Guest Article: Sanjay Mehta: The DNA of Social Media

By Sanjay Mehta , Social Wavelength, Mumbai | In Digital | March 12, 2014
Does a brand need to have social media in its DNA to understand and use the medium better?

Few days back, there was an interesting conversation at a panel discussion that I was a part of.

Sanjay Mehta

The question being debated was about e-commerce companies getting social media better than brick and mortar ones, because "digital was in their DNA". And yes, the general consensus was that e-commerce brands do get digital media and social media just a shade better, on account of the fact that they get digital more intuitively, and hence understand analytics a lot better, get the A/B split concepts, understand the CPM ideas, get re-marketing and such innovations.

All of these are things that traditional marketers have to first comprehend, and then try to use - which is always a bigger challenge.

For the record, the counter argument was that especially in the retail sector, a good brick and mortar retailer would also get analytics absolutely well (Walmart is the classic example) and should they desire to make the transition to digital, they could do so, whether it is via a build or a buy route. Walmart for example has what it calls WalmartLabs, which is built around several key acquisitions, including Kosmix (founded by the same founders who created, which was acquired by Amazon!).

So, while digital may not have been in Walmart DNA, it is acquiring and creating a separate entity, WalmartLabs that could potentially have that DNA, and which is so necessary to manage in current times.

But what is this whole DNA bit and how does it make a difference, especially when we think of social media DNA?

To understand this, let us consider the two key business functions that have embraced social media so far, viz. Marketing (and Sales) and Customer Service.

Now, when we think of the traditional marketer (one who doesn't have the social media DNA), he has always focused on aspects like reach, demography, marketing communications, taking the message to the audience, essentially ensuring brand recall, and trying to be in the consideration set of the TG.

So when this marketer tries to get into social media, she is happy to get reach - which also translates to Facebook likes, impressions and video views. And, these are the metrics that many chase today. This is also the reason why we see the largest social media spends happening in actual media buys - be it on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn. Most of these are largely about reach, impressions, getting brand visibility and getting your brand message out.

Now, if you consider the marketer who has a social media DNA, how would she think differently, in the same circumstances?

She realises that today's purchase journey is not just about getting into the consideration set, and then about point of sale. There are areas in between, and thereafter as well.

For example, there is the critical "evaluation phase" where the consumer is going out, talking to people, seeking opinions, reading reviews, asking questions, looking to make the most informed decision. And, this is where brands can come in or go out of the original consideration set. This phase has a very large component of the social media element in it.

Likewise, where a traditional marketer would consider her job done, once she has led the consumer to the purchase, the marketer with social media DNA also recognises that the consumer journey continues beyond the purchase point as well! In today's world, the consumer keeps sharing the experience, post-purchase, be it the purchase experience itself, or the experience of using the product. This is very crucial phase as it influences repeat purchases and influences others on their purchase journey.

The marketer with the social media DNA will participate actively in social media listening, and engagement, when the consumer is going through the evaluation phase, and also in the post-purchase journey. The traditional marketer may not even realise that she is missing something by staying away.

Let's look at customer service, similarly.

Traditional customer service engagements are one-on-one between a consumer and the company. In the case of a large consumer base, each such conversation is one out of thousands, and the brand may be only that much concerned about the impact it creates with the said consumer. Which means it is okay for the traditional customer service executive to say that they are closed after 6 pm. Or, after receiving the complaint, telling the customer that it will take 7-10 days to respond, and sometimes taking even longer - a certain casual approach, a certain buying-time kind of response. This could happen in a face-to-face situation, on a call or over email. Simply, since it is a one-on-one with the customer, it can be taken at a pace that is convenient to the company.

In the world of social media though, things are different. There is recognition today that the world is alive and awake on a 24x7 basis. A lot of product usage or service utilisation happens at any odd time of the day or night, which is when the customer may hit a problem and would want to seek help from the company. Customers are themselves working all kinds of hours, and may not find it convenient to visit customer service departments during the middle of the day, or call at certain specific hours only. These customers are also active on social media, and often desirous of talking to the company on social media platforms.

Even when the conversation itself is not happening on social media, there is every chance that an offline interaction with the company can land up on social media - a camera that was on and quietly recording when the customer service executive was arguing with the customer; or, a rude telephonic conversation recorded on the customer's phone; or, a politically incorrect email sent by the company, which can be copied and reused.

Such potentially viral indiscretions by customer service teams could easily land up on social media and cause immense damage to the company.

And yet, many a traditionally oriented customer service team still prefers to handle customer service the old way, ignoring social media.

When the social media DNA comes in, there is a deeper understanding of the challenges and a different mindset of response, a different organisation build, a more involved social media response process created.

It does not matter if a company can in-source its social media efforts, be it for marketing or customer service or any other function. However, if the legacy DNA is going to dominate and drive decisions and approach, it will not help the brand derive real benefits out of the media, and in fact, keep the brand at risk.

Outsourcing social media to someone who gets it at a DNA level, or creating a completely new and independent unit (like Walmart did) that gets social media differently, from legacy thought, are possible solutions.

The author is joint CEO, Social Wavelength.

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