Misnomers about social media

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | March 07, 2011
Millward Brown conducted a study in 18 countries, to understand the rules of brand engagement in the social media space.

Millward Brown conducted a study in 18 countries recently, to understand the rules of brand engagement in the social media space. The attitudes and behaviour of consumers, in the context of brands, was closely studied.

afaqs! caught up with the senior management at Millward Brown - Gordon Pincott, chairman, Global Solutions, Christopher Madison, director, digital strategy (Africa, Middle-East, Asia, and Australia), and Rakesh Kumar, head, Firefly, Africa, Middle-East, and Asia-Pacific, to find out more about the study, as well as discuss the importance of digital and social media.

The Indian Insight

The study revealed that the mere number of online fans for a brand does not indicate its success. In India, though, a lot of brand marketers continue to erroneously think that a brand's online clout is reflective of its success in the real world.

According to Madison, online visits to the brand website is no indicator of the brand's success or popularity. "Currently, most people in India measure the success of their campaigns online, based on click rates and viral views. Our research, however, shows that one cannot correlate click rates to any meaningful variable, such as purchase intent, or brand development," he said.

Kumar revealed that while in India, it is still primarily the age group of 18-30 years that is engaged on social media, globally, the picture is slightly different. While the silver age is actively turning to this space, active social media users also include mothers in the age band of 30-40 years, in large numbers.

The study also revealed a counter-intuitive result regarding the Indian market. "We found that the Indian market is higher on the digital curve, as compared to many other markets," said Kumar, adding, "However, there is a lot of blind shooting going on in the form of trial-and-error tactics on the part of marketers. So, there has to be something more structured and planned. Our attempt is to answer the question as to how a brand can engage with its consumers in the social media space in a structured engagement model.'"

Kumar also underscored the fact that when it comes to the online medium, one needs to think beyond just personal computers (PC), and correlate it to mobile phones, too. "We had expected India to be lower on the curve considering PC penetration, but the results showed otherwise," he pointed out. He also predicted that the age of the target group of consumers would evolve with time.

The study also revealed that even from a psychographic perspective, India seems to be higher up on Maslow's Need Hierarchy Pyramid. This means that engaging with brands online is not just social awareness; it is more about self-expression. "Brand advocacy on the social media platform fulfils consumers' higher order needs such as the need to be noticed, and the need to enhance one's self-esteem," Kumar simplifies. In terms of their ability to express their views on brands, television and radio ads provide no such forum for consumers.

Talking about the importance of social media, Pincott says, "One of the powerful things about social media is that people who are fans of your brand are influential way beyond themselves, and are already quite engaged with your brand. You're not converting new people into users of your brand, but building a stronger relationship with those who already use the brand, and in a way, turn them into brand ambassadors."

Orkut versus Facebook

At a global level, there has been a shift from Orkut to Facebook, as far as brand engagement goes. This change stems from the need (for consumers) to be part of a more global conversation platform with international reach, as opposed to a regional conversation. This shows that brand engagement and brand advocacy on social media tend to gratify the consumer's need for social affiliation. Facebook fulfils that requirement more than Orkut.

However, in some markets (for instance, China) there is a move from international online forums, to more national level and localised social networks. "In China, we found that the diversity of conversation is more on Facebook, while the depth of conversation is greater on domestic platforms (example MySpace)," said Kumar. On Facebook, he opined, the tendency to feel lost is high, which is probably one of the reasons for this trend.

Digital versus Traditional Media

Tapping the digital medium is not just about studying the degree of penetration in terms of the number of people having conversations around the concerned brand, but is more importantly about whether these conversations are working for the brand in terms of purchase decisions. "What we've noticed is that while television and print advertisements look to convert people to the concerned brand, a majority of customers who are there on these sites and talk about the brand, already use the brand, and have high brand loyalty," said Madison.

The aim then, is not to convince people to buy a brand, but to empower these brand advocates and reinforce their faith in the brand. "So, once marketers switch their thinking and start focussing on having conversations to make these brand loyalists even more loyal, the full power of social media will be exploited," deduced Madison.

A general observation was that in most countries people are better at targetting the youth online. Marketers are yet to get creative on how to target people of different age groups on social media.

Highlighting more core differences between traditional and digital media, Madison explained how unlike in television and print, where the main content and the advertisement are very clearly separate, in the digital space the two tend to compete for the viewers' attention.

In a television ad (around 30 seconds long), a story line can be built up and separate shots of the product and logo can be aired. "For digital ads, the logo must be there in every frame and there has to be a single clear message. This is because we don't know when someone will look at the ad and for how long."

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