Once upon a time, Li Ka Shing was the most admired person in Hong Kong, being the richest of all tycoons; HSBC was the most revered company, as it racked in loads of money of which it paid back a fair share to its many small Hong Kong shareholders; and Hong Kong was proud to have the highest density of Gucci, Louis Vutton and Dolce & Gabbana stores in the world.
Dolce & Gabbana had to close its store in Tsim Sha Tsui last week as hundreds of protesters, activated via Facebook, campaigned outside its shop. Occupy Wall Street activists have been camping already for months under HSBC’s headquarters in Central and increasingly the people of Hong Kong recognize that there is a link between the wealth of property tycoons and the high prices they have to pay for their small living space.
Social media is an everyday part of the working and personal lives of people, the voice of protesters, but also a tool for people starting their own businesses: the local bakery who wants to sell its fresh bread competing against a global fast food chain, the micro brewery who takes on a German giant or the corporate consultant who follows her dream and becomes a life coach.
People leaving the corporate world have ambiguous feelings of liberation and fear. Fear for a life without corporate perks and certainties, especially the monthly pay check. However, liberation is the better feeling and in this age of social media, it is much easier to build up your own business when your Big employer has decided to ‘consolidate its resource base’ and fires you in advance of the looming crisis.
Marketing has become more accessible than ever by using social media and more complicated at the same time, as it is not easy to communicate via blogs, twitter and Facebook in a way that is relevant for consumers. This benefits small, agile companies and it disadvantages large corporations, the Big Fish. Many Big businesses produce one-way uninteresting communication (digital waste) and have zombie followers. Small companies do not have that problem: they have only active followers, as their brand name is not strong enough to attract unknown followers; people appreciate them because they know and make a deliberate choice.
Social media provides a great opportunity to engage Hong Kong consumers: according to TNS’ 2011 Digital Life study, 80% of all internet users go on-line daily, 52% are brand fans, 47% write about brands on-line and 94% research brands on-line.
In attracting new buyers, social media takes the old concept of ‘word of mouth’ to an unprecedented level. Not only are customer opinions shared with a wide audience, but new business models such as group buying move far beyond a recommendation to an immediate call to action from friends. If you can get the information into the right hands at the right time, it can be endorsed more passionately and shared more widely than most marketers and retailers ever thought possible.
Keep yourself aware of comments made outside of your social networks – conversations in prominent blogs & sites impact your brand: 57% of consumers say that posting comments on-line is an effective way to influence companies and 37% expect companies to contact them when they write something about them.
Negative word of mouth works much harder – and much faster as D&G experienced – than positive word of mouth and this benefits the entrepreneurial blogger more than big business and global luxury retailers; in a modern world speed is more important than size.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Wander Meijer is the Global Head International Research for TNS, a WPP company.