The Rise of Social Media Marketing
The rise of social media marketing can be attributed to the growing popularity of social media among the urban, tech-savvy population. As the number of people frequenting blogs, wikis, online communities, social-networking sites continues to increase, businesses are adopting social media to reach out to their consumers and promote their products and services. Social media is redefining the way businesses are implementing marketing campaigns. In this interview with Mr. Suresh Babu, the founder of Online Marketing Enthusiast Community and a corporate web marketing trainer who closely works with NSRCEL at IIM Bangalore, we attempt to gain an insight into social media marketing in India and how this tool can be effectively used by an entrepreneur or a market leader to promote and sustain businesses in the long run.
Social Media Marketing Strategy
tejas@iimb: Social media marketing has been embraced by a number of companies including some big names like P&G and Intel which operate in different business areas. Does social media marketing work equally well irrespective of the kind and size of business say for B2C, B2B, SME and established brands?
SB: Social media marketing is absolutely necessary today. For a bigger company it is easier in terms of visibility but at the same time it might be difficult because of the different policies and approval requirements that they have. It is relatively easier for small businesses.Social media marketing has several advantages for small organizations. Since not many people are doing it now, they can leverage the early mover advantage. Most of the social media sites are free, so in terms of investment, there is hardly any cost involved except perhaps for time. It is not very complicated- there is no need to be an expert programmer.
Social media marketing has several advantages for small organizations.
To illustrate with an example, a small florist can take videos of his customers narrating their story behind the flowers, post information and pictures online which people like you and me can access. Creating this user generated content is what social media marketing is all about.
tejas@iimb: Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have more than 250 million and 14 million registered users respectively. Over 346 million people read blogs while 184 million people are active bloggers themselves. With so many online platforms available today, what would be the best strategy for someone venturing into the social media space for marketing? How does one decide upon which online platform to start with?
SB: The online platform varies with the kind of business. Since sites like Facebook have the maximum users, it always helps to have a presence on hugely popular sites. But it is also important to be active on these sites. Specific businesses like travel for instance may choose their own verticals. They may prefer sites which people visit only because they are passionate about travel. In order to decide which platform to start with, it is essential that you first understand where your potential audience is. If you see that there are a lot of discussions about Bangalore or IIM students on Twitter and this is the segment you want to market to, go with Twitter. Same with blogs. Identify popular blogs relevant to your service or product and accordingly go up there.
Present Scenario - Indian Context
tejas@iimb: Considering that a large percentage of the Indian population lives in rural areas where the internet penetration is less, is it justified to hail social media marketing as a tool for reaching out to large numbers of people? Even in the urban areas, isnít the target restricted by how tech-savvy the customer is?
SB: Social media marketing does not depend on how tech-savvy the audience is. It is more about awareness. Social media can have an impact even in the rural areas. No one earlier imagined the immense penetration levels that cell phones and televisions have today in rural India. Over a period of time people tend to adapt to technology. Also in the future social media will reach the masses through television and phone. The barrier for people to know how to use internet will go down drastically. Already one can today access Facebook updates on his/her mobiles. Education and awareness is nonetheless important. It will be the next generation which will truly embrace social media in the rural space which is a huge opportunity in itself.
tejas@iimb: There are certain web analytics and business intelligence applications like Sysomos and Radian6 that monitor social media sites. Are these tools sufficient to assess the return of investment for using this channel or is there a need for establishing new metrics? How does one guarantee the success of social media marketing?
There are several analytical tools to measure social media success. Firms tend to use their own versions depending on what impact they seek by venturing into the social media marketing space. It is more important to use the data obtained. Implementation is the biggest challenge. Usually people measure the success of the campaign depending on the number of people who comment. It is upto the businesses how they want to use this information and act on it. They should identify positive comments and decide that these are my customers and how I can improve services for them. They should take feedback from the negative comments and ask employees to work on them announcing incentives to those who rectify the problems. This is where it also involves the HR roles.
Practical Issues in Social Media Marketing
tejas@iimb: Recently the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had come up with guidelines which gave customers the option to avoid unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMSes. In a similar context, how does one ensure the optimal level of advertising through online space? Isnít there a risk of being labeled a Ďspammerí and driving away customers by invading their personal space in the virtual world?
SB: Yes, aggressive social media marketing can be counter-productive. Digital Signage Federation has laid down strong privacy and transparency standards to protect consumers from aggressive online marketing and unethical collection of personal information through mobile marketing, social media etc. It is important for online marketing companies in India to adopt these best practices to ensure optimal level of advertising through online space. The community of Online Marketing Enthusiasts is involved in creating awareness about these best practices to ensure that online marketing remains consumer-friendly.
tejas@iimb: Businesses need to protect themselves from defamation, false advertising and commercial disparagement. Considering that the internet is an open forum where people may express whatever they want, what are the legal issues involved in using it as a marketing channel?
SB:As of now there are no laws in India to protect companies from online defamation and commercial disparagement. However, many Indian companies are turning to Online Reputation Management (ORM) to build a positive image on internet and wards off reputation threats. ORM helps companies filter and edit the online information related to their brand on a regular basis. It identifies the threat of online reputation attack and helps them take corrective action.
The Future of Social Media Marketing
tejas@iimb: Are there any particular sectors or industries which will see rapid expansion of its social media marketing initiatives in the near future? What issues need to be addressed to make it sustainable over long periods? Will social media marketing prove to be helpful for entrepreneurial startups?
SB: Social media is today not an option but a necessity for every industry. For entrepreneurial start-ups, social media offers a competitive advantage because of its low cost and low barrier to entry. Moreover, start-ups have flexible policies that help them to adopt social media easily. With social media and a little creativity, start-ups can easily reach out to their customers and build a successful brand.
Social media is all about building relationships.
I feel that health-care and travel industries will witness proliferation of social media marketing initiatives in the future. There is huge opportunity for the education sector also in this new media. The mobile penetration in India, including the rural areas, is quite high. So I see social media marketing go mobile. Social media is all about building relationships. For any social media marketing to be rewarding in the long run, companies need to continuously find creative ways to engage with the customers.
tejas@iimb: According to you, what will be the implications on the traditional marketing channels in the long run? Do you see social media marketing taking over and commanding a greater share over television or newspaper commercials in the near future?
SB: Due to the low internet penetration in the country, particularly in the rural areas, I don't see social media marketing replace traditional marketing channels in the next few years. At best, social media marketing will be integrated with the traditional channels in the long run. Group buying and social commerce are the recent trends. Many e-commerce sites offer attractive discounts for a group of shoppers on their combined purchases. Group buying brings together customers who would like to buy a product. The increase in volume lets these websites offer attractive discounts. Some of the websites that offer group buying are taggle.com, snapdeal.com. In a social commerce model, invitation-only shopping sites give discounts to consumers if they add their friends to the site.
Although social media marketing is a relatively recent concept in India, it has redefined the way businesses are implementing marketing campaigns. With the online medium providing mass reach and low cost benefits, social media marketing is a powerful tool not just for big companies but also for small entrepreneurial start-ups. Businesses must creatively use social media marketing and come up with innovative campaigns to reach out to customers and build a successful brand.
Suresh Babu is Digital Marketing Strategist, a Certified SEO/ Online marketing Professional and Inbound Marketing Educator, speaker and corporate web marketing trainer in Bangalore. He is the founder of Online Marketing Enthusiast Community. He works closely with NSRCEL, IIM Bangalore and shares his expertise with start-ups in NSRCEL.