CommonWealth Economic Forum
The SoLoMo Era is Here!
Face to face: Rose Tsou of Yahoo Asia-Pacific and Charles Chao of Sina Corp. consider the digital future.
The SoLoMo Era is Here!By Margaret Pai
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 492 )
At the just-concluded CommonWealth Economic Forum, the heads of the two largest Internet companies in the Chinese-speaking world swapped opinions and answered tough questions from netizens.
Rose Tsou, senior vice president of Yahoo Asia-Pacific, may be petite in stature, but she is a contagious orator, speaking with passion and authority. Tsou keeps her finger on the pulse of the digital revolution in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea and other Asia-Pacific markets.
At the forum, she came face to face with Charles Chao, president and CEO of China's largest online media company Sina Corp., whose every move is closely watched in the industry. The Sina Weibo microblogging site, which boasts more than 200 million users, has already changed the way Chinese people express their opinions.
As the two Internet movers and shakers exchanged opinions, offering some new insights for the attentive audience, Internet users were able to field challenging questions in real time as the event was broadcast live online. One on-line participant wanted to know what Tsou thought about the competition Yahoo's Chinese-language shopping website was receiving from its rival in the China market, Taobao.
Tsou admitted that Taobao was a contender to watch, given that it also enjoys a price advantage. Taobao has solved the problems in its money transfer system, and now only lags behind Yahoo in terms of logistics, she noted. Whether Taiwanese companies will be able to take advantage of Taobao to expand into the Chinese market is yet unknown.
At the conference, Shenan Chuang, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Greater China, sought Chao's opinion, asking, "Will advertisement agencies like Ogilvy & Mather become obsolete in the digital age?"
Responding unhurriedly, Chao predicted: "The role of advertising agencies will change. With an increasing diversity of virtual communities and channels, advertising agencies need to provide suggestions and services for integration."
The two speakers also outlined the major trends in digital technology waiting in the unknown offing, with the arrival of the SoLoMo ("social, local, mobile") revolution – in which social media, localized applications and mobile devices have begun to converge.
Tsou pointed out that one third of the global population has Internet access. Heavy Internet users in Taiwan spend an average of four hours per day on Facebook and two hours playing online games or watching online TV programs, she said. Within three years more people will go online via mobile devices than those accessing the Internet from personal computers.
"In the future, all websites will be social ones, and all social networking will take place on mobile devices," Tsou predicted.
So where are the business opportunities?
Tsou believes the Internet contains an abundance of valuable information about potential customers. "Whoever can understand their customers will be the ultimate winner," she noted. Tsou pointed to Taiwanese budget clothing online vendor Lativ, whose annual sales soared to NT$4 billion last year, because it was able to precisely pinpoint its online marketing.
Chao also noted that with social media, businesses for the first time can directly communicate with their customers. The number of corporate users of Sina Weibo is expected to reach one million this year.
"If you have content that clearly targets your customers or their communities, you will be able to win trusted recommendations (from social networks)," Chao explained.
Although the digital age has brought many changes, one thing remains unchanged: good content is imperative. Citing an example, Tsou pointed to the popular Taiwanese variety show Here Comes Kangxi, which generates NT$100 million per year from a broadcasting license contract with Chinese video website Tudou. Chao also noted that Weibo has signed the highest broadcasting license contract in Chinese history with the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA).
As the forum came to a close, Tsou and Chao exchanged their cell phone numbers, pledging to stay in contact.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz