Vietnam’s Digital (R)evolution

by Rita Nguyen

There are a myriad of reasons I decided to move to Vietnam last year, most of which stem from a resigned “been there, done that” attitude towards my admittedly cool job at Electronic Arts.  One day I may bore you with more details about helping to build an online marketing and community team for one of the largest gaming companies in the world but for now, let’s just say the thrill was over and I was eagerly facing the challenge of returning to the motherland.

Everyone talks about Vietnam being an emerging market and as I dug into the technology landscape here I could see that it was on the brink of a major transition.  And with change comes opportunity. While the job I was offered was amazing and the product very cool, my primary motivation for moving here is that I wanted the chance to witness first hand how a country like Vietnam would embrace the digital revolution. Here was this country full of bored, young people where Internet access was almost free and everyone had at least one cell phone, though there were far less computers in each household like in the west.  There is no question that the digital age was coming, but it was how this would play out that was the most interesting to me.

Over the past 12 years I was lucky enough participate in some pretty significant game changers in the online space.  I was working in digital marketing before Facebook was a twinkle in the Winklevoss’….er, Zuckerberg’s eye or Twitter became a household name.  I remember the early days of trying to figure out what the hell a “Like” button was and how we could drive more people to mark things as “del.icio.us”.  At the risk of dating myself even further, I remember when the word “blog” first started surfacing to the amazement and amusement of most marketers.

One of my first experiences with Vietnam’s version of “online marketing” happened a week after I arrived. Still fresh off the boat, I attended BarCamp since our company had sponsored it.  For those of you not familiar with BarCamp, it’s a one-day conference of user-generated presentations.  Meaning, anyone is able to present whatever he or she wished.  There were some really great, if highly technical presentations, along with a few that were little better than sales pitches.  In the afternoon, there was a session around digital marketing, which I decided to attend.

This was one of the more crowded sessions I had seen all day.  Clearly there was an interest and appetite on this topic.  I sat in the room in growing horror as a girl with four years of “experience” in online marketing went on for 30 minutes about why online marketing was a waste of time and money, how it couldn’t be measured and why social media and community development were a hoax. Once I couldn’t stand it any longer, I decided to address the easiest (and most asinine) of her statements – that online marketing couldn’t be measured.  Of all marketing mediums, online is probably the easiest to measure. There are countless tools to help a marketer determine exactly where and how their audience is finding, consuming and interacting with their content and yet here was a girl claiming that it was easier to measure direct sales & ROI from the impressions on a TV commercial than a click through on an online campaign.  Gross stupidity or lack of proper training in the space?

Over my past ten months here, a common complaint I’ve heard from both locals and expats is the lack of training available in Vietnam around the digital space.  I can’t argue since the majority of my online marketing conversations here have centered around either banner ads or SEO.  I constantly have flashbacks to the 50 page social, community & online marketing presentations I used to have to create at EA without one mention of SEO or ad banners, since that was handled by our advertising team.

So I decided to do my small part to contribute to the knowledge transfer.  Don’t worry though; I have no intention of writing tutorials around online marketing or product development.  Besides the fact that I’m not a teacher, it would also bore me more to write it than it would be for you to read it.  Instead, I’m largely going to be writing about whatever random techie thing that catches my fancy.  And since I do have a day job, it will be more than likely that I’ll be writing bits of random things and why I think they are cool…or not.

Things that were catching my fancy earlier this year – Lady Gaga’s Born this Way digital launch and LinkedIn’s IPO.  The first because, regardless of how you may feel about her music, you have to agree that this woman pushes boundaries like no one since Madonna was desperately seeking someone named Susan. Incorporating a wide range of partnerships with everything from Farmville to Words with Friends, this launch will one day be used in universities to teach students the power of a truly integrated online campaign.

As for Linkedin, this story deserves it’s own full article.  What’s really exciting about it though is that it’s acting as a harbinger of things to come.  With Facebook, Zynga and Twitter all looking to going public within the next year, the Silicon Valley is all abuzz and I for one cannot wait to see what’s next.

At times feels like we’re too far removed from all the hoopla in the US which makes it all the more important to find a network here in Vietnam who is also following the tech industry.  I’ll be giving you my opinion but I recognize that I’m only one voice amongst many. So here’s my call for techie geeks in Vietnam to unite.  Speak up! Let me know what you think about anything geeky. It’s such a dynamic space so lots of topics to choose from. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • How is iOS 5 still not as good as Android?
  • Do you think GroupOn will ever IPO?
  • What’s next for Bartz now that she’s shed the Yahoo! dead weight?
  • Will George RR Martin take another 6 years to release his next book?
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