Global viewpoint from Hong Kong
A view from Thomas Crampton

Global viewpoint from Hong Kong

In the 17 years since the handover, Hong Kong has defied almost every prediction of its demise. It is a hub city in a region wrongly relegated to secondary status when it comes to creativity. But Asia is now exacting revenge through innovation in social media.

Change has always come easily to Asia, where consumers and companies eagerly embrace new technology. Take mobile-phone coverage. I can start a call at my home in Hong Kong, take the bus and ride the underground without ever losing the signal. Compare this with the "Manhattan freeze": pedestrians abruptly stopping when they finally get a decent signal strength.

Asia’s new creative revolution has not been powered by borrowed technology; it’s leading the way with home-grown approaches. The leading platforms are WeChat and Line, more sophisticated cousins to WhatsApp, monetising differently and offering alternative ways for consumers to engage.

While WhatsApp has higher global numbers and recently commanded a $19 billion price tag, WeChat and Line dominate in their home markets. Interestingly, they won’t be sold any time soon. Unlike Silicon Valley start-ups, WeChat was launched by one of China’s largest internet companies, Tencent, while Line is owned by Naver, a big web player in South Korea.

Line sold colourful emoticons for users to send to one another, while WeChat gained early traction partly thanks to "shake", a function that allows you to see other, nearby users shaking their phones at the same time – a dating scene revolution.

The leading platforms are WeChat and Line, Whatsapp's more sophisticated cousins

Lawson, the Japanese convenience store chain, has teamed up with Line to offer discounts that appear as coupons on users’ phones when they are in the vicinity of one of its shops. WeChat’s increasing range of functionalities include the ability to pay taxi drivers directly via the app, as well as airport check-in and banking. They both offer a new way to attract, retain and nurture customers at scale, and their popularity and functionalities have turned them into business tools to manage relationships.

CRM had traditionally been limited to moments when a customer engaged directly with a company. Social media now allows consumers to tell companies about their interest in a product or service, opening up new opportunities for engagement – on landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, a Chinese consumer connected to a French luxury brand on WeChat might receive a personalised invitation to visit its Paris flagship store and see a product they have expressed an interest in.

These novel functions and the rapid growth of regionally developed platforms for the next phase of social media should help redefine Asia from copycat continent to creative force.

Thomas Crampton is the global managing director at Social@Ogilvy