Southeast Asia's telcos get Facebook-savvy

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Digi Telecom marketed its 4G launch through Facebook.
Digi Telecom marketed its 4G launch through Facebook.

Consumers bought their plans to use social media; now these companies are adopting social media to speak to consumers

Telcos fueled the rapid adoption of social media in Southeast Asia, but they took a bit longer to come around to using the medium to market themselves. Now that is changing, and the tactics these firms are employing on Facebook and Twitter hold lessons for companies of all kinds.

Sometime in 2010, the region’s telecom majors realized that their future growth lay not in voice and SMS but around the Internet and social media. To get users hooked to their data plans, the astute telcos started bundling offerings such as Facebook access, chat messenger and Twitter for free for a certain trial period.

And the rest, as they say, is history. 

The migration from offline to online connectivity in this part of the world, where rallying around friends and family is a part of people’s genetic make-up, was fairly seamless. That said, the speed of adoption of social media in Southeast Asia has baffled many, including the telcos themselves.

In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Paul Webster, head of telco/tech for Facebook, referred to a TNS study that showed Thais spending more time on Facebook than on TV, even during prime time. 

According to Facebook’s own estimates, the average time spent by Thais on Facebook is two hours and 45 minutes per day. No surprise then that the number of daily active users (DAUs) as of March 2015 on this leading social-media platform has grown by 35 per cent in one year in Thailand, touching 23 million. The number of mobile daily active users (MDAUs) in Thailand alone has grown by 40 per cent in just a year. Indonesia is on a roll too, with 38 million DAUs. More than 90 per cent of people that come back to Facebook every day do so on mobile.

Asia Pacific is likely to be the region where the next billion Internet users will come from. "The success of social media has turned the traditional advertising model on its head," Webster said. "In this business if you are not one step ahead, you are actually moving backwards. While telcos fuelled the social-media revolution in Southeast Asia, the question remains if they themselves understand the urgency and immediacy of leveraging the potential this platform offers in addressing their own business objectives."

All telecom players aspire for brand differentiation, customer retention and loyalty but in predominantly pre-paid markets of Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, these goals are the toughest to achieve. With a fiercely price sensitive consumer who switches between service providers at will, the telcos lack the demographic data that has traditionally been the cornerstone of nurturing loyalty or running focused campaigns.

Thus, when Indosat, a leading Indonesian telecom network, wanted to raise awareness about its ‘Super Internet’ service in a crowded mobile market, it turned to Facebook. The business objective was to specifically target subscribers in 14 cities where it had deployed a new high-speed mobile data network.

Firstly, it worked on building broader awareness of the new product, targeting all 15- to 40-year-old Indonesians. Going forward, the service provider specifically targeted its advertising at people who weren’t already Indosat subscribers—to avoid nuisance and repetitiveness. This was achieved using a custom segment that separates the IP address of existing subscribers from new ones. Featuring images of real people enjoying benefits of the service, the campaign ran in News Feed, using a target block that guarantees reach and a large number of impressions over 72 hours.

In less than six weeks, the brand recorded a 19-point lift in ad recall among 25- to 40-year-olds, according to Nielsen’s Brand Effect. "We gained 26,000 new subscribers thanks to our Facebook activity," said Prashant Gokarn, chief strategy and planning officer, Indosat. "And unlike other ad platforms, we were able to accurately measure the return on investment."

According to Webster, some astute telecom companies are using Facebook a lot like television. "The conversation starts with identifying the business goals," he said. "From attaining reach and conversions at massive scale to brand building through targeted engagement leading to sales and loyalty, and finally offering accurate measurement for each activity, CMOs are slowly understanding Facebook’s vast potential."

The challenge for Facebook is to move the telecom players from the yardstick of fan volume and likes to total reach, resonance and reaction. "The lift of subscribers when exposed to a media and the ability of a campaign to drive online transactions are real business goals being addressed on Facebook," Webster said.

Malaysia-based Digi Telecommunications took advantage of Facebook’s conversion-tracking tool to measure the effectiveness of a campaign last year. The objective was to create a buzz around the year-end-sale of mobile plans bundled together with certain devices. The brand was able to achieve an 11% lift among the key audience and 63,554 new devices sold on the DiGi network to people who were exposed to Facebook ads in the space of one month.

Social back channel
With the power of recommendations and word of mouth, social media has become a key driver influencing purchase decisions. The challenge, however, is that what used to be a private conversation between a complainer and a brand via its call center has escalated into a public forum via Facebook and Twitter. Smart telcos have been quick to address this and are now manning response centers on social media as part of their social customer-care programs. 

Social Bakers recently listed Indonesia’s telecom leader, Telkomsel, as the world’s top socially devoted brand for Q1 of 2015. Thailand’s DTAC has embedded a socially viewable 24-hour app that sits on Facebook; subscribers can check their current packages, choose or change features on their mobile plans and sign up for additional services.

Going forward, telcos — and brands of all kinds — need to realize that social engagement comes in two forms: positive and negative. Besides ensuring customer satisfaction, they need to ensure that net promotor scores, that measure the likeliness of consumers to recommend a brand to their friends and family, remain high especially in pre-paid markets, where loyalty to a telco is rare and price sensitive.

According to Webster, there is a need for telecom companies to step up their act and own this space. "An indication of how fast our region (Asia Pacific) is growing can be seen from data at the end of 2014: Asia saw 28% year-on-year growth in DAUs to 242 million, and 21% YOY growth in MAUs to 426 million."

Besides urging telcos to use images of people rather than product packaging in their campaigns and creating specific content for mobiles, Webster stressed the growing popularity of videos. When DTAC launched a video ad on Facebook to increase awareness about its 4G launch, it counted 623,000 video plays and reached 17.3 million unique people in six weeks.

"With Facebook ads, we’ve been able to gain both awareness and engagement for our brand on a mass scale," said Sigvart Voss Erriksen, CMO, of Total Access Communication. "Out of millions of people using Facebook, we were able to narrow down to just the non-DTAC mobile subscribers in Thailand to achieve impressive results." 

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