NEW DELHI—A more expansive social media presence will help Asian brands overcome the many PR issues they continue to face, delegates heard at the ICCO Summit.

Better digital engagement will also help boost communications budgets and finally return the kind of value that PR firms in the region are seeking, said Huntsworth chairman Bob Pickard.

Pickard was addressing the audience as part of a presentation on the rise of the Asian MNC — companies that are conquering worldwide markets but still do not spend as much on PR as their Western counterparts do.

"Where Asian MNCs meet social media, I think is the sweet spot," said Pickard. "How they use it is markedly different. Especially because of the face dynamic in Chinese companies — social media as it relates to issues management may be the thin end of the wedge, because they are afraid."

Pickard pointed to the numerous crises and issues that many Asian companies have faced, which typically flare online. Apple supplier Foxconn, he said, was just one example.

"Unfortunately Foxconn has become world famous for some terrible things that happened," he said. "Some of these companies that have very risky supply chains — you’re not going to see them investing in PR until something blows up."

Many Asian companies, added Pickard, "are having trouble getting going in global communications." Huawei, for example, "got famous the wrong way — their approach was to dump product into the marketplace and then clean up later on."

Yet the rise of Asian social media platforms, such as WeChat, Mixi and Line, means that Asian companies have a direct route to consumers, even if how they use it is "markedly different" to Western companies.

Regardless, Pickard believes they can use social media to fight the negative stereotypes that continue to characterise Asian companies overseas.

"It is critically important that Asian companies become well known internationally for the positive things they stand for in the first place, rather than become famous first through making mistakes."