110411_2103_ACaseforOpe1The following is an excerpt from the Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific Corporate Social Media Study 2011 [Link todo]. It is a guest post written by Michael Netzley, Assistant Professor of Corporate Communication (Education), Singapore Management University. Follow Michael on Twitter @communicateasia.

For communicators, few opportunities today are as exciting as studying the corporate use of relatively new digital channels across Asia’s many emerging markets.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this report not only because we have so few useful studies of corporate social media in Asian markets, but also because of the study’s design. In this age of fast data and quick white papers, I believe in some ways we could be making it more difficult for marketers and communicators to craft wise strategies when faced with so much fragmentary evidence.

This report is different. Replicating the 2010 study, Burson-Marsteller offers us a year-on-year look at corporate uses of digital channels. For me, several findings stand out.

  • The top activities for companies in Asia, by percentage of posts, are: media and influencer relations, thought leadership and CSR. These are all meaningful uses of digital channels which can help shape a company’s operating landscape.
  • The data also reveals how many more companies have created multiple social media channels and appear to be increasing their online presence. Creating the channels is an important first step, but perhaps the easiest. The findings also reveal opportunities for companies to use these channels more fully.
  • Channels which allow companies to develop a rich narrative (e.g., video sharing and blogs) appear to be used less frequently than do short-form communication channels such as micro-blogs.
  • Additionally, sustained use of the digital challenges appears to be an on-going challenge. While more companies have a presence over many channels, the levels of inactivity are surprisingly high.

So what does all this say about a path forward?

First, I think it’s very likely that companies in Asia who want to get serious about their online presence might first re-examine their preferred metrics in order to encourage the right tactics and management approaches.

If we want a sustained presence and meaningful engagement, then we must begin with metrics which can reveal any improvements along these lines. Perhaps most importantly, a revised dashboard must also be well aligned with the corporate strategy.

We can especially see in the year-on-year comparison that some companies are putting digital channels to good use. I am encouraged to see significant growth in activities such as media and influencer relations and thought leadership. These can be great investments of time and resources trusting that the messaging strategy is aimed at something more than simple push, one-way announcements. In other words, having enough content for sustained corporate engagement with stakeholders means that we must all start operating like we are a media company. We need quality narrative content that evokes a response.

Delivering sustained narrative content over blogs or video channels, however, is not easy. The growth of media channels revealed by this study also suggests that we need talented staff who can deliver such content. My sense is that such people can be in short supply in Asia’s many emerging markets. So in addition to revising our measurement dashboard, the increased adoption of more digital channels along with the high levels of inactivity lead me to ask about our talent schemes. Are we attracting, developing, and retaining enough skilled storytellers to maintain an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders? Perhaps not. Until that happens, the partnership between organisations and agencies will be critical to any successful online presence.

And while I am encouraged to see more companies dipping their toe in the digital media pool, I believe the opportunity for a company to firmly establish itself as a leader in this space remains ripe. The findings of this study appear highly consistent with my university research—few companies have really established themselves as genuine leaders in the digital sphere. The early mover advantage still appears to be available in many markets and industries, but the increased adoption of digital channels indicates the clock is ticking.

I have little doubt that in the coming years digital channels will reshape more than just marketing and public relations. These channels are set to impact all aspects of business. Today we can see increased use of digital channels for customer service and employee engagement as two obvious examples. But companies are also increasingly adopting enterprise communications to increase speed and efficiency of operations. Social networks are being leveraged to make companies innovate and shorten the time it takes to bring a new product or service to market. And university researchers are busy discovering how we can mine big data for better insights.

Digital communications are making businesses more social. Companies are immersed in a web of stakeholders who are all aware of each other and talk about organisations. This study delivers one of the few comparative year-on-year snapshots of how Asian companies are coming to terms with this changed environment. Much work remains.

Those who exhibit leadership, learn the quickest and become the first to capture the benefits of digital communications will, no doubt, gain a significant advantage.