On the concluding day of Goafest 2010, a session moderated by Eric Ashok Ledergerber, founder, hub.in|dia, saw experts in the field of digital media discussing the growing importance of social media and its relevance in today's context. The panellists comprised Patrick Liotard-Vogt, chairman of the social community, ASW.com; Vishal Gondal, CEO and founder, Indiagames; Gaurav Mishra, CEO, 2020 Social; and famous blogger, Kiruba Shankar, CEO of Business Blogging.
As a result of this online explosion against Cleartrip, the brand didn't do the obvious by staying mum or defending itself -- it surprised everyone by admitting its mistake publicly. What's more, Shankar was given a redeemable free business class ticket, as compensation for the inconvenience caused to him.
Cleartrip clarified the situation on its own blog as well, and answered every bad tweet with apologies, explanations and solutions. "A shift started happening with Cleartrip's mature handling of the situation. One then saw people tweeting and supporting Cleartrip's honesty over the Web," Shankar said, punctuating his point that these days, how a company manages social media makes all the difference to its image and target audience.
"How many of us actually use Twitter and Facebook beyond our personal life, in order to elevate our brands? Let's introspect and ask ourselves how many of us truly use social media for our own brands," he emphasised.
Gondal of Indiagames brought out another aspect of social media -- the growing influence of gaming on social networking sites and other forms of social media. "A majority of Facebook's revenues come from gaming," he stated, adding that whether on iPhones, BlackBerry, other mobile phones, Facebook, Playstations or other technical devices, gaming is here to stay. "Whether it is cricket or any other form of sport in the virtual world, gaming is going to be a 'game' changer for social media," he quipped.
Mishra of 2020 Social began his talk with a question: "Why is social media important at all? If you ask me, the word 'social' is more important than anything else. It is all about brands asking themselves how they can do things in a more 'social' way to reach out to the public."
The 13 million users of Facebook in India, he said, should be viewed by brands as a 'city' of 13 million people. "Social networking is all about identifying a connect -- which I call a virus -- and infecting a group of people with it, and then have them infect others in the community," Mishra said.
Gondal made another interesting point on how search marketing is, perhaps, overrated. "If I were Google, I would be desperate to buy out Twitter," he grinned. "While search is a good way to find out what the consumer is looking at, Twitter and social networking sites are more 'here and now' for today's pressed-for-time consumer."
Further, he elaborated that social media is a very personal form of media. So, when a person tweets to, say, Pepsi, he would expect someone at Pepsi's end to personally reply to the tweet. Most companies, or even individuals (such as celebrities), have PR agencies or representatives responding on their behalf online, be it on Twitter or blogs; and the consumer can make out that difference in a second. "The brand owner/company/individual himself has to be the manager of his social media, if he is to do it right," Gondal suggested.
Mishra differed from this view slightly, by stating that while brand managers must respond to consumers themselves, the moderation or hosting of the conversation can be outsourced. Else, the problem of scale (going by the huge number of consumers who could want a dialogue) could haunt them.