The social media revolution is here to stay

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | June 21, 2010
With brands being able to track what consumers think about them every single minute; social media is fast emerging as a sought-after tool

Never was access to consumers' minds so easy and quick. With a new medium - social media -- that is taking the industry by storm; advertisers are on their toes, constantly trying to appease the empowered consumer. At a recent panel discussion, the power and relevance of social media was examined extensively.

Vishnu Mohan, CEO, Havas Media, Asia Pacific, questioned whether social media is a reality, a fad or whether the industry is getting swayed by it. Ronita Mitra, head, corporate brand group, ICICI Bank said that it's a revolution and not a fad. Social media has more positives to offer than negatives to both consumers and advertisers, which makes it so sought after.

& #BANNER1 & #Atul Agrawal, vice-president, corporate affairs, Tata Services, observed that 'social' and 'media' needed to be separated. "It is very different from other media. One can't afford to have passive one-way communication. Consumers will listen or come to the brand only if they like. Hence, as a medium, it cannot be acted upon; but can provide a facilitative mechanism for communication," he stated.

Neville Taraporewalla, director, India Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, Microsoft, joked that if Lalit Modi were a company, he would have exposure worth millions of dollars via social media. "This media has changed the consumption patterns of people. Some years ago, people were not keen on sharing too many things. Today, they want to share everything on this platform."

Suvodeep Das, head, marketing, Kaya Skin Clinic, said that for a high-involvement brand such as Kaya, social media plays a crucial role, along with search. He quoted a Nielsen study, which stated that 35 per cent of consumers who search on the internet also access social media. "It's much more relevant in the Indian context, because we love to give and take advice. And social media facilitates that," he added.

Research suggests that the purchase intent generated by search advertising is 2 per cent; while with a combination of search and social media, it amounts to 10 per cent. Mitra of ICICI Bank went on to say that insights provided by conversations on social media are more valuable than those provided by traditional qualitative research. Today, creating positive word-of-mouth is high on ICICI Bank's agenda, she added.

However, social media also poses some challenges. It is imperative for a brand to be proactive. Rahul Sinha, chief marketing officer, Birla Sun Life said that because this media is on all the time, the challenge is to stay relevant always, more than being proactive.

Mitra pointed out that while social media opens a world of insights, brands are unable to identify the profiles of the people who communicate or talk about them. "We have to tread with caution, as we not aware of the source," she said.

To this, Sinha said that brands should not get carried away by it. "These conversations can throw you off track, because so many insights are thrown at you at a crazy pace," he exclaimed. At Birla Sun Life, he said, currently, all they are doing is listening and studying those insights, and not acting on it gradually.

He cites an example of a simple change they made recently, thanks to social media. It was observed that consumers were hesitant to provide their mobile numbers in the insurance forms they filled. "We got to know from the 'chatter' that many of them thought it would only lead to more calls from us for more insurance," he said. The company then started mentioning the reason for asking the numbers, and customers are now looking at it differently.

Emphasizing on the power of social media, Sinha said that earlier, the only way to get feedback or access to conversations from customers would be the 4,000-odd calls made to the company every year. Today, it is 4,000 conversations per month on social media.

Panellists were of the opinion that social media brought in a lot of transparency. "It's not just about how your brand is being seen or conversed about; it's about creating a relationship with the consumer. There is an increased onus on organizations to be accountable and more transparent, because today, it can be questioned and debated," Mitra said.