In my role working for the most part with different PR agencies and their clients in the earned media space, I’ve very often come across an unhelpful assumption that digital equals social media. For a strategist with this assumption comes a tension, between making the right strategic recommendation to achieve the business objectives of a communications challenge while at the same time needing to demonstrate that sometimes social has a role to play and sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s my view that this assumption, that social is the default, is not based on any logical prioritization of the digital channels at our disposal. Rather, it is based on hype, media coverage of the social channel, and a lack of understanding about which channels are best suited to particular business objectives.
If you look at the usage statistics by channel of the various markets across Asia you see a pattern that often flies in the face of this assumption. By way of an example, I was looking through the ADMA 2012 Yearbook in preparation for a speaking engagement I had a month or so back, with a particular focus on the Hong Kong market. The data in this yearbook (a very, very useful free resource by the way, thank you ADMA) really outlined that social, although important, is not necessarily the right channel to go to first, every time, to reach or engage your audiences.
According to the yearbook, of the approximately five million users online in Hong Kong, portals and search engines have greater reach than Facebook. While Facebook had around 75 percent reach in 2012, Google sites had 82 percent, Microsoft sites (including Bing) had 83 percent, and Yahoo sites had 96 percent.
Beyond Facebook, Sina Weibo the next most popular social platform had only 12 percent reach. When we then drill in to look at what people were actually doing on the social channels we find even more damning evidence. Twenty-three percent of people were using social media to stay in touch with friends, only 5 percent were using it to share content, and only 0.3 percent were using it to talk about a brand or product.
Smartphone data was also really interesting. Hong Kong has around 50 to 60 percent smartphone penetration according to the yearbook and the top activities are searching, emailing, reading the news, checking the weather forecast, and instant messaging. So again, social, while important (in this case in the form of instant messaging) is still a way behind less trendy techniques like search marketing, email marketing, and PR (to influence the news).
So on the evidence of these statistic you would, in Hong Kong at least, place social some way down the list of “must do” digital techniques. Of course, different markets have different data sets and in some cases I am sure social is top of the tree. And there are lies, damned lies and statistics as the saying goes. That’s fine – I’m not trying to diminish social media as a legitimate channel – rather I am trying to make the point that we should all be careful of the assumptions we make about the right channels and techniques to deploy to meet the specific business objectives. Sometimes social is the right solution, sometimes it isn’t. It should not be the automatic default.
In the same way that digital advocates have been pointing out that TV is not and should not be the default channel anymore, we need to be very careful we don’t fall into the same trap by making social the default channel for digital.
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