Friday, 18 November 2011

Social media: can you afford to ignore it?

2012 is almost here. In 2011, social media has taken on ever so many new twists and turns. Not that this is a new factor, given the furious pace at which technology is racing to enable us to communicate with each other through multiple forums.

Let's take a quick look on some social media statistics:
Source: Experian Hitwise study, 2011. Graph design: Anish Kumarswamy
While Brazil and Singapore take the top spots, India does not lag too far behind either with nearly 14% market share for social networks. At fifth place worldwide, it is a significant presence. Another interesting titbit: in India, Facebook has grown by 88% since last year.

Combine this information with the fact that as of 2009, more than 5% of India's population were already on the internet (Source: Google public data explorer). We could be inclined to think, that 5% is nothing compared to the over 80% of people in the United Kingdom who are on the internet. However, in absolute terms the measly 5% translates into a whopping 60 million Indians compared to the 51 million British! Not a small number by any means, is it?

Take this a bit further. There are many of us, who use the internet increasingly through our mobile/smart phones. As of 2009, public data indicated that over 45% of Indians used mobile phone services. This logically means, that a massive mobile internet usage explosion is happening. Right now!

So not only are ever more people getting on to the internet space, many are adopting social media as a way of communicating by staying in touch with or keeping themselves updated about not just their social relations, but also the brands and experiences they have had or would like to have. While using multiple means to be on-line. 

To me, this signifies fantastic potential to use the 4 Cs of Marketing, which I referred to here. You may be thinking, yes this is why brands already have in place, a page on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and a website, email list, etc. Yet, the means or the channel is definitively not the end. By this I mean that having numbers of fans, followers or likes, is not enough.

It is about individual interaction that leads to meaningful conversations and equally importantly conversions. Do a basic search, and you can see how many lost opportunities and failed brands litter the information highway. Take a lateral step to the side, and you can see there are so many retailers and brands out there who have yet to take baby steps on this highway.

I do not believe that conventional marketing forms are done with. Far from it. There still a significant population who fall outside the ambit of social media and to reach them, the old mechanisms hold good.

However, it is an increasingly relevant question, can you afford to ignore social media?

It is a question, that deserves respect. It is a question that calls for introspection. It is a question that demands answers. It is not something that I believe traditional mindsets are geared to handle. Creative agencies, for example, are structured to provide differentiated and stand out communication that essentially improves the noticeability factor for brands, with the hope of enticing viewers/listeners to procure the associated product and derive the benefits.

Yet as many marketers today exclaim with frustration, their digital ambitions (if any) are not being satisfied, despite efforts. This is why a different mindset is required, be it at the agency side or the client side. In traditional marketing, one of the most powerful tools is Word of Mouth.

Isn't is far more convincing to you, when a friend or a person you are inclined to believe, talks to you about a tried and tested product and recommends it? However, for a marketer, it is also one of the most difficult tools to work with, as there exists hardly any control over it. General statistics show that a dissatisfied customer will talk about a negative experience to 20 other people, whereas a satisfied customer may talk about it to 5 people.

Take this example in the social media context and you can apply a multiplication factor that is far higher. One bad experience, mouthed once, through a social communication channel reaches x 100 times more people and far faster. As does a positive experience revelation. Plus, it simply never goes away. It sits there waiting to be viewed or heard, by anyone at any point of time in the future. However, being an interactive medium, it gives the brands and their marketers a clear opportunity to immediately respond to the professed experience. This gives a far better chance to change or reinforce the feeling, depending on how the situation is handled.

I think that social media offers us unprecedented tools and opportunities as much as challenges, which we cannot afford to ignore. A key difference though, is that unlike learning once to use a physical mechanism, for example a cycle, in the social context it requires continuous learning, application, re-learning, re-application and then all over again.

What's your biggest challenge with social media?


  1. It has become a major tool. I agree with the most of the points you made and Mark Z said the same thing on it. Sorry I don't remember the exact quotes.

    Very intellectually written and answers few questions of modern day marketing...

  2. Thank you Saru, for the positive comment :) Indeed, social media is a major tool yet equally challenging. How many people know how to wield it? Can it be utilised in better ways to get effective results? Today the terms Social Quotient and Social Media Outposts are becoming common, yet how many actually understand or deal with it is anybody's guess.

  3. Very informative post. The biggest challenge as far as I am concerned is the peddling of misinformation and propaganda. It can figure in tuning the political machinations of a country,especially a developing one. While the market share may have capped in the developed and less populous countries like the US , it still hasn't peaked in countries like India. So its influence is sure to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

  4. Thank you Zach. You have certainly touched upon a key challenge. While it is a case of more the merrier, chances of both good and bad information spreading through social networks and influencing strategic political decisions is always a possibility. However, I do believe that everyone is empowered on a social medium and saner minds might prevail in the end. Of course, there is no better control than self-control, but that is in the realm of matured minds, isn't it? :)


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