Lessons From The SMU = NTU Ad

Now that the SMU = NTU ad buzz is dying down (or is it just picking up? TIMM Guru put an ad up on Google for people to discover why NTU used the keywords), I think it’s important to look at a few lessons from the whole fiasco:

1) Track What’s Happening

I set up a Google Alert for “SMU NTU” yesterday and quite a few people picked this up, as well as the front page of Singapore Daily. If you’re a company, especially in our small market in Singapore, can you afford this kind of negative publicity? Even if there’s no “new media” person at your company, the least you should do is set up a Google Alert for your company’s name.

2) Respond Quickly

But it’s not enough to know that people are talking about you. You need to respond. Fast. I know on the comments page of sg_ljers one NTU student is valiantly trying to defend the school, but it isn’t working. To be fair, for all we know this could have been the result of a genuine mistake, maybe the mistake was on Google’s part, maybe it’s a typo. The fact is we will not know because NTU chose to keep quiet. It’s going to hit 48 hours since the news was first posted and the blogosphere will move on. People will forever remember the incident as a “fault” of NTU’s, simply because they did not take the opportunity to engage and respond.

3) Your Brand Isn’t What You say It Is, It’s What Google & The Internet Says It Is

The commenter on sg_ljers said:

But I just want to highlight how easily people can draw conclusions based on what they see (which is worse than conclusions based on what they don’t see). Hasn’t it occurred to anyone that SMU might have the same tactic? Hasn’t it occurred to you that maybe NTU is not behind that link? Personally I wouldn’t think that the NTU corp comm would be so dumb as to ruin their own reputation like that.

Yes, bloggers draw conclusions at face value and quickly and will look for the most controversial story instead of the most likely one (although in this case they are probably the same). We’re not journalists, we’re not going to do research or contact NTU Corporate Communications to find out. We will just blog. And the internet will represent it as such. And who reads the internet? Well…

4) Know Your Audience

If this appeared in the Straits Times forum, you can bet NTU would have responded quickly. But choosing not to join the conversation online may be their biggest folly. Who’s reading print? Not me. Probably people much older than me. Who’s on the internet? Who’s picking up this story on Twitter? Your prospective students (or from a business perspective, prospective customers). Just because the discussion is not via your media of choice, does not mean the people in that discussion do not matter. They could matter more.

5) The Internet Is Permanent

Google “SMU NTU” now and you’ll see the SMU = NTU ad as the first link. Now every year new students are going to compare the two business schools and see this issue as well as this (from Tomorrow.sg):

They will draw their own conclusions. I’m betting those conclusions aren’t positive. Again, your brand is what Google says it is.

Finally, I ran this article not to be sensational or controversial for the sake of being controversial, but as an experiment to see if NTU would reply, even with an explicit call out. I think the results speak for themselves.

My word of advice to all companies would be not to ignore what is said about you online. The content creators (ie bloggers, Youtube video creators, Flickr posters, podcasters) are the new gatekeepers of the online community. This one post led to all those other online posts which will enjoy the multiplier effect via word of mouth to reach thousands (more if it were Xiaxue). And you ignore them at your peril.

By the way I can’t seem to replicate the results anymore. Can you? Result of NTU getting rid of the ad? We’ll probably never know. Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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5 Responses to “Lessons From The SMU = NTU Ad”

  1. bodytreats Says:

    If I have not taken the social media module (opps, I am still taking), I won’t be able to nod at all your ideas.

    Well, what can we say more about the need for companies to respond quickly to what has been discussed online.

    I can only wish N** all the best. I can’t believe the spelling error would even happen.

  2. CommunicateAsia » Blog Archive » 103. SMU students Learn About Social Media Through Their Own Initiative Says:

    […] Recently students in my social media course at SMU uncovered a Google search showing a paid ad for a competing university.  You can find the original post here. This post then led to a bit of discussion and responses (response 1, response 2, response 3, response 4, response 5,  response 6). […]

  3. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Bodytreats: Yeah even though the ad has been removed, there’s still no word from any party, which is kind of disappointing.

  4. chloe Says:

    okayy to be fair, smu has had our share of slipshot advertising too.


    and i don’t know why the 3 major unis are so aggressive when it comes to advertising. this is a case where demand > supply. from how i see it, for every student who chooses to go to NTU, there will also be one who prefers SMU or NUS, and they make these choices based on what they know about the unis through friends etc. i think there’s hardly a value-add element of these ads. and ya it’s not cheap! save the moneyy and provide us with better facilities mannnn.

  5. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Chloe: Haha that’s hilarious! I don’t remember hearing about it at the time though. Wonder how come…

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