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Vietnam: State of Social Media One Year after Facebook Block

When Vietnam blocked Facebook, everyone was talking about a smaller China. One year after the government's endeavor, Facebook Vietnam tells another story. Not only does Vietnam remain on the list of 10 countries with the fastest growth of Facebook users, Facebook marketing is enjoying a boom in this country with Facebook marketing agencies mushrooming all over Internet.

Why do Vietnameses till use Facebook even after the government blocked it? The answer is simple: Because they can. If users in China have to pay for a VPN and go through a painful process to gain access to Facebook and other blocked websites, people in Vietnam just need to change their DNS settings and enjoy a full Internet experience for free.

According to FBMan, a tool built by Nguyen Thanh Long, ePi Technologies’ VP of Marketing, to track the size and growth of Vietnam's Facebook fanpage using Facebook API, the largest fanpage in Vietnam currently has 484,000 likes. For a market of 1.7 millions users (and growing), the number means that this page has reached to almost 30 percent of Vietnamese Facebook users. Imagine this ratio worldwide, we would have a fanpage with 100 millions likes. The fanpage was developed by s2sFacebook, an agency specializing in Facebook marketing. They also manage a bunch of other pages with the fan base up to few hundreds of thousands.

Vu Phuong Thanh, aka Gao, is arguably the most popular Vietnamese on Facebook. This blogger-turned-author moved to Facebook after the shut down of Yahoo! 360 has now had 90,000 “likes” for her page. She is now working with a Vietnamese talent agency headed by actress Ngo Thanh Van as its PR manager. They are preparing for the launch of a boyband called 365. Even though the band hasn't launched the debut single, it has made it to many national and local newspapers as “the hottest band on the Internet”.

Gao shared that social media, Facebook and YouTube, accounts for 60% of their marketing plan. Facebook is where people get to know about 365. She doesn't want to use Zing Me () or other Vietnamese websites:

“It's like swimming in a stagnat pond. The environment and connections there are too limited.”

Zing Me, owned by VNG, is the largest social network in Vietnam at the moment with 5 million users. VNG was formerly known as VinaGame – an online game giant in Vietnam.

Vo Thanh Cuong, 8x-generation CEO of Click Media, said over an interview on Yahoo! Messenger, still the dominating chat client in Vietnam:

“We have tried some campaigns on Zing Me, but the results weren't very good. Most of Zing Me users are under 15, and many of them log in Zing Me just to play Nong trai (a game similar to Facebook's Farmville). There are not many activities outside games”.

Earlier this year, they ran a campaign for Sony Ericsson Vivaz where they used Don Nguyen, an American Vietnamese comedian famous in Vietnam for his lip synching to popular Vietnamese songs, to post a video on YouTube. The video, supposedly recorded by Sony Ericsson Vivaz, attracted 800,000 views. Don Nguyen himself has more than 50,000 likes on his fanpage. Click Media’s latest campaign was for Vietnam Idol. They use many channels including Facebook, forums, Zing Me, Nhac Cua Tui – a music sharing website, Yume – a local social network. However, “Facebook is still the most effective despite its being blocked, both in term of interaction and conversion rate”, said Cuong. When talking about conversion rate, he meant hits to website from Facebook. In any conversation with marketers in Vietnam, Go.vn – Vietnamese government's response to Faceobok – is pretty much out of the picture.

“100% our customers are international brands. Social media is still new here, local companies don't allocate budget for it. But I think from next year there will be more Vietnamese companies interested in social media. Advertising agencies now understand the efficiency of social media, and they are the ones who advice and allocate budget for brands.” Cuong hopes so.

However, after overcoming the government's barrage, marketers have to face another obstacle, this time from Facebook itself. It's Facebook's policy to block the publishing rights of large generic pages “due to a violation of the Pages Terms of Use.”

“It happened all the time when we first started: whenever a page reached 10000 fans, Facebook blocked it.”, shared Cuong. “But now it's ok. We have established an exclusive relationship with Facebook SEA.”

I can imagine his wink over the square screen of his laptop, with Facebook opening on top.

For those who don't enjoy that exclusiveness, what they have to do is to create a whole new page like what Gao did with 365 fanpage. “It's risky to use Facebook”, said she. “But once people start knowing you, they will follow you whenever you go. It's true with 365.” 365′s news fanpage, 365daband has had more than 7000 likes after 3 weeks.

Still, marketers in Vietnam have something to hope for. Last October, Facebook put up a message on its Career Page that they are looking for someone that has

“experience in government relations work and navigating government agencies along with an extensive network of contacts in the government and the technology space”.

The recent visit of Javier Olivan, Facebook's Head of International Growth at Facebook, to Vietnam suggested that Vietnam will be soon taken care of. “They should”, said Cuong. “Vietnam is not a small market at all.” With a population of 90 millions and Internet penetration rate of 27.5%, Vietnam is definitely not small.

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