Opening a new regional office for a social media brand is not usually big news but when that office is sort of inside (or maybe ‘next to’ is a better description) a massive market, where that same social platform is actually banned and actively squelched, it should send some ripples through the business press. And Twitter’s announcement about opening in Hong Kong has done just that, with news analysis ranging from "what are they doing?" to "bravo."
In its press release, the company said of the new Hong Kong office, it is "capitalizing on this growing trend of the most ambitious, entrepreneurial and successful Chinese companies wanting to go global."
To gage the business impact in APAC, PRWeek Asia reached out to digital players around the region, both inside and outside of China, to get a better sense of what the move means to business on the ground. Social media plays a substantial role in PR; and Twitter, though shareholders have not been too pleased as of late, is still one of the major platforms. So what does the industry have to say about the meeting of massive market and tiny tweets?
EVP and managing director of Asia, Racepoint Global
Twitter’s expansion into the Hong Kong market is certainly late and seems to be in reaction to the unprecedented growth and popularity of local platforms, in particular WeChat. Whilst Twitter doesn’t have the complexity, segmentation or diversity of WeChat, the tactical move to enter the market is certainly a timely and strategic decision.
Chinese companies expanding overseas are increasingly wanting social strategy on how to effectively engage and influence international stakeholders via well-established global amplification platforms. Twitter certainly opens the door for mainland brands wanting to expand globally and communicate with audiences outside of China.
Founder in Residence, Jam Ventures (former managing director of Hootsuite Asia-Pacific)
This is a textbook Greater China play and makes sense for Twitter to have access to outbound Chinese advertising, targeting international markets but also the growing Chinese diaspora around the world.
Having an office in Hong Kong also allows Twitter direct access to a small but strategic Hong Kong market and a quick flight to Taipei covers off Taiwan as well.
A Hong Kong Twitter office kills many birds with one stone (pun fully intended)
As Chinese brands continue to expand outside of the mainland, social media presents a good opportunity to reach global consumers cost effectively. However, these mainland marketers will need to develop social strategies that work on the large global platforms, which can be quite different than the mammoth homegrown Chinese social networks they use at home.
One potential challenge Twitter might face by having a local Hong Kong presence could be pressure from the government if there is another Occupy Hong Kong incident and China pressured [Twitter], through influence on Hong Kong, to remove content or give up sensitive user data.
Deputy Asia digital lead, MSLGROUP Asia
It has always made sense to have technology and social platforms to be headquartered in Singapore, but there is something to be said about having a presence in Hong Kong.
There are many Chinese companies eager to understand non-China platforms as they expand their businesses to other countries in Asia and around the world. Many are interested in learning more about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Having an office in Hong Kong, is a strategic way to build relationships with these interested Chinese companies.
It's not just about platform usage, it's also about information and insights. The type of data Twitter and others can offer Chinese companies who want to learn more about consumers in other markets and frankly the global audience profile is incredible. It is unique from what a research company can offer.
What Twitter needs to consider is what the Hong Kong office should focus on as opposed to the Singapore office. It would be a great opportunity to provide a knowledge sharing service with mainland China companies and discover other ways to partner with China.
On the flipside, Twitter should explore and study how China has become a leader in mobile and social mobile. WeChat is a complex, feature rich platform that is constantly introducing new mobile centric services that continue to wow and retain users. Perhaps Twitter can learn something interesting...
Vice president international business, BlueFocus Communication Group
This is great progress for Twitter. Chinese companies and government bodies are investing more and more for overseas branding, and Twitter is late comparing with Google and Facebook in this area. Based on our experience, there are two kinds of needs here: 1) the clients looking for result of conversion, like cross border e-commerce and gaming sector; 2) the clients looking for brand exposure, like tech companies and tourism bureau of the cities.
Partner and managing director, Daylight Partnership
Twitter opening an office here is essential if it wants any hope of becoming a significant player in Hong Kong. Among marketers here, it is widely accepted that Twitter is not an influential platform in Hong Kong and often bypassed for WeChat when campaigns are planned. China is obviously a non-starter for the company and will remain that way indefinitely.
However, there are indeed many international brands that are heavily invested in Twitter so it will be in their interest to see Twitter increase its penetration.
From a marketers’ perspective, we’ve experienced the challenge of trying to advertise on Twitter, and dealing with Twitter’s agents in Singapore is not for the faint of heart if you are a Hong Kong company. We are incredibly pleased that at last there is someone on the ground in Hong Kong that we can partner with.
Global MD Social@Ogilvy
The opening of Twitter's office in Hong Kong is further affirmation that companies in Asia are using social media in deeper and more complex ways.
We find the demand for direct contact with platforms grows as companies execute more complex uses of social media.
The value of having a local representative from platforms goes well beyond making it easier to buy ads. The proximity of platforms enable more creative and deep integration with brand strategies.
As for brands in China seeking access and needing expertise in platforms available outside China, we find this has been growing rapidly over the last six months. Companies in China know the value of social media and want to use the relevant platforms to the potential customers they are trying to reach.
Director, digital and social centre of excellence, Lenovo
The move would certainly help Lenovo in the work that we're doing, given that all other markets are on Twitter. However we have a thriving community on Weibo already and you'd have to look at the relevance of Twitter in the Chinese marketplace.
Is there actually an opening for it there? Does it do anything that is currently missing within the other platforms? Or is there an insight that Twitter has, saying that there is a desire in China to be 'integrated' (for want of a better term) into the social stream that the rest of the world is getting in their content feed? If there is, then it makes sense.
Bottom line is, the move should be based on what people want, rather than what a network simply wants to sell. I'm not suggesting that's what Twitter is doing but I'd have to assume they have some pretty robust market insights as a driver.