Battle-tested ways to create inherently social brands

DDB’s Susanna Yap – planning director at Tribal Worldwide – unpacks the art of creating culturally relevant social media work that moves people for brands.

With more than a decade of experience in content planning and strategy, I have lived and breathed Southeast Asia’s fast-evolving social media landscape. It’s a fascinating place where brands clamber to keep up with social trends and meet fans on their turf with a message that matters. It’s an expensive exercise when brands misfire, but it can be remarkably bountiful for those who get it right.

This is especially pertinent in Southeast Asia, where social media has become an indispensable marketing channel. The region has some of the world’s most active and engaged social media users, particularly the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Recent reports state that users in the Philippines spend an average of three hours and 30 minutes on social media, which is 66 minutes more than the global average.

Over the past ten years, I have helped many brands successfully deploy social-first strategies that prioritise cultural relevance to influence people. I have seen first-hand how creativity that strikes an emotional chord with social media users creates a ripple effect that drives business performance for our clients.

My tried-and-tested roadmap for staying ahead of the (social media) game. 

Listen deeply
Change your environment to really immerse yourself in the brief. While it seems obvious, having conversations with your target audience BEFORE developing content is a vital starting point that many brands neglect.

Lean on social media panels to tap into real-time social conversations across large custom audiences and achieve broad-spectrum social listening. Observe behaviours and identify tensions. Spend ample time here to ensure your work is built on solid foundations. This is how we identify salient sub-topics and get familiar with the language that helps brands deliver an emotional advantage.

The power to move people requires an unwavering commitment to understanding culture and everything that comes with it. A robust sounding board is your best bet for protecting your brand from making tone-deaf mistakes.

Conduct quick and dirty interviews. Speaking to just two or three people immersed in your target community reveals qualitative insights you can test quantitatively. And hire talent plugged into interest-based communities that overlap with the work. From avid gamers to hobbyists, insiders help direct the thinking, identify no-go zones, and surface cultural shifts early.

Initiate chats with tribes that can influence the perception of your brand. Tribes bring together like-minded people who learn from each other. They have a strong sense of community and belonging, and their endorsements carry remarkable influence and value. Outside of tribes, consider how your brand can form long-term relationships with key opinion leaders to build a high-value stable of authentic brand advocates.

Finally, we’ve had great success co-creating solutions for clients in partnership with tertiary institutions. Our relationship with local polytechnics gives us instant access to thousands of students with vastly diverse interests.

Bring the rizz! Here’s how to tackle your next brief. 

Engage interests first 
Shortlist core audience interests relevant to your brand. Demonstrate how your brand and product enable consumers to explore these interests. This allows your brand to quickly break into new audience segments.

For example, a simple static Facebook post by Singapore’s Gardens of the Bay mirrored typical conversations heard among seniors to become the talk of the town, including misspelling the word ‘wonderful’ in one instance to establish authenticity. Tapping into their interests as a top priority put the promotion in front of the right people many times over to achieve the desired result.

Stoke the fandom 
Be intentional about making your brand or product’s fans feel heard and validated. Word of mouth is the most powerful force in business. Conversations on social media are word of mouth amplified. It has the same power to influence people without any of the traditional constraints. Segment and analyse feedback from top fans to create experiences they are proud to be a part of and keen to tell others about.

For example, our work with Google Play in Indonesia gave hardcore gamers the opportunity to be recognised by their contemporaries as ‘ALLSTARS’ and learn from pro gamers.

Create money-can’t-buy experiences
Create exclusive experiences that are only accessible through your social channels. From insider content to limited-edition merchandise, give your audience an irresistible reason to follow your brand’s social channels.

For example, Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth collaborated with local artists on a line of limited-edition merch, available exclusively on their social channels. By tapping into the nation’s national pride, MCCY grew their social community authentically.

We believe every brand has the potential to become inherently social. It’s all about finding common ground with social media users and then unlocking the power of human emotion to influence behaviour and transform business performance for clients.

This article was originally published in LBBOnline in June 2024. 

Go Back