I have just spent an amazing week in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam on a Social Media Study Tour with five students from the University of the Sunshine Coast. Our time there provided an in-depth insight into how social media is used for public relations, and in digital marketing campaigns in the Vietnamese market.
Ho Chi Minh can be best described as organised chaos. It’s crazy, but it works. With more than 8 million residents and 7 million plus motorbikes getting around the city, and even crossing the road can seem daunting at first. Yet, both tasks can be accomplished with Uber and/or nerves of steel. The food is delicious, the coffee highly addictive (coffee with condensed milk on ice, delectably good) and its people so helpful and friendly that the language barrier is virtually non-existent.
We visited five public relations, marketing and digital agencies during our social media study tour and discovered the following:
Free wi-fi is highly accessible (and expected)
In Ho Chi Minh it is common (and expected) for free wi-fi to be available in restaurants, shopping centres and businesses etc. It is as common to receive the wi-fi password as it is a glass of water. With more than 24 million smartphones being used in Vietnam, it is easy to see why. Business owners and staff will kindly type the password into your phone if it isn’t already on public display. While Australia is starting to get its act together in terms of free wi-fi, it still has some way to go to be on par with Ho Chi Minh.
Facebook reigns supreme
With more than 34 million users, Facebook is the most used social media platform in Vietnam. Before Facebook, online forums were the most popular websites. However, as more and more marketing agencies paid users for comment (and the government gave the green light for the social media platform to be used) existing online communities recreated themselves and expanded using Facebook.
Instagram is used for cash on delivery shopping
Instagram is widely used in Vietnam to facilitate C.O.D shopping. Sellers post photos of their goods with the price. Buyers peruse the photos, make their selection, send the seller a direct message and the item is delivered (usually via motorbike) within a few hours. The buyer pays cash on delivery of the item. It’s simple and it works.
The market is young (in experience and years)
The Vietnamese market is still quite young in terms of its social media use and in relation to the people using it (75% of social media users are under 30 years). This is taken into account when developing public relations and marketing strategies. The emphasis on quality content is growing. Also becoming more of a priority is including offline experiences within social media campaigns to create positive brand memories, interpersonal bonds and communities robust enough to flourish in online and offline environments. Finally, taking an integrated approach to social media is also being used by many market leaders.
Individualism and collectivism work in combination
While Asian cultures are often described as collectivist, the concepts of individualism and collectivism are both present in social media use in Vietnam. This phenomenon may exist due to social media influencers being dominant forces in the market just as they are in most parts of the world. While a generalisation, it seems that particularly younger social media users in Vietnam like to do things that set them apart from their friends (individualist) as long as their friends find them cool enough to follow suit (collectivist). It’s almost a case of “I want to be different as long as everyone else wants to be too .” A very interesting dynamic to work with.
Facebook can be turned off at any time
The Vietnamese government closely monitors Facebook and can (and does) block it to avoid what it deems to be activities that threaten its control. A recent example of this was the government’s decision to turn Facebook off on Sundays to hamper attempts by citizens to organise protests about an environmental disaster caused by Formosa Plastics that resulted in the massive deaths of fish in the waterways. From a public relations and marketing perspective this is a significant challenge when the most popular social media platform can disappear at any time taking your clients’ followers (and investment) with it.
See you next time, Saigon…
There were many other interesting aspects of social media use in Vietnam. In some ways it was developing and in others it was very advanced. Above all, its residents seemed connected, technologically and personally. It was a highly social culture both online and off, and one I would gladly immerse myself in again.
Also, thanks to the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s New Colombo Plan.