It’s a social web out there

Vinay Kamath | Updated on December 25, 2014


And consumers spend the most time there. So, where consumers go, brands need to follow

It’s funny how things evolve. Social media, a phenomenon which is barely six years old, was touted at first to be a medium where people could be exactly that: social. Exchange photos, updates on each other and a medium where one could keep in touch with friends around the world and feel good about it.

That businesses are now scrambling to be on social media, many of whom don’t understand this new beast, was brought home strongly at a recent seminar organised by the Madras Management Association.

The Social Web 2.0, a seminar curated by Bengaluru-based social media company Autumn Worldwide, had the digital heads of Pepsi, Luminous, Bharat Bambawale and Associates and The Boston Consulting Group together to talk about how brands are grappling with social media.

Hear the conversations?

Again, think about it, a few short years ago, organisations wouldn’t have invested in talent to head a digital business. As one of the panelists, Rishi Dogra, head of Pepsi India’s digital business, points out, “The digital space has evolved so rapidly you need to recalibrate your thinking every quarter; it’s that fast. FB came to India around 2009, by 2010-11 it became a marketing tool and now it’s an integral part of marketing.”

Says Anusha Shetty, CEO of Autumn Worldwide, “The world speculated about this industry being a bubble. Many would have smiled and would have been happy to say “I told u so”, if they were proven right. But today, this speculation is being hushed and a storm of brands and teams are rushing to learn the art of driving conversations on the web.”

Why is it imperative for brands to be on social media? It’s because, points out Sreyssha George, head of digital of BCG, that’s where most of the conversations are happening. “In the last 15 months or so, companies are not choosing how to communicate with consumers; they are choosing it themselves. The choice is no longer there for corporates, so they have to engage with consumers on the social web.”

A recent BCG analysis shows that India (unlike the US) exploded from ‘internet to social’ directly. While the US slowly climbed the social media reach over time as its internet penetration grew, India’s internet explosion and social media explosion have grown together. The analysis also confirms the age group 25-34 years and 35-44 years as being potentially big, unlike the belief that social is for those in the 15-24 years age group only.

The ‘Digital Influence’ is growing and while the e-commerce industry is estimated at $6-10 billion now, India’s digital influence could be creating a market size of around $30 billion. And at this rate of growth and explosion, the digital impact is expected to increase five-fold to $150 billion by 2016.

Digital influence means, for instance, if somebody is buying a car, the consumer does all the research on it on the web before actually venturing into a showroom to buy one. There are many such instances of consumers researching gadgets on the web.

Hours up for grabs

Why is it important for brands to be on the social web? It’s because that’s where consumers are spending the most time. A recent survey by Autumn Worldwide on media habits (between the age group 18 to 24 years) showed that if there were free time, 58 per cent would log into a social network while 42 per cent said they would watch TV. A little deep diving showed, while they watched TV they would also be on multiple devices. It was never just TV, it would be TV plus a mobile phone (logged into a social network) or TV plus laptop/tablet (logged into a social network again). The study also showed that they averaged at 1-2 hours in a day in front of TV while they spent a cumulative 4-6 hours on a social network. That’s an enormous amount of mind space that brands would love to capture.

Shagorika Heryani, one of the panelists, and former digital head of Airtel, says in the telecom company they realised that the conversations that the company was initiating were not the same ones that its customers were having on social media. “Being on social media gives you multiple benefits from helping develop your content to instant feedback,” she points out. Pepsi’s Dogra, though, cautions that brands can’t have it all since on social media they are competing not just with other brands but with families and friends who are assailing users with information. Luminous Technologies’ AVP, Marketing, Munish Bajaj, says that getting real-time information from its consumers on social media helped it refocus its advertising and other communication and transformed it from being known primarily as a company that sold invertors.

Sadashiv Nayak, CEO of Big Bazaar, in a presentation, explained how a brick-and-mortar retailer was trying to leverage digital. With a large store presence, the retailer, Nayak said, was evolving its own hybrid model of digital and physical stores. In some of the smaller stores, he pointed out, all the stock keeping units of a particular product may not be stocked, but consumers could go through a touch screen display, choose what they want and pick it up later or have it delivered home. Also, many of its older customers may not be comfortable with ordering through the net. For them, Big Bazaar has agents who travel with tablets on which these consumers can order online and purchases can be delivered to them from the nearest store.

Time to reinvent

The social media marketing industry in India has been around for six years now. Early movers and teams tried several ways to connect on social media with consumers. “This phase saw brands try a lot of initiatives, from contests and gratifications to fan acquisitions. Marketing circles prided themselves around ‘Numbers’. A natural progression of this evolution was to now question the stretch we can take in social media. Is social media about freebies and contests? Is it about acquiring fans? Will the social initiatives always be tactical?” asks Shetty.

She points out that logic says if the number of users and the time they spend on these platforms is increasing, then brands need to be there and participate strategically. “The industry needs to look at unique ways to drive real value for brands. Strategic orientation and alignment to business goals and objectives is the need of the day. We all need to move away from the basics and reinvent new ways to connect and engage,” points out Shetty.

The social world is seeing power because people make a choice to connect and talk. Brands need to learn the art of triggering the relevant conversations. “The answer is in engagement and not in fan acquisition. And to do so, while one needs to carry the principles of brand building, one also needs to shed, unlearn and disrupt the traditional marketing book to reinvent the new,” she explains.

Published on December 25, 2014

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