It’s easy to dismiss and laugh at the nonsense on social media: “It’s a Runny Nose Monday for me,” posts someone on Facebook; “Wardrobe malfunction at 8 a.m. Oh yeah,” tweets another; “Bazingaaaa!”, quotes someone on the recently launched Google+.

We’ve all heard plenty of similar drivel produced online, and even contributed to the growing pile of gibberish at one point, but the question today isn’t even about the dumbest thing posted on these social networks. It’s about how a service with bite-size messages can be smart, useful, and as most businesses are slowly discovering now, even necessary.

Twitter, for one, has grown far beyond its circles of tech enthusiasts and social networkers. Businesses like Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are now using the social network as a platform to launch marketing promos and respond to customer queries and complaints. The traffic enforcing Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) uses it to update its followers, in real time, about traffic- and flood-related situations across the metro.

Even politicians like Senator Pia Cayetano are using it as a medium to promote their platforms and advocacies. Social media, and the digital world in general, has become a new media powerhouse without us even realizing it.

McCann Relationship Marketing (MRM) Worldwide Managing Director Donald Lim attributes this to the now-defunct social network that started it all: Friendster. “The ‘Internet Quotient’ of Filipinos exploded with the rise of Friendster,” says Lim.

Back then the theory was Social Capital, wherein people wanted to get more friends in the belief that it increases their social value. “If you only had three friends, that was considered sad,” he recalls, “but with Facebook now, it’s different. You don’t even judge that anymore because there’s also security involved. Now people have even taken to limiting who could view their photos, posts, etc.”


Order in the Digital Chaos

Facebook was really the tipping point that made marketers worldwide pause and consider going digital. “Facebook brought the Internet to life,” says Lim, “because back then, marketers—the older generation—didn’t really go to Friendster. The few times they tried marketing their products in the platform, it didn’t work. The industry over-promised and under-delivered.”

It was only last year when digital was viewed as an effective tool in marketing. “The tipping point,” asserts Lim, “was the presidential elections.” Most of the presidential candidates launched campaigns with strategic online components, and it was during this time that local brand managers realized the potential of digital as a branding tool.

“If a brand has a need for engagement and affinity, and you’re already doing TV and print campaigns, maganda siyang tandem with digital,” Lim says, emphasizing that it shouldn’t be solely digital alone. “If you only have a fan page or a website, what will that do for you? For better business and marketing results, it has to be digital and above-the-line platforms,” he says.

What used to be chunk change in the marketing budget is slowly becoming part of a brand’s main marketing strategy. “Back then, digital was like the Queen in a game of chess,” says Lim. “You don’t know how to use it, so you use it for everything. But now alam mo na kung paano ang laro because it’s a more strategic approach that we use today.”


Digital Brand Health
If you survey the online scene today, you’ll notice how different brands attack online marketing. “Kanya kanyang execution,” puts in Lim. Some regard going digital as merely having a website and a fan page, but determining the overall health of a brand goes beyond putting up the necessary online infrastructure.

Digital brand health is a way for companies to gauge whether their brand is doing well in the Internet. It has four components, informs Lim, two of which involve assessment of your digital assets and digital liabilities. Assets are web sites, fan pages and blogs that you own, while liabilities are the exact opposite.

“Believe it or not, almost every brand has hate sites,” shares Lim. “For example, we manage Coke and we have to contend with There’s also an,…these are sites created against your brand, making them liabilities. It isn’t just a bad comment from a customer, because that dies down eventually.”

Another component of digital brand health is a brand’s digital reputation, “where lalabas lahat ng mentions that can either be positive or negative, on a forum, message boards, social networks and blogs,” says Lim. In MRM, Lim shares that they have a tool similar to Google that measures all the mentions.

“It’s like a search engine,” he explains, “and it crawls the whole Internet and lalabas na lahat ng mentions. We tag each mention, and how your brand’s online rep fares depends on whether your ratings are negative or positive.”

The last component is a brand’s digital footprint, which include user-generated videos and a brand’s Google search ranking. “We look at these four components holistically,” shares Lim, “and that’s why every time we present to a client, we tell them that this is the health of their brand now. We act like doctors in the sense that we point out problem areas we want to fix.”


Managing Existing Conversations
According to Lim, progress is happening at an exponential rate that even the current Digital Brand Health model will soon be challenged. There is also location-based marketing to consider. “We see a lot of check-ins, augmented reality, and other forms of technology coming into the picture,” he says.

Given that it’s quite difficult to initiate new conversations online without adding to the digital noise we encounter these days, Lim says the trick is really to just “manage existing conversations. In essence, for people to really respond to you, you have to be with them, among them. What makes a fan page spectacular, for example, is when a brand is really part of that community. You talk to them. Hindi basta basta comment na lang because you have to carefully measure what you say and how you engage your consumers.”

Lim further predicts a more exciting future for the digital realm. “Filipinos are very tribal in the sense that we pick our tools in terms of affinity,” observes Lim. “There are the influencers, the early adaptors, and then soon, everybody’s joining the bandwagon. We’re not a fragmented population. We follow the leads, the trends. And indications are good—marketing will see more and more Filipinos going digital. Especially with the younger generations taking over as brand managers.”

Published in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin, August 15, 2011