The latest little outrage hitting Malaysian shores involves something i deal with professionally on a daily basis — Facebook pages. The Malaysian Tourism Ministry recently admitted that it had committed RM1.8 million on the development and maintenance of 6 Facebook pages.
KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — A whopping RM1,758,432 was spent on developing six Facebook pages to promote Malaysian tourism, the Tourism Ministry said today.
Predictably, this prompted an uproar from the Opposition and much of the online community. In an attempt to prove how stupid the expenditure was, a satirical page named “Curi-Curi Wang Malaysia” was setup (for free) and practically overnight, attracted 120,000 followers, at least 3 times the number the main Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia page.
RM1.8 million for 6 Facebook pages. To the layperson, it seems like an exorbitant sum, especially since setting up a page is free. So where did all the money go to? Another prime example of corruption, kickbacks and Government wastage? Perhaps not, at least if you speak to people who are actually familiar with the media and branding industry.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what others in the industry have to say.
Roberto Cumaraswamy, country head (Malaysia) of digital agency Vocanic: “It always worries me when clients resort to social media marketing because they see it as a cheap alternative, because that is the wrong reason to use it. The reality is that building the page is just the first baby step in the journey of successful user engagement.”
It isn’t free, and it certainly isn’t cheap. Pepsi spent US$20 million on a social media campaign. Yup, that includes ONE Facebook page. Closer to home, AirAsia spends nearly ALL of its marketing budget online. Yup, that includes a handful of Facebook pages too. Millions of ringgit, easily.
Kelvin Lim, digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller noted that with no clear visibility into the exact scope of work and length of engagement, no one is in any position at this point to say whether the figures are reasonable or otherwise.
However, the amount stated is certainly possible, depending on project complexity, consultant management requirements and marketing spread.
“Let’s be clear, creating a Facebook page is not the same thing as managing a Facebook campaign,” he said.
“When you consider that designers, coders, marketers and engagement crews (all of which contribute to a good Facebook campaign success formula) need to be hired, the appropriate budget has to be allocated,” he added.
(David) Lian agreed, adding people assume that social media is “free” because the tools appear to be “free”, but this discounts the time creatives need to put in to design assets, the technical work needed to ensure proper tracking is done (though Facebook Insights is free), monitoring and community management, advertising, and other costs such as contest prizes which can sometimes go up to RM 1 million.
So where does RM1.8 million go? Contrary to popular belief (i.e. a 6 year old kid can setup a Facebook page that will attract tens of thousands of visitors and can turn social engagements into millions of ringgit of tourism revenue and forex), to setup a successful campaign that INCLUDES (though certainly does not end with) an active and well-moderated Facebook page costs big marketing dollars, as Kelvin Lim and David Lian allude to. There is just so many things to do as part of the media pie — enterprise strategists, media planners, coders, traffic analysts, moderators, designers, IT hardware setup (yes, FB is free, but the scalability of the page for games and other apps require independent hardware setups), project managers, etc. The list is a very long one. And none of it comes free, and in most cases, is quite expensive, relatively speaking. Senior media planners easily make as much as high-end fund managers.
Edit: Additional info, read this for the “Real Cost of Social Media“. US$210k a year, just setup and maintenance costs of a basic community. Excluding media buy (ads) and fancy Flash games and contests. Still think the Internet is free?
Think of it this way. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, whatever — they are all just lines of HTML code. Marketing is still the name of the game. Would it surprise you to know that the real costs of marketing and branding is not the TV ads, the newspaper ads, or things you hear on the radio — most of the costs come from the human costs involved, the costs for talented HR to not just come up with good marketing ideas and consultancy, but to also execute those ideas and carry out media plans. In a wa
y, the Tourism Ministry should be applauded for saving costs by not solely relying on expensive TV, radio, newspapers or magazines campaigns. In those channels, RM1.8 million is just a drop in a teacup, hardly able to pay for a handful of TV ads.
So what’s the problem here? Twofold. An ignorant and easily misled public (the Internet is free, amirite?). And a Ministry that doesn’t have the smarts to come clean, instead choosing to waffle over silly terms such as “unquantifiable creativity“. The Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen is probably not an expert in such things, and when given the chance to present her case to the Cabinet, failed miserably. Get a soldier to talk about art, and you’re going to get a deer caught in headlights — bewildered, lost and confused. Yes, that’s her fault, no excuses, for not being adequately prepared by her supporting team and the media agency she hired.
At a deeper level, this is another example of how poor public relations and branding have come back to haunt the Government.
Australia’s Tourism Board came up with a similar digital marketing project several years ago, you may have heard of it. The Best Job in the World. One person will be hired to live on islands around Australia, and that person will blog about his experiences. His salary for the job? AUD$150,000 (roughly RM500k). Take into account all the related costs (media agency, digital planning, IT costs — they used websites rather than free FB pages, etc.) and that’s a multi-million dollar project. Besides the fact that the idea was a damn good one (you can bet your arse that such good ideas are EXTREMELY expensive commodities), there was hardly a beep of protest from the Australian people despite the obvious costs (and this was down during a period of global recession, 2007-2008!). Why? Compare the brand sentiment of the Australian Government (ranked 8th on the global corruption index) and that of ours, and you’ll begin to understand.
When your branding sucks, even when you do good things, people will flog you to death. If your branding is awesome, you can spend trillions of dollars invading the Middle East, and they’ll still vote you back into office.
Edit: the “PR” in the title refers to “public relations” not “Pakatan Rakyat”.