The new age marketing tool

The new age marketing tool

Social media marketing (SMM) is a well-respected tool today. This platform in India is highly active and almost every recognised company is on it. Not surprising as the statistics are on its side – 90 million Internet users in India as of April 2011. The audience base has definitely widened, considering that as late as 2009, the numbers were not as promising. In fact, currently India is the third largest Internet user in the world after China and the U.S.

“Three to four years ago, digital agencies didn’t do much more than developing a website. Today, they are discussing a brand’s marketing and advertising strategy along with traditional advertising agencies and public relation firms,” says Sabyasachi Mitter, managing director, Interface Business Solutions – a web application and digital solutions specialist that handled all social media and digital activity for Tata Docomo. Incidentally, for Tata Docomo, the digital agency began SMM even before the actual launch. SMM trends indicate that several other companies are taking steps to ensure that they are seen and heard on social media, allowing it a more prominent role in the overall marketing mix.

Mitter also provides statistics to substantiate the increase in advertising spends in the SMM space.  “In 2009, digital media spends in India was Rs. 700 crore. It was Rs. 1,100 crore in 2010-2011. Facebook advertising in India was close to nil in 2009-10. In 2010-2011, it was Rs. 100 crore,” he says. Looking at the direction in which the usage and reach of the digital medium is headed, this figure is only set to rise. Corporate conglomerates like Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL), who have for long stayed away from social media have recently acknowledged the power of the medium and have officially announced that this medium will play an important role in engaging with their customers. Many HUL brands such as Axe, Pond’s, Rexona (now Sure), Cornetto and Dove already have strong digital footprints due to a fairly large fan base for some of their brands, by creating interesting applications, having engaging games on their facebook pages and collaborating with YouTube.Greater spends online

However, you do not need to be a big conglomerate to leave behind a digital footprint. The social media network is a free and equal playing ground. Here, what matters is how big your fan base is, how well you can engage with them and how steadily you grow.

Mahindra Homestays – an effort by Mahindra Holidays & Resorts to organise and market the growing homestay industry in India is actively involved in numerous social marketing initiatives. Japa Ghosh, head-marketing says, “Since 2009, we’ve engaged in SMM. Realising that the homestay market is a niche one, we systematically reached out to our consumer base and engaged in a dialogue with them. People trust peer recommendation more than advertisements or emailers. Hence, SMM worked very well for us.”

Ching’s Secret is another brand that has made all the right noises on the social media platform and gained immensely because of it. From the stables of FMCG company Capital Foods, Ching’s Secret was one of the first to launch ready-to-use oriental sauces and noodles in the market. Today, Ching’s Secret has more than 7,20,000 active fans monthly, out of 7,65,000 number of total fans. Ajaay Gupta, chief-executive officer and managing director, Capital Foods, says, “Social media is a very strategic part of Ching’s Secret’s overall business strategy to achieve word-of-mouth marketing. Our goal is to create a one-to-one relationship with our customers.” The company has allocated 60 per cent of its advertising budget to digital marketing, most of this is on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. As Gupta adds, “Social media is first and foremost a customer relationship dashboard at Ching’s Secret. It is customer relationship management, market research and marketing all rolled into one.”

Listen, learn, implement

With greater Internet penetration in the years to come, the number of users on social media is likely to increase at a greater pace (Reportedly, Facebook alone added over 5 million users in just one month, last fiscal). As one can track the number of hits on an Facebook page, number of views, time spent by the user on a page, number of responses and ‘likes’ to a post, social media is fast becoming a tool that most companies use to gauge consumer response.

It is the best medium to connect and listen to what your consumers have to say about you. Mahindra Homestays began its Facebook page initially to drive traffic to its blog which details the various travel and homestay options in India.  Ghosh says, “It is at the behest of our fans on the Facebook page that we started rural homestays in Ladakh and Sikkim. Our fans also serve as our incognito quality inspectors.” While the company does due diligence all the time to ensure that the homestays deliver what they promise, it is the feedback from customers after the experience that helps them rectify a mistake or add a service. Users provide instant feedback in the form of tweets, posts, and status updates, and search more through social networking sites than ever before. Ghosh also adds, “We believe that today, consumers trust what their friends recommend on social networking sites more than what advertisements promise.”

HUL’s AXE deodorant has a new variant and application called ‘Googli’ on Axe’s Facebook page. Googli has emerged from insights gleaned on Axe ‘Angel’s Club’, a 1.5 million strong Facebook community. Srinandam Sundaram, category head – deodorants and oral care, HUL, confesses, “Instead of us telling fans what’s great about Axe, we’ve become better listeners. The feedback from our fans led to the creation of Googli.”

Gupta adds, “It is common knowledge that FMCG companies are normally separated from end consumers by five to six layers including stockists, distributors, sub-distributors, retailers and media. Through social media we have cut across and reached our consumers directly. It gives Capital Foods access to situations where its products may not be available in some stores and the supply chain team quickly addresses that. The company also uses social media for crowd sourcing and identifying the next flavours to launch. We are moving away from a central control of our brand and are gradually transferring the ownership to end consumers. And social media is the catalyst in that.”

Do the right thing

So, do fancy applications or exciting games drive traffic? Not really. It is important to begin with fan base acquisition. Then Mitter says, “Engage them in an interesting conversation. Ensure that you are posting updates at a frequency that works for you, and follow the number and kind of responses your post receives.” Mahindra Homestays have interesting contests – a photography competition, tell us about your pet vacation and others – to creatively engage with their users. Ching’s Secret has a host of great recipes, cookery shows on YouTube and very handy tips for common domestic problems. Ghosh and Gupta agree that top of the mind recall with your users is important.

Monetising your fan base comes at a later stage, when you have a fairly large user base and have reached a comfortable level of interaction with them. Mitter did this very effectively with Tata Docomo. Fans on the Facebook page could buy a card for an amount and get double talk time. To be able to do this, users had to become a fan of the brand.

The advent of social media has led to a fundamental change in the way we communicate with family, friends and now, even brands. In the future, SMM is likely be a top priority for marketers and this will see an increase not just in effort, but also in terms of advertising spends on the medium.  Even as things stand, fewer brands want to be left out of the space.

So, the question itself has undergone a change – it is no longer whether you must be on social media, it has become, are you good enough on social media?


Social Media checklist from Sabyasachi Mitter

Be honest. Don’t try to be what you are not. Users and fans are quick to spot an imposter. If they ‘unlike’ you, chances are they wouldn’t ‘like’ you in a hurry.

Engage in an interesting conversation. Don’t make the mistake of talking endlessly about your product. That’s the quickest way to lose fans.

Be a good listener. Listen to what your consumers are saying and you’ll learn a lot.

Be prepared for criticism. You are on the social media platform because you want to connect with your customers one-on-one. So, be prepared to handle the brickbats along with the bouquets.

Be regular. If you aren’t regular with updates, you can hardly blame your fans for losing interest. Remember you need them more than they need you.

Keep it simple!