minimize interaction, particularly negative comments.

Engaging stakeholders involves a two-way dialog. This is often measured in posts by third parties about a company's services, products or general brand image, and how a company responds to these through different channels. This mechanism sometimes produces negative feedback, which businesses might be averse to. However, effective social CRM will often entail both positive and negative consumer commentary.

One way or another, a disgruntled customer is probably writing bad reviews about your product or service. The lesson here is that businesses should learn to address these issues head-on, by using social mediums to actually engage the stakeholders and address their concerns through their chosen medium.