Controlling your Social Media – An interview with the Facebook World Hack winner Vachara Aemavat, Computerlogy
You have likely heard of Vachara Aemavat, He is the guy who brought the Facebook World Hack trophy to Thailand. What we did not know, till yesterday, that he was also the first HUBBA customer. Vachara is the Managing Director of Computerlogy. In brief, Computerlogy builds Social Media CRM Software.
For Startup Folks, Social Media is pretty much bread and butter (chicken and rice) but for the big players its a great challenge. How do you control a discussion on Pantip or manage a Facebook page with a a couple of 100.000 fans? Likely with a good software, no? So we sat down with Vachara and asked him, how it’s done, what it’s like to be successful, what work with a French guy is like, and why you need a boat in your office when you work in Si Racha.
You became famous in Thailand because you won the Facebook World Hack in Jakarta. Why did you win?
Actually, World Hack is about hacking something, developing an application. We have been there, with our team. I think my two developers and an application designer. The idea is how to get the Facebook functions integrated into other applications. We started thinking about an idea the day the world hack started. Why did we win? I think because our application was completely integrated, all the different functions. Just a few hours and we had a complete application and we had a good presentation.
What’s the structure of the Facebook World Hack?
You have to register and pay to get in. In the morning they will explain the goals of the world hack and the Facebook API. After that you can start until 8 o clock. Afterwards present on the stage. There were roughly 30 teams present. Facebook organizes 12 world hacks all around the world and Jakarta was one of the stops, but there is no follow up competition of the winners of each world hack.
How did you manage your team in this short period of time?
We spread the work. I was the project manager, took care of project management and other functions such registering the domain, SSL and integrations. We had two developers, one of them a senior developer. We have been working together for quite some time. I know how they work and how to make them work fast.
Apart from the media exposure you received after the win, how did the world hack affect your business?
It’s a great event, a great opportunity. We can say we won and it got us a lot of exposure in the tech and startup community.
Large enterprises have a lot of requests nowadays, more than 20 customer requests a day, sometimes more than 5000 a month.
Obviously tech startups are not your potential clients, who are your current or prospective customers?
Our product targets enterprise level. Banking or Consumer Products for example. We developed one application called Social Enable, a social media management system. We control the pages on Facebook, web boards, and so on. You can analyze what happens, who comments, likes. It also allows you to interact with your clients, and see the big, overall picture. How everything interacts and influences each element. Large enterprises have a lot of requests nowadays, more than 20 customer requests a day, sometimes more than 5000 a month. That’s a huge number, and they need a system to oversee all these activities and manage them.
Do you cover all social media platforms, like G+, Twitter, Pinterest and so on?
We are going to integrate it in the future, as well as Instagram. Currently we cover three social networks and the local web board Pantip.
If you think about social media and how you want to manage social media we want you to think about Social Enable.
What are your plans in the future for your application? You mentioned you will integrate more social networks, but what are your strategic plans or development plans.
Yes, we are going to integrate more social networks but also include more functions to make it more powerful. We want to make Social Enable an all-in-one application. If you think about social media and how you want to manage social media we want you to think about Social Enable.
Is your Facebook integration based on what you did at the world hack or is it a completely different approach?
It’s not exactly what we did at the World Hack, but the integration is very similar. Because we developed Social Enable we had a knowledge advantage when we went to the World Hack. We went to the world hack and already knew how to use the API efficient and effectively.
How many clients do you have right now?
We did a lot of outsourcing before we started with Social Enable, so we had many clients. Now we have about 15. But our application released just two month ago, so we are currently approaching a lot of prospective clients.
How do you usually contact them? Do you have a dedicated sales person?
Yes we have three people in sales. Most often we call potential clients. We also use the cooperate AIS Business Solutions, which is another distribution channel.
Are you working with foreign clients as well?
We first want to penetrate the Thai market and once we have a solid foundation we will go abroad.
I won’t ask for numbers, but did you already return your investment? Is it profitable?
Not yet, because the product was just released.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for companies in dealing with social media?
Companies pay a lot of money to get fans on social media pages right now. But the really difficult part is to convert fans into customers. And that has a lot to do with how you manage your fans. Right now people don’t call companies anymore. They go to their social media pages and post their questions there and expect the companies to react to them. And this number is increasing. We can actually track this with our application.That can be beneficial for a company.
Handling a call center request takes about five minutes, per client. In social media everything is happening at the same time and you can help about 10 customers simultaneously. The cost to manage that is much lower, and several brands in Thailand have already or are about to start customer online service centers.
People just follow the flag, no matter which way it goes. You must be very quick. And you have to apologize if you do something wrong.
Thailand specific is Pantip.com. How would you advise companies to handle this constant, unsorted stream of reviews and discussions about probably every topic you can imagine?
Pantip actually started out as a discussion board with a lot of useful information, but sometimes there are of course complains and such. Brands have to react to it. One way is to take an official account and solve problems right away. Make people interact with them directly. Some brands however, don’t have dedicated people and they think they don’t have to answer on Pantip, they keep away and ignore it.
The problem with Pantip is, brands can’t control it. On Facebook you can hide user comments or delete them. On Pantip it is forever. I have seen a lot of official brand accounts used to diminish complaints about products or services. Sometimes brands use personal accounts as well. A strategy is to hire staff to monitor pantip only, I can’t disclose the brand’s name, and as soon as the negative review or post comes in they will try to diminish it, in order to stop the discussion.
How should you in general handle negative comments? Or on Pantip in particular.
Be fast! For example: In the past an Airline faced a lot of problems because of discussion regarding visa issues flying into Malaysia with a one way ticket. The airline wouldn’t let the passenger leave the plane because he had no return ticket. They had no choice because it is illegal to let him in. Of course, the passenger had to pay the return flight or provide the evidence of somehow intending to go back to Thailand. What can the airline do? It is not their fault and they have to follow the law.
Anyhow, the customer complained on Pantip and it took the Airline six hours to respond. By that time there were already sixty comments. The airline posted the official regulations but only two or three people actually responded to that. Instead the complaints went on and on, because nobody reads the last forum page, everybody just read the first ten comments. Eventually there were more than 200 negative comments. People just follow the flag, no matter which way it goes. You must be very quick. And you have to apologize if you do something wrong.
Pantip is a very interesting in phenomenon in general. Why are there no famous blogs in Thailand?
Because they don’t get responses right away. They post something, nobody picks it up, nobody reads it. So they go to Pantip and post a review. The features are similar, but you get lots of responses. There is an example of a girl who did a lot of reviews on Pantip. She got famous and opened her own websites subsequently.
You can basically build your reputation on Pantip and start your own thing afterwards?
Yes. In Thailand Google is competitive and SEO is very difficult. If you start something you don’t have much reputation, and often lack SEO skills. It’s quite hard to get exposure. So people give up fast or go to the place where lots of people already are.
When you think about Social Media Marketing in Thailand, which medium is most efficient? Apart from Facebook, most likely.
I think Twitter. Instagram has more users right now but Twitter is catching up. It’s for younger people. Instagram has been booming in last few months. It is used a lot for marketing campaigns. Often brands ask celebrities to post on their behalf. Pinterest is not famous in Thailand. I personally use it to search for infographics or some pictures, but that’s it.
It took us about a year to get started and with the first product, a travel website, we failed.
Lets speak a bit about Computerlogy. When was the company founded?
In 2009. It took us about a year to get started and with the first product, a travel website, we failed. We moved on to outsourcing, made some money and started developing a new product.
So you didn’t need external funding. Are you looking for external funds in the future?
Yes, we are currently looking into that and are talking to investors to increase our sales and marketing team.
Why is your office based in Si Racha?
I’m living there, my team too. There are two large university campuses there, Kasetsart and Burapha. They have a lot of talented developers. And lots of people don’t want to work in Bangkok, they have their families out there, they want to live there. We got good employees that do amazing stuff and want to live there. Plus, it’s cheaper.
How big is your team?
Right now 12 people. Most of them are developers and some support and sales.
Do you have any special things for your employees? A mini googleplex or something?
Actually we have a boat in the office. But we have also free food, free drinks. Working hours are not too flexible but if they work overtime they can use the time whenever they want to take time off. We have social happenings, drink beer together.
Have you had foreigners working in your team?
We had a French guy working with us, but he went back to France. He designed our product and he lifted the design standard of our products quit a bit. It was a very good experience, not just from a design and programming standard but his presence made my team work more as well.
There wasn’t any language barrier?
Yes there was, but you can communicate through the product you are developing.
Can you give some advice to developers that want to start their own company?
The most difficult thing is “people”. It is very difficult to get people. You are not Microsoft or Apple. So how to you get them and how do you keep them? You have to make them trust in your ideas. In my company I say: I’m not your boss, I’m your brother. We work together as a family and everybody can suggest ideas and give comments. We have to treat each other well. Another thing is that most developers are not very good at sales. The mind of the developer is not good for marketing. You need to find a good sales person.