Niki Cheong is blogging

Paradigm Mall issue: My social media perspective

Paradigm Mall Facebook page screenshot

By now, many of you who are active on the Malaysian social mediascape would have heard about the disaster on Paradigm Mall’s Facebook page a week ago. In response to complaints about elevators at the new shopping mall, someone with administrator access to the page took a rather unpopular tone – sarcasm.

Such a reaction didn’t go down well with many people, and this lead to the General Manager of WCT Land (which I assume owns the mall) Ben Chong issuing a public apology.

Naturally, following such a “disaster”, the media took to analysing the situation. In an article posted in The Malaysian Insider, columnist Edwin Yapp (also the co-founder of the new tech portal Digital News Asia) explored the issue by asking, as the headline goes, “Is social media monitoring bereft of common sense, professionalism?”

He explains that such behaviour is not new to social media across the globe (those of us who have been keeping tabs on the Malaysian scene might remember a couple of previous occurrence over the years as well). He also quoted my friends Teoh Mei Ying and Kal Joffres, both social media consultants, who shared what I think many of us who work with social media would agree with – that such a reaction from a corporation using social network sites like Facebook to promote its brand was a big mistake.

I don’t disagree with the essence of the article, and my friends’ comments. That said, I do wonder about Edwin’s comment about the apology, saying that “the damage to the mall’s reputation has already been done”. This is a different digital culture issue to be explored, in that I often think there is a kind of disconnect in these cases; how many of those who are upset are actually existing and potential customers and if they are, how many will really end up boycotting the place because of this incident?

I was also thinking about Mei Ying’s comment about “never to let things get personal”. While I totally understand what she means, I was thinking about the irony in that choice of words considering social media is extremely “personal” and I do think that if the offending administrator had taken a more personal approach to responding to complaints, things might have unfolded differently.

But I digress. What I am more interested stems from a conversation I had with my friend Jui Hong on Twitter regarding an article in Campaign Asia-Pacific titled: Paradigm Mall Malaysian experiences downside of Facebook ‘magic’.

The article is now only available for subscribers so I can’t get you the exact words, but when I read it the other day, there was a quote from the PR agency of Paradigm Mall who explained that there wasn’t much it could do because it wasn’t handling social media for the Mall. Jui Hong alluded to this quote when he asked on his own Twitter account:

Jui Hong's tweet
The conversation we had was in response to the question in his following tweet: “Do PR agencies have a responsibility to act on social media crisis, when they are NOT responsible for Social Media communication?” As an owner of a PR agency, this issue was clearly important to him. I was intrigued by it however because I feel that it brings to the forefront issues that I haven’t encountered too often in the discourse about social media.

Advocates of social media have been going on and on about how brands should embrace it and how this is the future of marketing. Following this incident, I am wondering if it is time we spoke more about how this is affecting the practices of other media institutions (besides the press)?

I feel that for too long, we have been advocating social media as a marketing tool – and rightly so. But I also feel sometimes we forget that there is more to marketing than just selling a brand. When I am invited to speak to businesses about social media, and when I share with my Marketing and Publicity students, I often remind them that social media does not exist in a bubble.

Even after these past few years, I still hear from people who believe that social media is this magical tool that will help brands win over the world. But when we really think about the things that we use social media for in this context – advertising, publicity, public relations among others – are these not facets of marketing?

Granted, the rules may have changed a lot due to the nature of such technologies (I hesitate to use the term “new” these days) but at the end of the day, most of the things we do with social media in this context goes back to those basic principles.

So, when a PR consultant notices what is essentially a PR disaster, albiet on less traditional platform, should they just sit back and wash their hands clean of the situation?

I understand that there are politics and intricacies in the relationships between different agencies contracted to do what might be perceived to be different tasks, but I think that two questions need to be asked:

1. Do agencies with certain specialties not have the responsibility to at least advice the clients – if not other agencies also serving the same clients – on the best approach to deal with certain situations, especially when there is expertise to be shared? In the context of Paradigm Mall, I wouldn’t want to assume that the PR agency had not communicated with its clients, but that quote by the PR consultancy about how it was not in its jurisdiction implies that they didn’t (or couldn’t) act.

2. Should agencies work in isolation, or should they put more effort in collaborating with one another particularly where it is in the client’s best interest (and whose responsibility is it to ensure this – the agencies or the client)? Or, to take this one level further, is it time for clients to expect (more firmly) a certain cooperation within its various agencies?

With my second question, what I am wondering is whether social media is changing the traditional separation of tasks between advertising, PR, marketing and more recently “digital” agencies? I am not for a minute implying that there is never any kind of communication between these agencies – I know for a fact that often, clients bring all their agencies together – but as the Paradigm Mall incident clearly illustrates, such processes is not always practiced.

I don’t have a solution other than suggesting much more communication, and more collaboration, between the agencies in the current framework that we operate within. Whether or not a new framework is necessary in the current digital age, I leave it to you.

It just concerns me that after a few years (how much longer can we get away with talking about how social media is so new that we’re still figuring things out?), we are still making the same errors – as the Paradigm Mall saga has shown, or as in the other example cited by Edwin in his article – and doing so little about it (or feeling powerless).

If digital media as we currently know it is the present, and the future – and it most likely will be – then it’s time we caught up.

p/s I’d love to hear what you guys think, especially those of you working in agencies. Bouquets and brickbats welcome in the comments section. Can’t guarantee I won’t reply sarcastically though! 😉

12.10am Greenwich Meridian Time

Discussion (6)

There are 6 responses to “Paradigm Mall issue: My social media perspective”.

  1. indira Nair responded:

    · Reply

    Hi Nikki – I currently take the lead for communications in a govt agency. And just prior to this, I had a similar role in GLC. Plus 25+ years working in different facets of communications/marketing.
    Wearing either the client’s hat or the agency’s hat, I would say that any agency with half a brain must provide their client, regardless of what they have been appointed to handle, what they believe is the best approach from a communications perspective. Then it is up to the client to decide whether they want to take the counsel.
    And any client with half a brain will also defnitely appreciate the counsel and the support the agency provides.
    In times like what Paradigm Mall faced, you are being bombarded with messages. Plus intense internal pressures. So an external perspective, and calm counsel from someone who has a cool towel on their head, is always much appreciated. IMHO.

  2. interesting points raised here, niki and not surprisingly yr questions were exactly the same ones brought up more than 5 years ago during a global social media session organised by my previous employer, Hill & Knowlton. the obvious answer is that regardless of whether your agency “owns” social media or not for the client, it’s just common sense to have all agencies (pr, mktg, digital etc etc) come together and resolve such issues.

    but it’s easier said than done becos it all boils down to $$, pride and protecting yr turf. the agencies don’t tell you that and they will never bring it up with the client until their backs are against the wall. then the plea/excuse of “social media is not managed by us…” is heard.

    if you ask pr agencies, they’ll tell you they should own social media becos the essence of social media is about communications. if you ask marketing agencies, they’ll tell you social media is all about engaging for marketing/sales as the end goal. if you ask advertising/digital agencies, they’ll tell you social media is an extension of existing advertising platforms that clients can use to reach a wider audience that is otherwise not tapped thru traditional means.

    who’s right? who’s wrong? how does the client divvy up his budget for social media and to which agencies? at the end of the day, everyone wants to do the fun and exciting stuff but few will want to take the heat and manage issues when things go south.


  3. Well, what amazed me is the creative reply of Paradigm Mall’s FB fans. It some how help Paradigm Mall get tons more FB fans just out of curiosity.

    It’s time to have traditional PR Agency include a Digital/FB/Twitter Marketing team. Unless the client want to ‘save budget’ and hire them separately?

    There will be new thing replacing FB. Just matter of time. Till then, make full use of it to get in touch with friends from all around the world!

  4. Jess responded:

    · Reply

    The PR consultant should have made the effort to advise client on the potential consequences. Who’s taking care of what is not the main concern here but the client’s reputation that they (all agency) must guard.

  5. I’m so going to write a post to respond to your post responding to Edwin’s post. When I find some time.

    Meantime, here are my thoughts to your two questions:

    1. There is too little information and too many factors involved to tell why the PR agency in question did not react beyond saying “it’s out of our purview.” Perhaps they had flagged it to the client separately? Perhaps there is already a SM team on this, who already knew about the matter and was working on a solution (too slowly).

    However, certainly any respectable PR agency who sees a crisis brewing should and would step in to counsel the client and take relevant action. What happens next is often where the brakes are put on – does the client see his / her PR agency in the right capacity to advise on social media crises? Are there artificial barriers within the client’s organisation?

    That’s not clear from what we know.

    2. From where I sit, I see agency structures shifting big time. PR agencies now are asked for their advice and help to execute on Social Advertising buys (traditionally the realm of Media Agencies). Media agencies are trying to hire social media consultants. Everyone is realising the power of analytics (beyond the web analytics so traditionally put out by digital agencies), and trying to build capability.

    At some point, all these agencies will converge and the client may only ever really work with just one agency.

    Until then, for clients to get the most out of all the partners they work with, they need to understand and lead the collaboration between all agencies. More than just managing work in / work out, it’s about managing a team and a team that’s cross-agency and likely, competitors. Certainly, the best client work I’ve done has been in close working relationship with other agencies (for one client, we had four agencies doing the job). So yes, closer collaboration is a must.

    At some point, these thoughts will be a blogpost and I hope to discuss this phenomenon a bit more.

  6. I’m so glad I don’t have stupid picture of myself when you screen cap that shot. LOL.

    Anyways, the exact quote was:

    // PR agency [name removed], which manages corporate communications for the mall’s developer, WCT Berhad, admitted to being aware of the situation but being unable to either comment or act on it. “We’re really only in charge of WCT’s corporate communication and not the mall’s social media activities,” said a representative. //

    Just to add, i think it’s besides the point what exactly happened between the agency and the client for this particular situation. What interest me more is how agency structures need to change to handle situations like this.

    David is right, agency structure is shifting and I do wonder out loud whether those who are practicing within agencies are prepared, or at least preparing for that shift.

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