What Asian comms heads want: Meltwater

In this interview with PRWeek Asia, John Box, executive director of Meltwater Asia-Pacific, discusses the evolution of Meltwater's media-monitoring platform and the trends in the industry that led to its development.

HONG KONG - Social media and media monitoring are both activities that, historically, communication departments in Asia-Pacific prefer to outsource to agencies. So why are they buying into Meltwater’s tool?

With 24,000 clients globally, Asia-Pacific represents about 20 per cent of Meltwater’s business. While the ratio of agency-to-brand clients is higher in Asia-Pacific than in the West, brands still make up the bulk of the SaaS (software as a service) firm’s clientele.

"What we feel brands get from accessing Meltwater themselves is control over what they look for," explained John Box, executive director for Asia-Pacific. "Our platform is used, not just to search for mentions of the brand, but to research competitors as well as any other issues affecting the industry."

As an example, Box highlighted a global software company with an office in China that had subscribed to Meltwater’s service. "They used the tool to also search for their main clients in the media. They took the information gleaned and fed it to the sales teams—making them far more knowledgable about their clients’ needs."

When Meltwater noticed that its clients were using its platform for this purpose, it started introducing features to make its search function more intuitive, making it easier for users to filter down results, link terms and exclude others. It currently has access to content from publishers around the world and, for social media, it searches Twitter, Facebook and Sina Weibo. It doesn’t have access to Tencent’s weibo or WeChat yet, but is trying hard to bring the tech giant onboard.

The adtech space is a crowded one, particularly in the realm of social-media monitoring. Giants such as Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle are jostling for position alongside independent players such as Hootsuite and even customer-service-software platforms such as Verint. So what’s Meltwater’s edge?

Primarily, said Box, it’s designed for and used by communications professionals. "The Adobes of the world are more marketing based, while there is overlap, they do a lot of things we don’t and we’re better some things."

There aren’t many tools out there, he continued, that incorporate both traditional and social-media monitoring and management, as well as helping brands find the influencers they need to engage with online. "There is a proprietary influencer score we use which shows how important it is that a brand engage with them. For many clients, it’s one platform to do that, and another for editorial."

Differences between Asia and the West

A major difference Box has observed between Meltwater’s clients in Asia versus the West, is the reliance on agencies in Asia. "From a business point of view, social media here is a year or two behind. We also don’t see large social-media teams in-house. It tends to be outsourced to an agency."

Clients in the West are also more familiar with tools like Meltwater and often don’t require much handling. "We found that in Asia, and especially in China, it’s just expected that the service comes with insights, advice and reports," he said. "In the US, clients already know how to run a campaign and the metrics they should be tracking. Here, they ask us, what should I be tracking? What does a successful campaign look like?"

In the case of a client in Japan, which is part of a global alcohol brand, the goal was to get more product into the hands of young, female consumers. "We recommended the search they needed to identify the top influencers they needed to reach out to—in this case, young women who posted about cooking and nail art— and how to increase traffic to their site and to Facebook."

There is also considerably more pressure on communications executives in Asia to prove the ROI of their investment in social media, mostly because they have bosses who are less comfortable with the medium. But globally, Box has noticed a growing onus placed on communications directors to contribute towards driving the company’s bottom line.

"There is little doubt that the role of the comms person has expanded. They are now expected to add value beyond just counting mentions. To use tools like ours to gain any edge they can on the competition," said Box. "It’s about finding opportunities and feeding that intel to other departments."

Riana Dadlani who heads corporate communications for Meltwater, agreed, reflecting on her own role within the company, "Yes, I’m expected to impact the bottom line. I have to answer questions around who we are reaching and how it impacts customers. There is an increasing call for me to prove that I’m helping move sales."

There is also call to help comms people perform better within the company, not just externally, added Box. "Particularly within large pharmaceutical and CPG companies. There’s a call to measure how one brand performs versus another brand in the firm."

The number of searches on Meltwater’s platform has definitely increased over the past year or so as communications professionals strive to find these areas of opportunity, said Box. But it could also be partly due to another trait Asian firms have—the communications department is more willing to share its tools with other departments. "Perhaps because the teams here are smaller, they are far less protectionist about their resources."

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