Why Social Media Struggles In Singapore

One thing I’ve continually questioned is why social media is blooming slowly but not blossoming rapidly in Singapore. I’ve noted that we don’t have problems other countries do, but yet social media is still a very, very small slice of the pie.

Discussions with Michael Netzley, John Bell and Ridz have all resurfaced the same theme: We’re too small. ie the benefits of social media don’t translate as much when you can sms a friend and meet him/her in person in 20 minutes, compared to someone living on the opposite coast in America.

Social media events in North America bring together people who see each other a few times a year. We can see the same people twice in a week at events here!

When we all read the same papers, watch the same news and television and generally consume the same media, does new media still bring additional benefits to the table?

Tracking social media events over the last few months, it does indeed seem like the same people are going for the same events. It’s not a bad thing in itself, but it also means that options to companies are limited. Kami Hyuse’s case study on SeaWorld is an amazing one with great ROI. Attracting 22 roller coaster enthusiasts? That would be hard to replicate here. Obviously I don’t mean for roller coasters (because we have none), but for almost anything in general. It would be easier and simpler (maybe even more cost effective) to put out a print ad than to do a blogger outreach programme, just by impressions alone.

HP did a great blogger outreach programme, but does that value dilute if another company tries something similar and the same bloggers turn up?

I’ve anecdotally heard that 20 million is the magic number for social media to take off. Not in the sense that it’s an automatic qualifier (Indonesia has 25 million but that’s a fraction of it’s population), but it’s an indicator. Given that we’re at something like 4 million total population, does it mean that we’ll never get there?

That said, there is obviously a huge social media interaction on platforms like hardware zone, to some extent Facebook and others, suggesting to me that there is an audience, but we haven’t found a way to properly leverage it yet.

There are a lot of instances when I wish companies would engage the social media participants. But let’s think about it, if 5,000 people talk about your brand in a year (and I’m already stretching it), would you hire a person to monitor that and engage? Or is it easier to close an eye to that miniscule number, and focus on other things? Let’s face it, most companies aren’t Dell with hundreds of thousands of customers complaining. It’s a real question where companies only have a limited amount of resources, and have to prioritise.

Do you think our size is the biggest limiting factor? Do you have other thoughts on why social media’s influence is still limited in Singapore? Most importantly, do you see it changing? In how many years? Or will this being small turn on its head and be a strength? I want to hear from you.


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19 Responses to “Why Social Media Struggles In Singapore”

  1. the(new)mediaslut Says:

    I agree with you that the pick-up of social media among the media scene is increasing at a snail’s pace.

    However, if you are just playing the numbers game, then this post shows your inexperience in the PR media world.

    PR agencies in Singapore outnumber the number of publications here by a large ratio of 30:1. If you just focus on individual space, say tech, the ratio is larger.

    In a pre-media2.0 world, if you were to go to a press event in Singapore, having 2-3 journalists in the event is consider a huge success. That’s how small the publication industry is.

    If you take the HP event for an example, this blog highlighted 6 bloggers who attended and these are those you know off. I believe there were more than 10.

    10 bloggers vs 2-3 journalists, that’s quite a huge turn out.

    The problem here isn’t the number, the problem lies in the engagement of the blog-o-sphere.

    While the HP event was great, it took on the same traditional PR-Media approach. Corp has an event, PR invites bloggers to event, Corp meet bloggers, Corp do product spill and, finally PR do blog clippings. Is that engaging the blog-o-sphere?

    Why doesn’t the Corp have their own blog posting about the event? Something like what Kami Hyuse did for her SEAWORLD program.

    The tools are there and easy to use, but the problem is the PR don’t know how to use it to sustain interest.

    Take Facebook for an example. Anybody can start a Facebook group.

    You can have your initial invites of members. But after a week, the growth slows and some may even leave the group. Why? Because there is no content added to the group for people to continue visiting it or encourage their friends to join the group.

    For any PR agency to be successful in the social media world, they have to think like content creators. I read a blog, but can’t remember where, which says why digital storytellers like you will rule this space.

    Furthermore, there was the launch of Podfire.sg last night. Was there any media pickup? I don’t think so.

    Was there any social media pickup? Your blog was one of them.

    Social media let’s people like Michael Cheng to reach out to users through a medium called the Internet.

    Before Internet, I doubt Michael would be able to get people talking, or blogging, about his podcast directory.

    So what if the big corps arn’t engaging the social media scene? At least, the young and small start-ups using it.

    And that is something worth celebrating!

  2. Shannon Says:

    I think there could be a role for social media in Singapore to connect the rest of Singapore (and our backward conventional media) to the frontiers of social media in other countries like the USA. Basically feel out what’s happening at the forefront of media elsewhere and help to translate, filter and apply those things here. They might be new stuff happening in the tech world, emerging socio-political issues, whatever. Conversely, it could, one day, surface new things that are happening in Singapore to the rest of the world.

    Oh, and the other role is, of course, to slap our conventional media around once in a while.

  3. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Mediaslut: Always nice to have you drop by! I must admit I do have zero practical experience in the PR world (hopefully that will change) and it’s easy for me to run a commentary from the sidelines. However, I don’t think the point I was trying to make was about a numbers game, though you must excuse me if it sounds like it, the problems with typing a post at 7am =)

    I’m in full agreement with you on Podfire’s example and the Facebook groups. The main reason why I left many is because after awhile it just became a “badge” for your Facebook and no value or content is being generated.

    However, regarding the 10 bloggers vs 2-3 journalists, that’s where my problem lies. It’s definitely a great start, I absolutely applaud HP for doing it. However, my point is about the absolute numbers of bloggers, but that they are all the same. The HP event gets 10 bloggers, the next event gets 7-8 of the same bloggers, in the end the “influencers” are running in circles. That’s where I feel the “numbers game” comes in. If we’re in the US and we can get one prominent blogger from each of the 50 states to check out your niche, you’re talking about a whole lot of audience. In Singapore, if we do get 50 bloggers, chances are a decent amount of their readers overlap with each other, thus “diluting” it. But then again, that’s my personal take. And of course, I don’t have empirical evidence to back that.

    Wrt the Seaworld example, yes, I think our corporations here are just beginning to find their feet and it’s all new and alien (as I expressed in my Open Room post). Will it eventually take off? I desperately hope so. But I’m also trying to approach this from the very practical eye of the company, and to some extent I find it hard to fault them tor the lack of initiative, at least in Singapore.

    @Shannon: Oh and believe me, they do need some slapping =)

  4. Michael Netzley Says:

    Hi Daryl,

    I love seeing you struggle with the really big questions. Simple prescriptions won’t answer the type of question you ask, so keep up the good fight and hopefully something will emerge.

    As I continue to think through the same question, I am inclined to say that 20 million active internet users is a consequent rather than the central issue. Perhaps by coincidence, however, it might not be a bad place to start and ask why this number? Data on our Social Media and PR across Asia wiki would not appear to refute this number. Certainly I believe the combination of size, small geographic dispersion, and the continued effectivenes of existing communication channels makes Singapore a less ideal place for social media to take off. On the negative side of the equation, we have also lacked the political impetus we saw in Malaysia’s elections, the first relatively open channel for communicating as was the case in China, or the linguistic impetus found in a country like South Korea (they had to create their own sites if they wanted to Interact on-line).

    Finally, I am also think that the government’s recommendation that on-line comments or critiques need not be responded to further exaggerates the situation (in a small way). Here we have a clear message from a trusted source saying that on-line is not yet a serious enough space to devote time and energy to. As I am looking at the data, it seems clear that Asian countries where social media has been successful also have a clear and proactive government “push” that helps move things forward. Singapore’s performance along these lines has been a bit of a mixed message.

    And turning to bloggers themselves…I am sure the content we are putting out must factor into this as well.

    So I guess what I am leading up to is the idea that perhaps social media will eventually develop differently. Will advances in mobile technology, combined with island-wide WiFi become the tipping point for social media in Singapore? I honestly don’t know. Purely as a personal observation, looking at many Singaporeans’ behavioral approach to technology, mobile would anecdotally appear to be the more likely technology which has the potential to see social media succeed in Singapore.

    That’s my two cents….Keep up the great work! I would love to see follow-up posts as your grapple with this question.

  5. pristan Says:

    Daryl, nice post here and interesting thoughts too…

    I wanted to share my thoughts on the part on ….”HP did a great blogger outreach programme, but does that value dilute if another company tries something similar and the same bloggers turn up?”

    Traditionally, media (as in journalists) show up at different events for various companies. They are the same journalists. The fashion journo of a fashion mag, would be at Cartier launch on Monday 10am, Hour Glass lunch briefing at 12pm and then LV gala dinner at 6pm. All on the same day.

    Another senario: the same journalist can be at (using my company as example) Yahoo!’s Flickr party this week, another music property launch next week and then another get-together media briefing event the following week. All in the same month.

    The differences are :- STORY ANGLES. CONTENT. The media (bloggers or journos can be the same).

    It is both the company and the bloggers’ “job” to find unique/ interesting/ share different content with the audiences.

    As a blogger, I am sure you realised that some of your posts, certain ppl respond to. OThers don’t. Because it’s not targeted at them. They can’t relate to what you share ie: if they are not present at a big event you wrote about, thus having no thoughts/ contribution.

    I am in an interesting position of being a client who hires agencies/ media strategists to help me with campaigns, at the same time, I am also a blogger who attend some of events/launches/ bloggers outreach etc. Sone other times, I am a PR person who has to talk to bloggers and traditional media to pitch/ share information of my events.

    I’ve learnt that, social media is a very fluid medium, at this point. Alot of us are trying to define it. Alot of people are also trying to “control” it and some others are just lost in translation.

    What is interesting though, is the huge opportunities out there, a new medium/ channel for all of us to share knowledge, learn, explore and maximise the impact/ use it can bring.

    And since, I am managing the communications for Yahoo! mobile business in Asia, I am finding Michael’s comment about mobile technology becoming the tipping point for social media.

    There are alot of other more ‘advance discussions” out there that have moved on from the web2.0 to mobile internet/social media on mobile etc.

  6. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Michael Netzley: Thanks for the encouragement, Prof. Yes there are many other factors at play too and I agree with your assessment that the content being produced is a factor as well. Regarding the government’s stand on the situation, I wonder if a change there will be big enough for the others (ie corporations) to follow suit.

    @Priscilla: Interesting comparison! I definitely agree with the story angles and content, but I’m not sure how much I agree on the responsibility of the blogger to find unique/interesting points of view with their audience because… well, I suppose very few of us blog for a living and there tend to be more pressing matters from “real” work from our day jobs or school. That said your point about being content being targeted at different audiences certainly strikes a chord. I find myself envious of your position to be a different “segment” at different times! Social media is huge as you say and I think ALL of us are trying to figure it out together. That in itself is the beauty of it in that the barriers to entry are so low that myself, a student in school, yourself a professional in the working world and Michael, an academic, can all be talking and debating about it. That truly always fascinates me.

    To both Michael and Priscilla, I personally am not convinced about the future that mobile brings, primarily because I’ve found surfing on my phone to be an utter chore. However, I am enjoying using my iPod touch to surf a great deal, and maybe simultaneous developments from Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Yahoo! Mobile will change that. I’m crossing my fingers but meanwhile here’s an article I stored on del.icio.us saying 2008 is probably not the year for mobile. http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/04/ad-age-agrees-2008-not-the-year-of-mobile.html

  7. brian Says:

    Great thoughts Daryl,

    I’m sort of working out the business sense in which social media can be used effectively in the context of Singapore, and perhaps region to region.

    I think the effectiveness of Social Media, should not come down to a numbers game when it comes to doing it for clients.

    by using a model that the most number of people who know, the better it is for the client, seems to draw its inspiration from the era of Mass Communications. Broadcast and Mass Media approaches.

    I think what Social Media has allowed us to do, is targeted media to address the problem of fractures in the audience space.

    by having key influencers as part of the media, it should augment the more traditional, or perhaps established mass model approach.

    Does this lead to business sense and a drive for revenue? i suspect so.. by involving more targeted audiences, they become more than just consumers and statistics, but literally share in the community of what your brand/business stands for.

    i think it’s a rather brave new concept, and no one established is really willing to do it. Afterall, the models we have today worked for the audiences we had then.

    However, has the audience since changed since then? and if so, shouldnt we be harnessing a new way to engage them?


  8. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Brian: So good to hear from you! I think we both know the answer to the last question. The audience has definitely changed. And we are only beginning to see the shift now, and that shift can only grow more rapidly in the coming years. People like us still remember those noisy 56k modems screeching away and it has taken us some time to get used to this whole new world of content creation, consumption and sharing. However when we start servicing the consumers who never knew life without handphones and broadband, they are going to be much more demanding than we’d expect. And I’m going to bet the models that are still working today (if barely), are not going to work then. Of course, this is broadly speaking. Not all products and services are applicable.

    Since you’re here I actually have a genuine question for you. Again, it’s not about the numbers, but who the numbers are. I’m not going to name them publicly because there might be issues, but there were four consumer lifestyle/technology “booths” at The Open Room on Monday. If you had to do a blogger outreach programme for each of them, would it be an issue if most of the bloggers were the same at the four separate events? Would it be the agency’s issue or the client’s issue? (ps: If confidentiality is an issue, you don’t have to post publicly, we can discuss at SMB!)

  9. walter Says:

    Nice post Daryl and an inspiring example on how Sea World uses social media marketing to its advantage. As one of the early purveyors of a corporate/ special interest blogs (namely Yesterday.sg), I tend to mirror your thoughts on the limitations of social media marketing (or PR) as a viable strategy in Singapore.

    I think that there are several reasons why this is so, beyond the numbers game. It is linked to our lifestyles, behaviours and practices, as well as how Singaporeans use blogs as opposed to other countries in the West. Will be blogging about this in detail so look out for it at my blog. 🙂

  10. brian Says:

    @Daryl i’m thinking of one word now:


    somehow, as penetrated broadband is in Singapore, the technology has never been ubiquitous in Singapore.. or yet to demonstrate itself. I have a few suspicions, and i think we ought to save that for a conversation at SMB -)

    I’ll admit, i’m bad with numbers.. haha, i’m just not the sort!

  11. Ian On The Red Dot :: Is Social Media Really Struggling In Singapore? I Don’t Think So. Says:

    […] Daryl from Unique-Frequency asks why social media in Singapore is blooming slowly but not blossoming rapidly. […]

  12. oldskoolmark Says:

    Really love this post and the response its generated. Gotta agree with some of the points but i believe like Brian that the audience has changed and responded. The companies really need to do more as you can see from the first post on my blog. Do have a read! 🙂

    However, seeing the article on mobile, i gotta slightly disagree. This might be the year for mobile. Developed countries definitely have the infrastructure to support mobile accessible phones. Tracking seems pretty easy to me, just partner with the mobile service providers and there are many ways to reach a consumer more specifically. Ad search advertising, social networking groups etc.

    However, for less developed countries which have a really high mobile penetration rate as compared to the internet penetration rate, these countries are a gold mine. Countries like Philippines and India are great examples. They’re first few experiences on the internet might be through a mobile. It doesn’t have to be an online experience, but just an offline experience through a simple sms to alert potential users of many things online. Such as social networking sites they should join or operating systems they should start with.

    But only the future can tell and its just my 2 cents worth. Keep up the good work!

  13. Claud Continues To Talk » Blog Archive » I hate to read. But I read his thoughts. Says:

    […] look out for. If you’re scratching your head now, why not check out his recent hot posts on Why Social Media Struggles in Singapore. I’d been reading it over and over for a couple of time, but with my mind being occupied by […]

  14. precious Says:

    The question is, how much does blog readers trust bloggers as opposed to how much they trust journalists?

    In Malaysia for example, a lot of people no longer trust the government owned traditional media so they turn to bloggers instead. As a result, bloggers have become very influential and can even create a tipping point in the country.

    Funny thing is, a lot of the bloggers are quite new to blogging too so they haven’t had a chance to build their credibility over the years. Further more, when they blog a newsy story, they usually do not reveal where they got the story from or what research they have done. Yet blog readers swallow the entire story hook, line and sinker.

    I suppose that could be attributed to the power of Word of Mouth marketing – people trusting their own, their peers.

    Despite that Singapore’s population is small, there’s a high chance that bloggers be influential enough to create a tipping point that changes the very constitution of the country.

  15. coleman yee Says:

    Good questions you’ve asked, Daryl.

    My thoughts are closest to precious’s comments.

    Let’s get personal. How many Singapore bloggers are actually influential to you? In other words, how many bloggers can actually influence your decisions, like what gadget to buy, where to eat, etc?

    A precious few, I suspect.

    Most bloggers here aren’t influential, not because of the small population, but because they don’t have the credibility.

    When you’re a B-list (or below) blogger and all of a sudden you get a media invite to an exclusive event, it’s easy to lose objectivity. It’s a heady experience. It’s easy to feel obliged to blog something positive about the event, so that you’ll perhaps get another invite.

    Stay honest, Daryl, and you’ll be fine 😉

  16. Are Bloggers Really Influencers? « Unique-Frequency Says:

    […] The topic of “influence” has appeared a number of times, generated out of the “Why social media struggles in Singapore” post. I was writing that post from the corporation’s point of view, and questioning […]

  17. Daryl Tay Says:

    @Walter: Thanks I look forward to reading about that in your blog!

    @Brian: SMB it is!

    @Oldskoolmark: Thanks for dropping by. I’ve read the first post on your blog, looking forward to more!

    @Precious: I definitely agree with what you think. Some research has been released to call that into question, but I still think your point about trust holds a lot of water.

    @Coleman: I have a couple of thoughts on that. My own view is that reading about certain products/services can make a difference. But ultimately the product has to speak for itself. For example I flipped through Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody” at Borders the other day, but didn’t buy it. Following that I saw it appear on Amazon wishlists of people I follow on FriendFeed and being mentioned by people I follow on Twitter (all of whom are bloggers), and I see that they find value in it, and hence I probably will too. I also agree about staying honest. How people perceive me (and bloggers) is a direct consequence of what we blog about and not all these “exclusive” events anyway. I think as Precious said, trust comes first.

  18. yixiaooo Says:

    Hey Daryl, recently I received a couple of invitations from different PR agencies for some events. I attended one of them and didn’t feel compelled to write about the event afterwards.

    To me, the #1 reason for the lack of social media success is due to the lack of sincerity and engagement of PR agencies and event organizers. Too many people think they can get away with mere invitations, without even bothering to follow up thereafter.

    It seems they have forgotten the objective of social media is to “engage” and not just “create buzz”.

  19. XTRALICIOUS » Blog Archive » Social Media from the social media dinosaur’s POV Says:

    […] 9. Numbers are important – and yes, the more the merrier. This is a small town – you get the same bloggers covering events and the sphere of influence remains the same, if not smaller as readers come and go. While it is perfectly fine that the same bloggers cover different events, should there not be an active drive to engage more bloggers in different blogging styles and target audiences? Who would say no to a bigger share of the pie? […]

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