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Facebook's man in Thailand

John Wagner brings his long experience in the country to the helm of the media giant's local operations. By Suchit Leesa-nguansuk

Mr Wagner and his four-year-old son.

With 48 million users, Thailand is one of Facebook's top 10 countries in terms of accounts. Bangkok by itself has more Facebook users than any other city in the world.

John Wagner, managing director of Facebook in Thailand, is no stranger to the Land of Smiles. The 44-year-old can speak Thai after working here for more than two decades as a partner and managing director of Boston Consulting Group in Thailand. In that role, the American headed the marketing, sales and pricing practice and was a core leader of the technology, media and telecom practice in Southeast Asia.

Mr Wagner spoke to the Bangkok Post about Thailand's digital landscape and his role at the social media colossus.

Mr Wagner spent more than 20 years at Boston Consulting Group before joining Facebook.

Q: After 11 months in this job, what insights do you have into Thailand's digital advertising market?

One of my key observations so far is that Thai consumers are embracing digital at a much faster pace than Thai companies are able to. My role gives me exposure to a broad cross section of companies in the Thai business community, so I see and hear a lot of perspectives about digital transformation. Most companies aspire to digitally transform, but a smaller number of them are successful. One key learning I have taken away from dozens of discussions with people at all levels of Thai companies is how critically important it is for senior leaders of businesses seeking mobile transformation to roll up their sleeves and drive change themselves.

Transformation is ultimately about doing things differently, and leaders need to create a culture that empowers people to try new things and to set up flexible systems that allow people to make decisions and implement changes quickly. Facebook is supporting this through educational workshops, seasonal insights and online training like our Blueprint programme to help the businesses and the wider industry evolve.

Q: Do you see any outstanding traits in Thais who use social media, compared with Asian and global peers?

The most significant trait is the way Thais shop online. "Conversational commerce" is becoming increasingly common, with nearly twice as many Thai users sending Facebook messages to businesses each month than the global average.

Facebook's mission is to help businesses, large and small, make meaningful connections with their customers and grow their businesses. To enable this, we have launched tools and features such as the Shop section in Pages to give Thais more ways to discover products and services from Thai businesses, and also introduced new features to Messenger chatbots, to help businesses reduce repetitive tasks and focus on the "human" side of services and engage with customers in real time.

Q: Since Thailand is a keen user of social media, and of video on mobile in particular, how can we capitalise on this opportunity?

Mobile is no longer just a device, but rather an indispensable part of our lives. Take a look at some of these statistics: Cisco Systems estimates that mobile video will increase 11-fold between 2015 and 2020, accounting for 75% of total mobile data traffic by 2020. According to Millward Brown AdReaction, Thais are spending 60% more time on mobile videos compared with their global counterparts.

Some Thai companies have also used video ads to help create brand awareness and drive sales. Glazziq, an eyewear e-commerce brand, created video content that captures its new Home Try-On eyewear purchase experience, which allows customers to try on frames at home, return them at 7-Eleven stores and get eye prescriptions made at its partner stores. The brand also tags the products it shows in videos and drives users to its Facebook shop and website to learn more and make purchases. Using video ads on Facebook, Glazziq was able to increase its monthly sales by 50% and Home Try-On service by 100%.

To be part of this visual conversation, companies need to create consumer experiences that tap into people's desire for visual stimulation and engagement and to deliver brand and product stories in a mobile-first manner so that consumers catch the key messages in the first few seconds of the video. Beyond video alone, Facebook offers a number of other formats that are helpful for capturing attention and delivering messages; for example, Canvas, which is a robust and immersive format that takes the best visual formats and puts them all in a single place: video, photos, panoramas, carousel. It's so engaging that people spend 25 seconds on average on a Canvas ad.

Mr Wagner says Facebook can help local businesses go global.

Q: How do you leverage your experience in the consulting industry at Facebook? Are there any differences between consulting and your current role?

The primary focus of my role at Facebook in Thailand is to drive mobile transformation of Thai companies by helping them learn how to use Facebook as a tool to create and capture value, like acquiring new customers and increasing sales. In this sense, the role with Facebook is quite similar to the client work I was leading in the consulting industry. In both roles, my focus has been on engaging with business leaders to set goals and drive change in their organisations. One key difference is the scope of my engagement across the business community. Whereas in consulting I was focused on a relatively narrow set of clients at any given time, at Facebook I am in close touch with a much larger set of companies across industry verticals, and also with the media and creative agencies that convert marketing plans into action and impact.

Q: Are there any new and advanced tools and technologies you'd like to share that can help marketers and consumers improve their shopping experience?

Facebook can help small businesses become large and local businesses become global. We want to make it easier for businesses to connect with consumers all over the world to drive growth. One of our latest solutions is the ability to run global campaigns to connect with and acquire new customers from anywhere in the world.

Specifically, International Lookalikes helps businesses find new people that look like their best customers in existing markets; Worldwide or Global Region targeting helps businesses set up global campaigns and find efficient conversions; and our Country Snapshots and Insights Playbook can help Thai businesses create customised campaigns in a specific individual country.

We are also making it easier for consumers to discover and browse products available from the businesses they care about. Through our Shop section introduced last June, consumers can use the Message button next to a product to contact a seller, learn more and arrange a purchase. They can also Subscribe to a Shop section to receive new product updates and other notifications from businesses they are following.

Mr Wagner and his family on holiday at Ta Kaeo temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Q: Any plan to embrace big data, artificial intelligence/chatbot and virtual reality to bring new experiences to Facebook users?

At our annual global developer conference, F8, we revealed our plans for the next 10 years that include investing in a number of foundational technologies, including connectivity, VR and augmented reality (AR). We also announced the beta launch of Facebook Spaces, a VR app where people can hang out with friends in a fun, interactive virtual environment as if they were in the same room, as well as Camera Effects Platform, our first step towards AR.

We are also introducing a new suite of tools to give you the ability to build better experiences in Messenger. Our Platform 2.0 highlights include Chat Extensions that lets bots provide interactive, social features that users can invoke directly into their conversations, and Smart Replies, where Facebook page admins can now turn on automatic replies powered by artificial intelligence.

Q: How can Thais tap into the power of mobile on Facebook to expand their businesses?

In Thailand, where more than 70% of shopping journeys involve mobile, businesses need strong mobile strategies. We have seen a wide range of Thai businesses successfully implement mobile-centric campaigns. For example, Thai startup Pomelo uses mobile to build its brand and drive sales by showcasing dynamically personalised sets of products to new and existing customers.

Larger brands with long histories are also using mobile successfully; for example, Vaseline in Thailand used mobile video ads to build brand awareness and drive penetration with men in rural communities outside of Bangkok, resulting in an incremental increase in annual sales of 21%.

Mr Wagner with some members of the Facebook Thailand team.

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