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Online: Ready to Go?

Social media platforms are good places to look for traffic and generate business. Are content, news and e-commerce sites using this opportunity?

Social brand

"How good is my social media plan?" is a question that website marketers are increasingly asking themselves. It is no longer about just having a facebook page Ц no digital brand worth its salt could ignore it even in the era when search engine optimisation and search engine marketing dominated online marketing strategies. Though it is just beginning, SMO (social media optimisation) today is considered an integral part of the Holy Trinity of online marketing and branding.

Aggressively complementing the search function on the online space, social media has emerged as a big contributor to traffic for several websites across categories. Right from crowdsourcing ideas, social bookmarking and brand building, to conducting contests, generating buzz and making social media users force-sample sites, online players are pushing the envelope to drive huge virtual footfalls to their home page via social media.

Social media marketing is not about just a twitter handle or a facebook page. It is how well online brands connect the dots and link themselves to a host of social media sites, attract more traffic and get leads that will convert to customers. Here's a look at whether the tactics have worked as well as online brands expected them to.

Getting a handle

Preetham Venkky, facebook expert/social media consultant and business head (India) at KRDS (a Facebook marketing agency), shares data that shows how social media is evolving as a significant contributor to web traffic.

According to his research across online industries, on an average, e-commerce sites receive 25-35 per cent of their overall traffic from Facebook. The past three months have seen an increase in 'Social Traffic' (traffic from social media) of 5-10 per cent. Similarly, Bollywood entertainment sites currently receive 20-30 per cent of their overall traffic from Facebook and have witnessed a 5 per cent increase in Social Traffic in the past three months.

The numbers are more robust in the case of startup media publishers. These online publishers presently receive 50-60 per cent of their overall traffic from Facebook and have seen a 20 per cent increase in Social Traffic in the past three months.

Webfluenz's (a social-media intelligence site) research from, and within, social media shows that compared to other sectors, e-commerce enjoys a high brand association and brand advocacy level generated by people on social media. Sandeep Komaravelly, head, marketing and alliances, Snapdeal.com reveals, "We have seen an average growth of 70 per cent - month on month - in terms of traffic driven to our website from social media channels." Snapdeal.com is able to reach out to 30 per cent of all its fans through its Facebook page alone. Such successes have forced online brands to invest more in social media.

Site authorities on rediffdeals.com, a property of Rediff.com, manage around 40 twitter handles in order to maximise the reach of their offers and deals. Each handle caters to a different city and tweets about offers and deals targeted to a specific region only. To 'consummate' the offer, the person has to visit the site and download the coupon, thus ensuring a steady stream of traffic.

Absolute figures may not tell the real story, but there is little doubt that SMO is getting more attention from online brands, especially the smaller ones. A hindustantimes.com, for example, gets 5-6 per cent of its overall traffic from social media (of this, 2-3 per cent comes from Facebook and 1-1.5 per cent from Twitter), while the percentage of traffic from Google Search is 35-40 per cent.

C Bazaar

CBazaar.com/ CBazaar.in

Type of site
Online clothing store selling ethnic India-wear

Traffic Details
Percentage of traffic from social media: 10 (contribution of social media towards the site's traffic is increasing by 15-20 per cent, month on month).

Main Social Media platform - Facebook

Why this platform?
Facebook helps manage both Cbazaar.in (targeted at locals) and Cbazaar.com (NRIs and overseas buyers).

Core Social Media Strategy

  • To build brand advocacy (how can I get my existing customers to talk about me to my prospective customers?) and brand loyalty (how to remain top of mind for my existing customers?)
  • One tactic: Answering customer queries with a link that drives them back to the site.
  • Monthly engagement activities compel people to force-sample the site.
  • Cbazaar.com recently ran a campaign through an app that asked customers to share the story of their 'first-ever saree experience' on the Facebook forum. This activity - with voting and prizes - led to community and traffic building.

Future Strategy
Turning its social media forum into a community-driven platform where consumers of ethnic Indian fashion-wear can engage with one another.

Pearls of Wisdom
Social media needs to co-exist with other media like TV and print. It influences the consumer at the time of purchase, builds brand advocacy and creates loyalty.

(As told by Rajesh Nahar, CEO & co-founder)

Your Next Leap

YourNextLeap.com

Type of site
Vocation guidance website that helps students and young professionals plan their career.

Traffic Details
(February 2011 to March 15, 2012)
Percentage of traffic from social media: 48.6

Additional Traffic Details
Percentage of traffic from...
Facebook: 45 per cent
Twitter: 0.2 per cent
Google+: 0.03 per cent
Forums, blogs, other sources: 3.4 per cent
Google Search: 34.4 per cent

Main Social Media platform - Facebook

Why this platform?
The TG being young, the traffic from Twitter and Google+ is low. Facebook is a cost-effective way of generating leads.

Core Social Media Strategy
Focuses on a complete social media culture including product research, market research, generating feedback from users, hiring and marketing. It also uses a lot of viral hooks while users are browsing. There are incentives for users who spread the word.

Future Strategy
Laser-focused on Mobile Social Media. Plans to introduce features in its product that further leverage the social graph of its users.

Pearls of Wisdom
Done correctly, social media can make marketing initiatives smoother. It serves as an engagement backbone for initiatives like SMS, newsletters, print ads and community management. Make social media a part of your marketing philosophy.

(As told by Mohit Gundecha, CEO & co- founder)

UnReal Times

TheUnrealTimes.com

Type of site
Satire, spoof, parody and humour portal

Traffic Details
(January to March 2012)
Percentage of traffic from Social Media: Over 50

Additional Traffic Details
Percentage of traffic from...
Facebook: 50 per cent
Twitter: 2 per cent
Forums, blogs, other sources: 8 per cent
Google Search: 20 per cent
Direct traffic: 20 per cent

Main Social Media platform - Facebook
(the site also has 350 subscribers on its YouTube channel, YouTube videos have generated 800,000 views so far)

Why this platform?
For any general site catering to mass audience, a footprint on Facebook is extremely important

Core Social Media Strategy

  • The team manages a Facebook page and has 83,000 Facebook fans.

Future Strategy

  • Get more followers on Twitter. Pinstorm ranks it No 61 in its list of 'Indian brands on Twitter'.
  • Interact a lot more with readers through quizzes and visual imagery to increase affinity.

Pearls of Wisdom
Nurture your base and invest in creating a strong gravitational field to attract visitors.

(As told by C S Krishna, co-founder)

However, there are lesser-known sites that swear by SMO. They (see case studies) may not get a high ratio of direct searches nor is their overall traffic figure high, but of all the traffic they do manage to get, a sizeable chunk, if not most of it, comes from social media. This in turn helps these sites meet their ultimate objectives Ц be it revenue generation, increasing product sales or simply gaining more readership, depending on the type of site it is.

There are several ways in which social media contributes to traffic for websites. One theory states that the 'stickiness' of first time visitors tends to be much higher when they have been led to the site through social media than from elsewhere. In the case of e-commerce sites, it is not just the stickiness but also the transaction rate that tends to be more for traffic sourced via social media.

Observes Niraj Seth, chief marketing officer, Cleartrip.com, "We've noticed that the audience coming to our site through social media channels has higher stickiness. People spend more time on the site and have more repeat buys."

Cbazaar.com, an e-commerce site specialising in ethnic Indian wear, believes in measuring not just the amount of traffic coming in from social media but also the quality of this traffic. The quality is judged on two parameters - the amount of time the visitor spends on the site and the conversion rates or the number of people who end up purchasing something. "We find that the conversion rate is easily over three times more for the traffic that comes in from social media as opposed to the traffic that comes in from organic and paid search engine tactics," reveals Rajesh Nahar, CEO, Cbazaar.com. Why is this so?

Extremely involved

There are several explanations for the above phenomenon. People who visit a website after interacting with it in some form on social media are more amenable to making a purchase or returning for more. This is because they have come to the site in question out of choice. The volition of the visitor is especially high when she has already engaged with some social media ad or contest on part of the site, even if it is by accident.

As far as interest levels in the brand is concerned, the audience coming to a site from a social media site is already 'filtered' in a way mainly because these people are 'already halfway there'. The person has already done the preliminary research about the brand on social media and has already had some interaction with the brand before being driven to the site. It is this feeling of security - maybe even obligation - that compels the person to transact or re-visit. Psychologists call this the 'Foot-in-the-door' effect.

According to Nimesh Shah, head maven, Windchimes Communications, this is especially true for low involvement category products (like books). For high involvement categories (like high-end cameras), social media efforts can generate traffic to the site but this needn't convert into sales," he explains. For the latter, it will help if the site has a dedicated social media team that answers potential buyers' product-related queries and helps them do their research on both, the website concerned and, more importantly, the products they're interested in.

Another factor is that while search catches the consumer in the buying, or so-called action phase of the consumption cycle, social media catches the consumer at a much earlier stage. This helps as, during the action phase, consumers typically like to weigh their options and then make a choice. Thus, they may not transact on the first site they chance upon via search. "Social media targets people in the awareness, desire and interest (IDA) stages of the cycle and thus widens the funnel," explains Vivek Bhargava, CEO, Communicate2.

Sticking to it

In the case of news, information and content-based websites, the role of social media as a contributor to traffic has everything to do with the changing behaviour of netizens these days. While people seem to be spending a lot of time on the internet at large, the amount of time they spend on specific websites is dwindling. So, though their general 'net time' or 'web presence' Ц be it through social media sites or mobile apps - is increasing, their 'website time' is decreasing.

Random surfing and site-hopping indicates heightened impatience levels, something today's netizens are notorious for. The news is thus first picked up from places like Twitter and Facebook than from the news websites themselves. In the bargain, surfers end up clicking on the links and reaching the main news site. Though the readers' primary intention may not have been to visit the site, social media leads them there somehow.

"On the internet, people no longer go to the news - it's the news that comes to the people," offers Bhargava from Communicate2, clarifying the role of social media in delivering this news to its time-strapped, lazy recipients, and in effect keeping the traffic to the news sites going.

Another way in which social media aids sites is through tools. Earlier, tools that helped sites gain traction were those that exploited the search function. Now, however, similar social media tools help sites optimise their social media campaigns and measure their social media efforts.

GOING FORWARD

Most sites are scratching the surface of social media marketing. What is it that they should watch out for?

Х Avoid treating search and social media as an 'either-or' deal.

Many sites are are yet to tap the power of the two. Faheem Ahmed, CEO, BYT Social, explains how traffic can be driven by social media efforts Citing the example of an apparel marketer, Ahmed explains that - thanks to its aggressive social media presence and branding on Facebook - more people have started keying in word combinations like 't-shirt + the name of the brand' or 'shirt + the name of the brand' in search engines, instead of typing in just 't-shirt'.

''For us,'' says Rashmi Chugh, business head, news websites, HT Media, ''social media and search complement each other. Social platforms help in content getting picked up and spread virally, which helps in pushing the same up in organic search listings. Better visibility on organic search results builds traction across social network platforms.''

Х Customise social media efforts based on the type of site.

That fit is crucial. It may not be the best idea for new sites to start off their social media involvement with Twitter. Twitter works better when the site has a fair amount of loyalists. Social media platforms that allow for video sharing are ideal for sites that want to spread educative content, while Twitter and mobile apps work well for sites that want repeat visitors. Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn work for community building, image building and advocacy.

While online publishers, blogs and news-based sites have cracked the formula of integrating social media on their sites (logos alongside every article allow instant viral sharing), they can now focus on owning a certain value or persona in the readers' mindspace with the help of social media, be it accuracy, timeliness, getting there first or strong features. This will indirectly help garner user generated content for the site and ultimately traffic.

Similarly, a travel site could strive to be known as the one that offers the cheapest deals or one that has the most interesting travel tips.

Х Decide if you want to be promotion-led.

Do your social media campaigns and engagement efforts tend to involve blatant product-centricity? Will consumers soon start viewing online retailers' social media pages as mere sales channels?

BYT Social's Ahmed explains that the challenge for e-com sites is to cater to netizens' desire for variety, convenience and discounts - ''People from small towns such as Hanamkonda and Tirunelveli - who may not get great variety at offline stores - tend to shop online. Being discount-driven is a must.'' Anurag Bhatnagar, head, Media Contacts, Havas Digital, recommends a balance. ''The 'social strategy' for online retailers has a dual goal,'' he says.

An effective social media measure that is a natural extension of the overused, often abused 'Like' button is the 'Talking about it' tool that helps online brands gauge whether their brand is being talked about in the social media world. Built for social media monitoring, tools like Radian6 help provide intelligence about online conversations and Social Mentions across social media platforms. Some experts call these 'social media listening' tools as they help brand owners keep a constant ear to the ground and use the feedback to optimise their business objectives.

Consider Buddy Media, a company that offers a range of online products and tools designed to help brands maintain healthy relationships across Facebook and provides social marketing solutions, paid and otherwise, to brands. Similarly, a host of social media applications help create a ripple effect for web brands, increasing the traffic to the webpage in question. Unny Radhakrishnan, national director, digital, Maxus, offers, "With the Washington Post Social Reader App, whenever I read an article on any online publication it announces it on Facebook so that all my friends can see what I've read."

Are they ready?

Blurb

In a scenario where social media is emerging as a strong contributor to web traffic, online players are bound to face certain challenges which, more often than not, will have their roots in the inherent nature of the medium itself.

Consider this paradox. To make life easier for netizens, what if online retailers decide to turn their social media page into the final transaction page instead of making the buyer leave that page and go to the main website to complete the purchase? If, so far, social media was the means to the end Ц the end being generating traffic to the final page Ц what if the social media page becomes an end in itself? Skipping one step will surely be a delight for today's impatient digital shoppers.

Experts call this the 'E-commerce versus F-commerce (Facebook commerce) debate'. "Though F-commerce is still very nascent, the notion of a landing page is becoming obsolete," says Shah. Already, in some cases, engaging with a website's ad campaign on Facebook takes one to the website's Facebook fan page and not to the website itself. As Latish Nair, national director, Mediacom Interaction, sums it up: "The online eco-system is confusing as of now and marketers are grappling with multiple goals."

Another paradox is when the built-in features on certain websites mimic social media pages and cancel out the need for the later. For instance, most content-based sites today in themselves act as social forums with ample space for comments, discussions and debates. There's no need to visit the site's Facebook page to spark off a conversation. This curtails the sharing of links which in turn reduces the possibility of future traffic to the site.

Thus, treating one's social media page at par with the main site is a dicey affair that may defeat the purpose of attracting traffic. Brand marketers will probably do well to stick to social media sites as the catalyst and not the medium itself.

Additional interviews with inputs from:

Bharani Setlur, CEO, Mithun Rodwittiya, regional head - business development, and Radhika Sen, manager - research & analytics (all Webfluenz); Hareesh Tibrewala, business owner and joint CEO, Social Wavelength; Amarjit Singh Batra, country manager, OLX India & VP, business development, OLX Inc and Saurabh Kanwar, president, Flarepath.

To download the PDF version of the article, click here.

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