Like me please, say Taiwanese

In Taiwan, it is common for businesses from big corporations to the corner sushi shop, and for individuals to use Facebook as a promotional tool or to buy into such stunts. After all, the Taiwanese are the most enthusiastic users of the social networ
In Taiwan, it is common for businesses from big corporations to the corner sushi shop, and for individuals to use Facebook as a promotional tool or to buy into such stunts. After all, the Taiwanese are the most enthusiastic users of the social networking site in Asia. Some 10 million of the island’s 23 million people log into Facebook daily, and 14 million use it monthly.

Barely seconds after sitting down next to me in the subway train, he turned to me.

“Miss, do you use Facebook?” asked the man, who looked to be in his late 20s and was dressed in a polo T-shirt and khaki trousers.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Could you ‘like’ my page then? I need 200 ‘likes’ to get a promotion,” he implored, pulling out his phone to show me his Facebook page.

“Erm... no, sorry,” I said, glancing at the phone. I don’t even know you, I thought. The man’s name, according to his Facebook page, is Clarence Lee, and he’s hoping to become a store manager of his wine company. Talk about direct marketing.

An awkward minute followed as I put on my earphones again. My stop couldn’t have come soon enough.

It was my first such encounter but I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Here in Taiwan, it is common for businesses from big corporations to the corner sushi shop, and for individuals such as Mr Lee to use Facebook as a promotional tool or to buy into such stunts.

After all, the Taiwanese are the most enthusiastic users of the social networking site in Asia. Some 10 million of the island’s 23 million people log into Facebook daily, and 14 million use it monthly.

In comparison, only 6.5 per cent of the people in the rest of Asia use Facebook every month.

"Likes”, “check-ins” and selfies are now an everyday distraction and a channel of socialising, with new terms added to the local lexicon. They include “da ka”, a term once reserved for the act of clocking in and out at the workplace but now describes the check-in ritual, and “an zan dui” (“like” brigade or people who “like” all and sundry).

And it’s all making marketeers’ eyes water.

In June, for instance, a 26-year-old woman won a round-the-world air ticket from China Airlines after scoring 10,000 likes in one day for her entry to a competition organised by the government-linked carrier.

Many businesses, from cafes to Japanese eateries to Indian curry shops, now offer discounts or a free soup/salad/dessert to customers who “check in” at their establishments.

When a Japanese curry shop in southern Kaohsiung city announced earlier this year that it would give away 60 curry rice sets to the homeless if it got 50,000 “likes”, it was flooded with more than 440,000 “likes” in a matter of days.

Ordinary Joes have also joined the battle for eyeballs.

In April, a man got his girlfriend to say “yes” to his marriage proposal after posting on his wall that they would marry on Nov 2 if his post could get 112 “likes”. Some 380,000 Facebook users did him the favour.

Not that everyone who tries succeeds, of course.

A woman who pulled a similar stunt – “like my post and I’ll get married” – received “only” 700-plus likes in four days.

Mr Lee, my fellow subway passenger, has garnered 95 since he launched his page on Aug 15.

Perhaps, likes usually do beget likes. In the not-so-successful cases, such as Mr Lee’s, the users may simply have gone about it the wrong way.

But whatever the case may be, count me out of the "an zan dui".

seokhwai@sph.com.sg