Facebook provides cheap alternative for small businesses

Increasing numbers of small businesses in Myanmar are being drawn to Facebook and other social media sites to advertise their products and grow their customer base.

The social networking site has grown in popularity over the last four years due to its interactive nature and the ability of business owners to connect with customers in new and tech-savvy ways.

“Businesses can read feedback and comments and they advertise through Facebook by campaigning via a fan page and increasing their ‘Likes’. If their fan pages have more followers, they assumed that the users have more faith in their products,” said Myo Zarni Aung, project manager for Myanmar Net.

Advertising through social networks like Facebook often provides small businesses a cheap alternative to older print models, as well as providing various advantages.

Business owners can now analyse how many people have seen their adverts and they can target audiences who are interested in a certain product according to age, sex, what they like and which device they are using.

“They are addicted to Facebook as they believe it can bring success,” continued Myo Zarni Aung.

According to a recent survey, Myanmar has about one million Facebook users, 55 percent of which are female. While these numbers reflect the growing access to internet services and sites, they also show a growing trend using social media for promotions and advertising over more expensive traditional models.

“The advertising in social networks cost businesses ten times less than advertising in magazines and billboards. Advertising on Facebook allows more people to know their products,” said Nay Min Thu, a marketing manager from iMyanmar.

Social networks are also growing in popularity as sources of information in a country where the print media is still highly regulated. Facebook has grown in popularity — especially among urban, tech-savvy youth — as a platform for political discussions, sharing news and information.

Media groups were quick to catch up and began posting news updates on their Facebook pages but then so did the government. Rather than holding press conferences, the Presidential Spokesperson Ye Htut regularly uses Facebook to announce the government’s position.

On the one hand, Facebook in Myanmar can be seen to have widened public debate that has been stifled, limited or simply outdated in older print platforms. On the other, it has also led to the spreading of misinformation, rumour and hate speech, often through anonymous users and hidden agendas.

“When I started using Facebook in 2009, there was not much news to read or look at. By 2010 some media groups would write and update the news on their Facebook pages. Later we used Facebook instead of blogs, and we could trust the news. But lately I notice that there are some Facebook pages which are unclear exactly who created them. It is questionable that how many of them are true,” said Kyaw Myo Hlaing, technical director for Credo Wave.

Many Facebook users, whether private users, businesses or news media, often associate truth or popularity with the number of ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ which can also be misleading.

Aung Kham, the chief editor of the Yoyarlay news site, argues that it is often a lack of public understanding on the influence and uses of social media that lead to the sort abuses that can end up sowing hatred or mistrust.

“Although social media has expanded, we can’t assume it as a fourth pillar. Online users are increasing and businesses depend on social media for advertising. In the developing countries, the public has little knowledge about social media. They don’t know which source can be trustworthy,” said Aung Kham.

With growing numbers of users, whether Facebook in Myanmar will be able to regulate itself as a trustworthy platform for public debate perhaps remains to be seen.

What is certain is that as internet usage grows, most small, new businesses are not hesitating to use social media platforms as a innovative and cheap alternatives to older forms of advertising.


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