Reading Public Relations at university, I am always fascinated by the art of communicating with and persuading people. Being a heavy user of Facebook, I am amazed how the social network since its birth has brought about so many changes to the ways people share and communicate. This research paper is my attempt to investigate the marketing communications role of Facebook in my home country, Vietnam.
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A survey targeting at 100 Vietnamese internet users and interviews with two industry experts were conducted and analysed. I was able to sit in the positions of both users and marketers to view the issue. Findings showed that Facebook marketing communications in Vietnam is currently at its young age however has had a very interesting journey of development. The young internet community and marketing practitioners in Vietnam love Facebook. Nevertheless, that is not enough to secure future success; the social network has to do much more in order to increase its digital influence in a highly competitive market.
Chapter 1: Introduction
There have been a number of studies on effects of social media on marketing communications, a few of which have a specific investigation on the social network giant Facebook. However, most of those only focus on cases in the West where the emergence of social media first happened and most of the marketing trends originate. I am thus keen on doing a research on how social networks and Facebook specifically have found its ways and been used as a marketing communications tool in the other side of the world.
Vietnam is one of the fastest growing internet populations worldwide with around 30 million users, making up a third of the total population. The Facebook block issue which caused difficulties logging in the site starting since late 2009 has not made this social network less attractive in Vietnamese users’ perspectives. Facebook marketing and communications in Vietnam moreover enjoys a boom when agencies have increasingly appreciated the power of the site in influencing audiences. This research paper attempts to study the nature of this development and its roles to marketing communications in the eyes of both users and marketers.
The aim of this study is to investigate the current performance and future potential of Facebook as a marketing communications tool in Vietnam. It is hence important to determine profiles of Vietnamese Facebook users and their behaviours towards the social network. Opinions of industry experts on how effective Facebook is and will be to approach and persuade audiences are also essential.
Key areas of investigation include:
What is the current place of Facebook in the Vietnam social web market?
What is happening to Facebook in Vietnam? Is this really blocked?
Who use Facebook most in Vietnam? How do they interact with the site?
What are their concerns when using Facebook?
How reliable Facebook content is compared to other media platforms?
How effective is Facebook in terms of marketing communications in Vietnam?
What is the future of Facebook marketing in the country?
The study is in general to provide an insight of Facebook’s performance in Vietnam, focusing on its marketing roles. It specifically aimed to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the social network as a growing marketing communications tool in this emerging economy.
The internet in Vietnam has had a ‘fascinating’ journey of development, in opinion of Thomas Crampton, Asia-Pacific Director of Ogilvy 360° Digital Influence. He believes that the rapid growth of the internet in Vietnam receives support of three main factors including ‘a developing nation’, ‘young population’ and ‘the Government’ (Vietnam News, 2010).
In terms of statistics, a research in 2010 by TNS, one of the world’s biggest market research groups, showed that 45% of Vietnamese are highly engaged in digital activities. The country’s figure is ranked fifth in Asia-Pacific area and slightly higher than the United Kingdom (43%) and the United States (42%). According to the same source of statistics, Vietnam is known as one of the youngest internet populations worldwide with the average age of 27.
Another significant feature of the internet in Vietnam is its growing mobility. Again, statistics proved it best when showing that “Mobile internet in Vietnam saw a growth of more than 800 per cent last year, reaching a total of 110 million mobile subscribers in early 2010” (Vietnam News, 2010). All of these somehow draw an overall picture of Vietnam’s internet environment with a young, mobile-going and highly-digital community.
Social Media in Vietnam
Like the development of the internet, Vietnam social media has witnessed dramatic growth since its first day in the country. Social network usage increased significantly from 4% in 2009 to 64% in 2010 (Crampton, 2010). ‘Social networking’ was ranked as the most important digital activity by 25% of Vietnamese internet users, just behind ‘Emailing’ which was ranked first by 27% of the research participants (TNS, 2011).
The social web market in Vietnam marked its first turning point in 2005 with the launch of Yahoo!360, a blogging tool which allows users to compose their writings, customise screens and socialise with friends. Before the emergence of Yahoo!360, the social web environment in Vietnam relied on a few dominant platforms. Yahoo dominated the instant messaging and emailing sectors while its searching function was relatively popular together with Google. Community pages varied when users tended to participate in their online local community such as school forums rather than a particular national-scale page. A similar situation happened to video/music-sharing sites when several providers shared the popularity. After Yahoo!360 came, it ruled the social media world in the country, possibly with the support of Yahoo’s early dominance in Vietnam internet services. Millions of Vietnamese enjoyed writing about their daily lives and gossiping celebrity news. They gradually created a mass online community and a unique blogging style called Yahoo!360.
“It was not a tool specifically designed for Vietnam market, but the market took it anyway, with great passion and enthusiasm.” (Nguyen, Ogilvy 360° Digital Influence, 2010)
“Only people from Mars don’t know about Yahoo,” said Hoang An, 21, one of countless fans of the portal, which has one of the country’s most potent brands.” (Russell, Asian Correspondent, 2010).
The next turning point happening to the Vietnam social web community was in 2009. Yahoo!360 dominated social media in Vietnam however did not work well in other countries. The blogging tool failed to serve global customers, forcing Yahoo! global to close the service. The firm gave warnings about the closure several times since early 2009; however “Yahoo Vietnam has seen a mix of trying to maintain the operation and investment versus tempting to close it down” (Nguyen, 2010). The reason was as clear as the brand has achieved such a significant success in the country. Yahoo!360 users or in this case a majority of the Vietnam web community were strongly against this decision. Nevertheless, their efforts could not help prevent the closure of the site in 2010. Yahoo! Vietnam not long after that launched a local blogging service targeted specifically at Vietnam market called Yahoo!360 Plus. However, the replacement has not achieved such extreme success like its original version did. Since then, the market has witnessed the emergence of a number of social media, both domestic and international brands.
Facebook in Vietnam
The number of Facebook Vietnamese users has reached more than 1.5 million in early 2011 (Social Bakers, 2011). The figure in 2009 was around 40,000 and impressively doubled in 2010. Facebook estimated a number of 1.9 million Vietnamese users in 2011.
The social network has a Vietnamese-language version along with its English site; users thus have a choice of the language they want for their own pages. However, language has never been a problem preventing the popularity of social media in general and Facebook especially in Vietnam. English was the only language used in many social media tools; however, what really matters is that users can always propose their own content in Vietnamese or any other languages. Facebook is furthermore an international social network thus designed to reach international users.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
When researching the performance of Facebook as a marketing communications tool in Vietnam, I came across a number of concepts and facts which help build a better understanding of the topic. In this chapter, I will then explore these concepts and their relations to the study of marketing communications on Facebook Vietnam. They include the growing roles of social media in general and Facebook especially to marketing communications, the place of Facebook in comparison to its competitors and the internet censorship issue in the country.
2.1 Marketing Communications to Social Media and Facebook
There are a variety of definitions of the term ‘social media’. Social media guru Larry Weber in his book Marketing to the Social Web suggested that “The social web is an online place where people with common interest can gather to share thoughts, comments, and opinions. It includes social networks such as MySpace, Gather, and Facebook […] and branded web destinations like Amazon, Netflix and eBay.” In summary, it is “a new world of unpaid media created by individuals or enterprises on the web.” (Weber, 2009: 4)
Looking at another source, Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge (2009: xvii) defined ‘social media’ as “the democratisation of content and the shift in the role people play in the process of reading and disseminating information”. In general, definitions slightly vary but all feature social media as new media platforms whose content is created on the web and by internet users.
The term ‘marketing communications’ meanwhile is widely agreed to “consists of the promotional activities pursued by the firm” and “includes personal selling, mass selling, (comprising advertising and publicity), public relations and sales promotions” (Monye, 2000: 11). It is the process of interacting with audiences or customers in a way that promotes a favourable brand image and helps build goodwill.
Putting ‘social media’ and ‘marketing communications’ together, it then results in the concept of a new communications tool which is based on strengths of social web. Zarrella in The Social Media Marketing Book believes that the best way to define the term is to compare it with marketing on traditional media (including television, newspapers, radio and magazines). The author describes these traditional media as “one-way static broadcast technologies” while social media with “new web technologies have made it easy for anyone to create – and, most importantly – to distribute their own content” (Zarrella, 2010: 2-3). Marketing on the social web hence does not require “huge sums of money to embed their messages” but can “make their own interesting content that viewers will flock to” (Zarrella, 2010: 3).
Supporting the idea of this growing power, Larry Weber believes that the social web has transmitted the way we do marketing:
“Rather talking at customers, marketers should talk with them. And the social web is the most effective way in the history of the world to do just that on a large scale.” (Weber, 2009: 4)
Among a number of different social media platforms, social network giant Facebook indeed makes up to the word ‘giant’. The review will focus on the marketing communications role of Facebook, which also seems to be one of the site’s most significant social influences.
The Facebook Marketing Book has a comprehensive summary of various marketing tactics Facebook. According to this, key strengths that make Facebook an effective marketing communications tool lie at its “larger audience than old media” and “huge amount of personal information” which “has been volunteered by users” to “give the site then therefore advertisers” (Zarrella, 2011: 3). From big brands to small businesses, anyone is able to use Facebook adverts, applications, and pages to communicate directly with audiences and leverage their brand image.
It is suggested that the diversity of Facebook applications, from messaging and photo sharing to gaming, is beneficial to not only users but also marketers. Marketing people now have more platforms to engage with customers and carry out new effective strategies. For example, a Facebook Profile could make huge contribution as it represents “how people share things with their large and very connected group of social connections”. 500 million profiles on Facebook hence become precious sources of data for marketers to get use of: “In fact, this is Facebook’s biggest selling point: the site actively encourages users to fill their Profile with the type of information marketers are always trying to find – all for free”. (Zarrella, 2010: 33)
Facebook Pages, Groups and Events are also believed to be “the key to most social media strategies and will more than likely be the central point for most of marketers’ efforts and promotions”. The popularity and importance of creating and monitoring Facebook page was emphasised as users nowadays “look at the site much the way we look at the internet 10 years ago and are confused when they cannot find their favourite store or celebrity” (Zarrella, 2010: 65). In terms of statistics, each of 500 million users on Facebook is connected to 60 Pages, Groups and Events on average.
Overall, Facebook is considered as a “highly competitive and fast-moving channel” but “amazingly cost effective”, which “if used properly can be an extension of your brand, helping you present the same personality, tone and visual faces as you would in any other materials” (Zarrella, 2011: 7).
2.2 Marketing Communications on Vietnam Social Media
The phenomenon of Yahoo!360 blog in Vietnam resulted in the emergence of influencers who are called ‘hot bloggers’ in Vietnam. Their blogs attracted several millions of page views at the time and many of them are journalists. The social media expert in her article described these ‘hot bloggers’ as “whom PR departments in various agencies incorporated into clients’ marketing communications and PR activities” (Nguyen, 2010). In general, it could be said that from the very early day when social media marked its appearance in Vietnam, PR and marketing have already been strongly involved in and taken advantage of the social web.
The social web environment in Vietnam after the age of Yahoo!360 has seen a rapid and diverse development, when a number of both local and international companies have joined the market. None of them seem to have made a phenomenon like what Yahoo!360 did; however more social media platforms are getting popular. Among those, social networks have especially marked a significant growth in the country:
“Those who like local social networks became members of Yume, ZingMe, Tamtay, i-pro, Henantrua, Vietspace, etc., while others who like foreign networks joined Multiply, WordPress, Yahoo Plus, Twitter, etc. However, none rules the market” (Vietnamnet, 2010).
The top influential social media sites in Vietnam was recently summarised in the below chart by the Ogilvy 360° Digital Influence team.
Figure 3.1: The landscape of Vietnam Social Media 2010 (Ogilvy, 2010)
According to the research above by Ogilvy, social media tools listed in the smaller circle are evaluated as being more influential than those in the larger circle of the same sector. Vietnam overall is considered as a fast-growing country in terms of social web development. There are both local and international names operating in different sectors, ranging from blogging, social networking and music sharing to Q&A and online trading. In the sector of social networking specifically, Facebook is put behind three local sites in terms of digital influence. In other words, it is competing with local providers to be the top choice of online marketing communications tools.
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2.3 Facebook Block Story
Facebook is currently not the biggest social network in the country but growing fast in both number of users and influence on audiences. Its growing power has been proved after the blocking. The story started in late 2009 when it was getting difficult accessing Facebook in Vietnam, leading to a worry that the government would ban the social network. There were reasons for such claim because “Earlier this year, Vietnam’s government tightened restrictions on blogging, banning political discussion and restricting postings to personal matters. Police have arrested several bloggers for writing about politically sensitive subjects” (Russell, Asian Correspondent, 2009). The government and state-controlled internet providers “did not respond to a request for comment”. Private internet companies meanwhile “blame the spotty access on ‘technical issues’, without offering an estimate for when the problems will be resolved” (Ngo, CNET News, 2009).
Facebook seemed to face its end in Vietnam at the time when local media started spreading the rumour that the site is “going out of service” and following the pathway of Yahoo!360:
“The Thanh Nien, one of the most popular newspapers in Vietnam, ran an article with the headline “Facebook in grave illness.” It hinted that this is similar to the process of what happened to the now defunct Yahoo360, suggesting maybe it’s time to look to other social Web sites.” (Ngo, CNET News, 2009)
The situation remained sophisticated since there has been no official statement regarding the problem logging in Facebook in Vietnam. The only obvious fact was that Vietnamese users could not access Facebook in their usual way. However, not the investigation of whether the government blocked Facebook and why they did so, state of the site after that is more the concern of my study. In relation to this, Global Voices had a comprehensive and interesting review of the whole issue:
“When Vietnam blocked Facebook, everyone was talking about a smaller China. One year after the government’s endeavour, Facebook Vietnam tells another story. Not only does Vietnam remain on the list of 10 countries with the fastest growth of Facebook users.” (Chip, Global Voices, 2011)
The author explained a ‘simple’ reason for the above fact: “Because they can. If users in China have to pay for a VPN and go through a painful process to gain access to Facebook and other blocked websites, people in Vietnam just need to change their DNS settings and enjoy a full Internet experience for free”.
Information gathered from other sources showed an exactly same situation when Vietnamese users found and spread ways to access Facebook as if there had never been a problem logging in the site before.
“Some tech-savvy Facebook fans have found ways around access problems by readjusting their web browsers to a different configuration. They have been sharing instructions for doing so online.” (Russell, Asian Correspondent, 2009)
“Trung, a 15-year-old high school student, taught me how to change the DNS: “I figured it out myself”, Trung said proudly, “I just Googled it”. Indeed, after a few Google searches, I found plenty of simple ways to bypass the ISP’s DNS settings.” (Ngo, CNET News, 2009)
The commentator from CNET concluded: “Blocked web sites are new to Vietnam. However, this seems to be the first time people are out in big numbers looking for ways to bypass. This shows the popularity of Facebook and the desire of young Vietnamese to reach out and stay connected with the rest of the world.”
2.4 Facebook Vietnam to Marketing Communications
Facebook which had been doing relatively well in Vietnam, after the block seemed to catch even more attention. Its popularity immediately convinced marketers and PR people to take the site as a growing powerful marketing communications tool. ZingMe, which is the biggest social network in Vietnam and once considered as more influential by the Ogilvy team, now seems to lag behind Facebook, in the opinion of an industry expert:
“We have tried some campaigns on ZingMe, but the results weren’t very good. Most of Zing Me users are under 15, and many of them log in ZingMe just to play Nong Trai (a game similar to Facebook Farmville). There are not many activities outside games.”
“Facebook is still the most effective despite its being blocked, both in term of interaction and conversion rate.” (Chip, Global Voices, 2011)
Fan page which can be created by anyone on Facebook and allows users to become members of a group supporting a particular brand or person has increased significantly in terms of number and popularity. It proves the growing power of Facebook as an online marketing communications tool in the country:
“The largest fan page in Vietnam currently has 484,000 likes. For a market of 1.7 million users (and growing), the number means that this page has reached to almost 30 percent of Vietnamese Facebook users. Imagine this ratio worldwide, we would have a fan page with 100 millions likes.” (Chip, Global Voices, 2011)
The article on Global Voices emphasised another factor showing the rise of Facebook marketing in Vietnam which is the shift of ‘hot bloggers’ from Yahoo!360 to the social network. Gao, real name as Vu Phuong Thanh, who was once a Vietnamese ‘hot blogger’ on Yahoo!360 is now “arguably the most popular Vietnamese on Facebook” with more than 90,000 “likes” on her page. She is also working as the PR Manager for a new boy band in Vietnam. Regarding her media plan for the launch of the band, she shared that “Social media, Facebook and YouTube, accounts for 60% of their marketing plan. Facebook is where people get to know about 365. She doesn’t want to use ZingMe or other Vietnamese websites”. The fan page of the band on Facebook had more than 7,000 members after three weeks.
It could be said that the blocking issue has not had significant impacts on the users’ side since they are still able to access Facebook. The block of Facebook even somehow helped raise public awareness and promote the popularity of the site in Vietnam. Agencies have recognised the growing power of Facebook in marketing communications hence taken actions to develop this new effective tool. The current situation generally looks promising to Facebook Vietnam, yet requires further actions and support:
“100% our customers are international brands. Social media is still new here, local companies don’t allocate budget for it. But I think from next year there will be more Vietnamese companies interested in social media. Advertising agencies now understand the efficiency of social media, and they are the ones who advice and allocate budget for brands.” – said Vo Thanh Cuong, CEO of Click Media, an agency specialised in digital marketing and communications. (Chip, Global Voices, 2011)
From the other party which is Facebook itself, the social network has also taken this as a serious issue that needs to be considered and dealt with thoroughly:
“Last October, Facebook put up a message on its career page that they are looking for someone that has experience in government relations work and navigating government agencies along with an extensive network of contacts in the government and the technology space.”
“The recent visit of Javier Olivan, Head of International Growth of Facebook, to Vietnam suggested that Vietnam will be soon taken care of.”
“They should”- said Cuong – “Vietnam is not a small market at all.” With a population of 90 million and Internet penetration rate of 27.5%, Vietnam is definitely not small.” (Chip, Global Voices, 2011)
The statistics and information gathered above all in all shows an overall picture of the emergence and development of Facebook in Vietnam. A review of its marketing communications roles has also been covered through brief analysis and case studies. In summary, social media generally and Facebook especially are emerging powerful marketing communications tools. In Vietnam, social media has its own ways of developing and approaching users as well as an increasing power to marketing communications. The use of Facebook marketing is at its early stage but growing rapidly with positive figures and comments from both users and marketers. The censorship issue seems to remain sophisticated but not affect the growth of Facebook in the country in a short run. Meanwhile, government relations and further support from different parties is the key to a more sustainable development of the social network in Vietnam.
The literature review however has shown a one-sided positive picture of Facebook marketing and communications in general. In order to investigate the issue thoroughly, further research and analysis on both advantages and difficulties of Facebook marketing in Vietnam is required.
Chapter 3: Methodology
In order to study the marketing communications roles of Facebook in Vietnam, I believe that a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will be more helpful than using a single type. I decided to carry out a survey targeting at a variety of Vietnamese internet users and intensive interviews with local communications experts. The survey is expected to provide numbers and facts regarding Facebook usage from the audience side while the interviews aimed to bring an insight of its marketing roles and future development in the opinion of local industry professionals.
I conducted a survey which aimed to approach 80-100 Vietnamese internet users. As survey could be used to not only describe things but also explain them, data gathered from survey is expected to provide “public behaviour”, “population characteristics” and also “measurements of variables between which relationships can be analysed” (Gunter, 2000: 24). In this case, the purpose of doing survey is to find out who are using Facebook most in Vietnam, how they are interacting with the social network, and how reliable the content is to them. At the same time, it is expected to make comparisons of characteristics between different groups such as Vietnamese living in Vietnam and abroad, different genders and ages.
Designing, delivering and managing a survey was said by Barrie Gunter as “not just asking a group of people a few questions. It requires much planning and a high level of skill in its administration to ensure that valid and usable data are obtained” (Gunter, 2000: 23).
Firstly, questions were constructed using different types depending on the purpose and nature of research. For example, multiple-choice was used when specific information is needed and could be easily made while opinion-based questions required a rating function. Questions were put in logical order, from general to specific and all easy to understand. Furthermore, the survey length was also taken into consideration; the number of ten is believed to be reasonable enough as it takes participants less than five minutes to finish.
Furthermore, diverse angles of the research topic “Facebook usage in Vietnam” were included, from time length, frequency, and means of access to content contribution and opinions on content reliability.
Due to the fact that targeted respondents live in different parts of the world and all use the internet, I chose an online survey tool to carry out my quantitative research. Participants who were my circle of friends, relatives and colleagues could start the survey whenever they wanted by clicking the link sent via email, Facebook message or Yahoo Messenger. The reason for using different delivery channels is to ensure that the research will approach both Facebook and non-Facebook users. This includes respondents who use other social networks rather than Facebook and who do not use social network at all. This is in attempt to minimise bias and make comparisons more accurately.
I chose my circle of friends and relatives on the internet as my sample because higher rates of responses and honesty could be expected using personal relations. They also represent a random thus typical group of internet users fulfilling requirements of including different age groups living both in Vietnam and abroad.
In terms of survey layout, the online survey provider was selected instead of sending an attached file via email to ensure professionalism and maximise the response rates. I also added an introduction which is “short, realistically worded, non-threatening, serious, neutral and pleasant but firm” because “one way to increase the response rate in any survey is to prepare a persuasive introduction” (Wimmer & Dominick, 2000: 171). Receivers who fulfil the sampling characteristics and know the sender as well as purpose of this survey are believed to be likely to contribute.
Finally, as a function provided by the tool, data was gathered in an easy-to-use format and valuable for comparisons and analysis. Reponses are available to be viewed individually and in group so that it is possible to compare respondents who belong to different age, gender and location groups. The survey link was available for one month during which reminders and following-up were regularly carried out in order to achieve the targeted response rate.
If the research survey aimed to seek an overview of Vietnamese Facebook users’ profiles based on quantitative data, the interviews are expected to provide an in-depth evaluation on Facebook marketing in Vietnam. Evaluation on the effectiveness of something is believed to be best undertaken by people who create it. In this case, they are communications and digital marketing professionals whose work is to create efficient marketing tactics on social media. (See Appendix 2 & 3)
Some expert comments on the issue have already been mentioned in the review of literature (Chapter 3), most of which however are relatively general. The intensive interviews were therefore designed and conducted in a way so as to provide specific, detailed and valuable opinions for further analysis. Since the objective is to obtain opinion-based responses, observational methods are not appropriate and intensive interview seems to be the only practical one.
Areas of investigation include their opinions on Facebook development in Vietnam and its effectiveness as a marketing communications tool. The questions were constructed based on SWOT analysis model in attempt to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Facebook marketing in Vietnam. Especially, examples or real case studies are encouraged to be provided by the interviewees in order to back-up the statements.
Interviews were conducted via email due to the fact that the interviewees live abroad and were too busy to schedule a long telephone interview. The lack of interaction and flexibility that this channel may result in was already taken into consideration. The interviews were therefore designed as a mini research paper which the respondent dealt with as an assignment. The positive side is that interviewees tend to take it more thoroughly with details and valuable back-up information than some thoughts that come up at the time she gives the answers face-to-face.
The interviewees were given a reasonable length of time ranging from one to three weeks in order to provide the most comprehensive answers possible. Based on their responses, further questions were given to clarify an issue or develop an idea in more depth and generally increase interaction. All in all, the interviews receiv
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