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Image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash
By Matthew Cowan
The Bureau Asia
First published 19 August 2020
The reason behind my flip-out was that I’d become disenchanted with the amount of repetitive sponsored Facebook posts from local businesses filling my feed.
It disheartens me to see posts asking us to support local businesses when the money spent on spreading that message is going to a social media conglomerate that raked in over US$70 billion in 2019 and has been accused by certain groups, including big brands like Adidas, Reebok, Starbucks, Pepsico and others, for sponsoring hate speech.
I had predicted Facebook would be the straw to send me over the edge, and now here it was breathing its foul breath down the nape of my neck, locking me in an arm bar and waiting for me to tap out.
I just couldn’t ignore things any longer.
“What about supporting this local business?!” my neighbours heard echoing down the hallway of my apartment block. I believe the volley of expletives that followed made the toddler cry in apartment three.
A proverbial cracker with a very short fuse had finally been shoved up my arse and lit.
I decided it was high-time I pushed the case for micro-influencers and small channels like mine, The Bureau Asia.
You see, I made a conscious decision at the end of last year to devote less time and fewer resources to Facebook and Instagram in favour of spending more time on improving my website’s search engine performance.
This also came after it was proved Facebook had made an unauthorised transaction from my credit card account and followed up not with an apology, but a warning that my pages would be shutdown if I disputed anything further.
From then on, Facebook had lost me.
I still maintain three pages and think that Facebook Live and Instagram stories are the best things since pho on the morning of a hangover, but I refuse to give them any money these days.
And with social media being such a rapidly evolving space anyway, along with Facebook’s increasing ugliness and its algorithms, to me it made sense to channel my energy towards improving my website’s SEO metrics.
How have I gone about that?
Well, in a number of ways.
Image: Morning Brew on Unsplash
During the first week of each month, Google sends out its Search Console report to website owners who have embedded a tracking code into the back end of their sites to monitor traffic.
In its simplest form, Google Search Console is a service that allows webmasters to evaluate the performance of their website against key metrics like total clicks, total impressions, average click-through-rate (CTR), bounce rate and average position of a site in Google search results for that month.
Indeed, there’s the capability to look back over the website’s entire history from when the code was embedded.
There are many other metrics that can be drilled down into in order to gain a better picture of a website’s ‘health’ and it can be used in tandem with Google Analytics, which can even tell you how many people are actively viewing your site in real time, including when they exit.
Are you still with me?
Stay on this page because it’s likely I’ll catch you jumping off if you do.
Just kidding, but it’s fun to watch, nevertheless.
I like you, but I’m not that into you
Because there’s so much content out there vying for attention, content creators like me value these kinds of insights, especially when much of the feedback we receive tends to come in the form of vanity metrics (think ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ on Facebook and ‘thumbs up’ on YouTube), in addition to more heartfelt, but perhaps no less perfunctory, pats on the back or similar such forms of praise for a job well done.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all positive feedback and graciously accepted, but you can’t pass these kinds of rewards on to your landlord as rent or exchange them for grocery items at the market or put them down on the bar as payment at your favourite craft beer joint.
If this were the case, I’d be drunk a lot.
We need to monetise to pay our bills just like everyone else and one of the best types of feedback to help us along this (often pitch black and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) path towards media stardom (I'm joking here) is the kind our friends and peers sometimes can’t, or just won’t, give us – the truth.
Therefore, the data these Google tools provide, enable me (in theory at least) to make better decisions with respect to how I can optimise the visibility of my content during online searches.
The more highly ranked my links are, the more likely people are to discover my content and click through to it, which increases my traffic, which in-turn gives me hope that someone might pay me to feature them or place an ad on my site.
An example of my content that remains “evergreen” on Google and something I’m quite proud of is a barbershop listicle I published back in January 2019.
It ranks top on the first page of a Google search for barbershops in Ho Chi Minh City and continues to get hits and has racked up almost 16,000 views.
I’m confident very little (or none) of that continuing traffic is coming via Facebook.
That’s why improving visibility on search pages is crucial, because content on Facebook is like taking your eyes off your iPhone at a Saigon street-side eatery for a split-second, only to look back to find it's gone, and it's a pest trying to to get it back.
If that annoys me, then I’m certain it annoys my followers, too.
Now, I hear you scoffing at 16K views. I get that.
Compared to other influencers and KOLs on social media or YouTube, 16K mightn’t seem like a large number of views, but when you put it into the context of what’s defined as a ‘view’ and where those views are coming from and who the intended audience is, then it’s quite good.
Well, because on Facebook Live or Instagram, for example, three seconds is considered a view, while on YouTube, it’s believed to be around 30 seconds.
According to The Bureau Asia's latest Google Search Console report (July 2020), the average time-on-page visitors spent was 3 minutes and 32 seconds.
That’s a significant difference.
And across the entire website, visitors from Vietnam spent on average 2 minutes and 16 seconds browsing content.
One report online has the average Facebook video watch time at just 10 seconds.
Almost 42% of The Bureau Asia’s July traffic came from organic searches on Google, while another 18% came from direct searches, which means visits resulted from people typing thebureauasia.com (or something like it) directly into their browser.
That’s 60% of traffic coming from Google searches alone.
Of that, approximately 44% of traffic came from Vietnam followed by the USA, Philippines, Singapore and Australia, with gender almost evenly split, marginally in favour of males.
Meanwhile, in terms of age, the majority were 25-34 years old (37%) followed by 35-44 year olds at 21%.
Image: Mike Palumbo on Instagram @mikepalumbo_
The overarching intention behind this article is to raise awareness of the value of investing in micro-influencers and more specifically, those who have a solid online footprint via multiple channels and platforms.
To clarify, micro-influencers are people who have between 1,000 to 100,000 followers on social media and who focus on a specific niche or area and are generally regarded as an expert or topic specialist.
They are growing in importance, according to Jade Bilowol, an account manager at Balcony Media, a PR agency that operates throughout Southeast Asia: "As businesses consider more and more ways to cut through and reach their audiences, micro-influencers are on the rise," she says. "While this can't be said about every single micro-influencer, they are seen to have the potential to generate high engagement as a result of their smaller yet sometimes more engaged audiences."
Indeed, micro-influencers tend to be more capable of forging stronger relationships than macro-influencers because their followers are considered more likely to live in the same geographic area (among other factors), therefore, they are perceived as friendlier, more authentic and less-likely to have been bought.
Megan Ly, PR Newswire Asia’s Ho Chi Minh City-based business development manager agrees: “It’s important for brands to consider micro-influencers because they already have a trusted relationship with their followers,” says Ly, who’s been working in her role since 2019 and holds marketing qualifications from RMIT University. “They are more likely to purchase a product or a service when their influencers recommend it, while using ads from your own channel mightn’t be able to create that trust.”
Meanwhile, Huong Thien, the general manager of The Odys Boutique Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City’s central District 1 says that return-on-investment (ROI) is a key consideration when making a decision on whether or not to use a micro-influencer: “If we only spend on Facebook or Instagram, for example, the ROI is difficult to quantify (in terms of engagement) because those kinds of interactions are one-way,” she says. “Micro-influencers offer their opinions on their experiences with our services and products, which can make the review process more objective. It adds more benefit than simply spending money on running an ad.”
Further, in a 2019 article written by Geoffrey Precourt in WARC (World Advertising Research Center), an influential market research company that helps digital marketers make strategic decisions, it says macro-influencers offer considerable reach, but it’s micro-influencers that often have deeper relationships with their audiences.
Gorana Romcevic, founder and CEO of Bleach, a music and entertainment agency specialising in integrated communications, worldwide events and artist tours, agrees with Precourt’s position: “People tend to trust word-of-mouth, especially if it’s coming from someone they look up to, compared to advertising on Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “Influencers provide a more ‘personal touch.’”
In Vietnam, however, where Facebook rules with an estimated number of over 45 million users (essentially every second person has an account), the prevailing attitude seems to be more is better with vanity metrics such as ‘likes’, number of followers and perceived reach that ultimately determine whether an influencer gets a callback or return email enquiring about their services.
If those numbers are perceived as low, then it can be very difficult for micro-influencers to attain any kind of sustainable income.
But reach is only valuable if it’s reaching the people who are likely to engage with your brand and which helps generate leads, keeps the drinks flowing at bars and prevents restaurant doors from closing.
It’s understandable that businesses continue to throw money at Facebook, it's tantalising to think of all that reach.
But, according to Precourt, focusing solely on numbers, rather than more tangible forms of engagement, is a common failing when assessing influencer marketing.
Megan Ly backs this up when she highlights the misconceptions that may prevent micro-influencers from being hired: “There’s a misconception that a lower number of followers results in lower reach and engagement,” she says, referring to an industry report that analysed the habits of 800,000 Instagram users and found that those with less than 1,000 followers generally received likes on their posts 8% of the time, whereas those with 10 million or more followers received likes just 1.6% of the time.
“Again, the number of followers won’t negatively impact on the effectiveness of influencers if they speak to a particular group that has a higher purchasing power than a mass audience,” she says.Brad Segal of Eddie’s New York Diner & Deli in Saigon’s Thao Dien in District 2, an increasingly popular neighbourhood for dining out, also believes that micro-influencers can tap additional market segments that may not be accessible through boosting Facebook posts: “I think businesses need to go beyond just standard social media,” he says. “When we’ve worked with a couple of food bloggers, we saw positive results and identified a new market segment coming into Eddie’s who ordered specific items and took photos in the locations of our restaurant where the influencer took them.”
Image: Aaarron Norcott on Unsplash
Let’s talk numbers then, shall we?
At the time of writing, I have over 12,000 social media followers across my platforms, while The Bureau Asia has close to 5,000. These are organic followers who haven’t been bought and have chosen to follow me and The Bureau Asia for the engaging content that it provides them.
And I also have thebureauasia.com, my website that is HQ for everything at The Bureau Asia.
But with Facebook and Instagram algorithms favouring posts that aren’t for marketing purposes, such as pictures of friends and family and silly memes, you can only expect to reach somewhere between 2% to 6% of your followers to see your marketing content if you don’t boost it.
And of that, you can expect just 1% (if you’re lucky) of those reached to engage with your content.
You just need to do the maths.
The Bureau Facebook page currently has 2,330 page likes.
By the above estimates, if I post something on that page, I can expect just 46 people to see it and just 0.46 (of a person – is that possible?) to engage with it.
While the argument that there's a need to build my following up is a valid one, it wouldn't necessarily increase reach or engagement, as was pointed out above.
At the end of last year, the realisation of this forced me to rethink my long-term strategy, which has led me to focus less on social media and more on improving my website’s performance.
Which brings me back to my discussion earlier about Google.
"The Bureau Asia receives twice as much of its traffic via search engines as it does from Facebook"
"The Bureau Asia website is still expected to have grown by 46% by the end of this year"
"Facebook is a necessary evil"
Image: Mike Palumbo on Instagram @mikepalumbo_
Onwards & Upwards
In 2020, despite COVID-19, The Bureau Asia website has experienced good growth and has continued to do so since January 2018 when I launched it.
In 2018, 30% of referral traffic came from Facebook, while just 10% came from search engines.
That makes sense as brands starts out and attempt to build awareness via social media.
But as content became indexed (the process whereby search engines catalogue content to help get the best match for a search term) in 2019 and awareness of The Bureau Asia brand grew, those referrers flipped positions so that search engines were the biggest referrer to the site with 44% of traffic coming from them and 25% coming from Facebook.
2020 has naturally been an unusual year to date and we can expect it to remain that way, so we make predictions at our peril, but currently The Bureau Asia receives twice as much of its traffic via search engines as it does Facebook.
How those figures pan out by the end of the year is anyone’s guess, although if the trend mirrors search behaviour during the COVID-19 outbreak here in Vietnam in January, I would expect the gap between the two referrers to close as people turn to social media for more up-to-the-minute information and news as this so-called second wave plays out.
Indeed, that behaviour in Vietnam mirrors global search trends as COVID-19 continues around the world.
Having said that, The Bureau Asia website is still expected to have grown by 46% by the end of this year. Last year it was up 38% from 2018.
The indicators are positive and perhaps reflect the hard work I’ve put into trying to improve The Bureau Asia’s visibility on Google searches.
But that will be in vain unless local businesses are willing to undertake an integrated marketing approach to their marketing strategies whereby in addition to their social media spend (that ain't going away), they engage the services of a local micro-influencer who can offer more long-term targeted engagement with followers who are highly likely to try a new craft beer, make the effort to climb the stairs of a musty French colonial-era building in search of a speakeasy or splurge on a one-off wine dinner with their loved one at a high-end restaurant.
Facebook is killing us people, so I think we should be liking it a little bit less.
But, as one well-known craft beer brewer so perfectly put it to me recently in words that I swear he yanked straight out of my mouth, "Facebook is a necessary evil."He's right, and the sad irony is, it's highly likely you got to this article via Facebook.