Satrajit Sen

A Dummy's Guide to Social Media Platforms

The emergence of new social media platforms has opened up a world of options for marketers. But many are yet to take that exploratory plunge beyond Facebook and Twitter. afaqs! decodes the world of 'other' social media platforms.

That social media is important for branding is a long established fact. Of the top 10 factors that correlate with strong Google organic search, seven are social media dependent, according to a recent study by L2 Think Tank. This means, if brands aren't active on social media, they tend to show up less on Google Search.

A Dummy's Guide to Social Media Platforms
The L2 report analysed social media activity of 247 top global brands across 15 social media platforms and found that on average, most top brands are active on five to nine social media platforms.

However, the emergence of new platforms - beyond Facebook and Twitter - has made it tricky for brand managers. How many are there? And, how does one choose the right one? A third question looms: Have we had enough of Facebook marketing in India? As for Twitter, marketers are still experimenting and are yet to crack the code.

To be used for brand-building, a platform needs to have decent enough traction in terms of usage/viewership. From the perspective of maximum active users in India, beyond Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other platforms lack this traction. Thus, many global brands have rightfully dedicated most of their digital marketing budgets to these platforms.

However, owing to their ever-growing size and nature, these platforms have not enabled marketers to create brand relationships. Not to mention the clutter on these platforms. This is where the other lesser known and used options come into the picture.

In the days ahead, brands will be faced with the task of choosing the right mix of platforms. Here's hoping this article will help them decide.

Besides Facebook and Twitter, which other social media platforms are there for me to use?

In India, platforms like Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Google+ continue to be used as supplementary to Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, brands merely reuse their FB/Twitter content on these platforms. Many brands opt for Google+ as a platform to cross-promote Facebook content given the promise of the famed Google juice, to help rank better on searches.

LinkedIn is the dark horse; it has a targeted user base and good traction in India. It is a perfect platform for B2B brand building. Brands like IBM are using LinkedIn as a 'lead identification medium' and 'lead nurturing tool', while many other IT brands use LinkedIn as a platform to advertise events and webinars. Through paid advertising, LinkedIn helps brands target relevant designations. A medium like LinkedIn is higher on formality and is meant for professional networking, making it more suited for employer branding activities.

YouTube is a great platform to promote brands via videos. For smaller businesses, there are plenty of do-it-yourself (DIY) tools to create videos and market them on YouTube. Very few people use their YouTube videos to rank on Page One of Google. YouTube provides a cost per view (CPV) model which is cheaper than the cost per click (CPC) model of Facebook. When used judiciously, YouTube can be leveraged very well by brands and SMEs.

Which of these newer platforms offer maximum social media marketing opportunities?

Here's a quick list:

Pinterest: Touted as the next big thing after Facebook, Pinterest was seen as the game changer in the social media market. Though touted as the next big platform in the US, it hasn't managed to fetch numbers in equal measure. However, overseas, brands have used Pinterest innovatively - a brand used it to share its latest annual report in text+visual format, and Honda ran a contest on Pinterest to promote its latest CRV variant in the US. Indian brands, though, are still struggling to decode this platform.

Quora: Many start-up brands seem to be using the platform as a way to position their leaders in better light. Brands like Flipkart actively take part in Quora discussions and clarify doubts and queries on assorted topics such as sustainability of business and baseless allegations.

Foursquare: It is being used by some brands to reward check-ins and as a bridge between offline and online platforms. Here's how - when customers check-in to a place, they can turn a certain number of check-ins as a way to redeem points/rewards offline. It is like a new-age loyalty scheme, one that's less cumbersome than other traditional, offline methods.

Flickr, Vine, etc.: Due to limited traffic, visual platforms like these haven't been explored fully in India.

What are the advantages of using these new platforms?

Relatively new platforms such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and others have the distinct advantage of lower acquisition cost of consumers as they are not very big (compared to the likes of Facebook). They are patronised by early adopters, making them a community of highly active and engaged users. This makes it easier for brands to create online communities as compared to platforms with high clutter. It also provides an opportunity for 'underdog brands' or challenger brands and late entrants.

Are platforms that support rich media content the best bet for my brand?

Platforms like YouTube that offer greater media richness and enable people to disclose more, help brands create stronger relationships. High media richness leads to greater social presence and helps a brand create a better connect on social media. Relatively informal media such as Facebook or Twitter make relationships more casual. The choice depends on the objective of branding and the intended relationship a brand wants to establish with its consumers.

How important is ease of usage? Which platform ranks high on this parameter?

Very important. Facebook leads this effort, but Twitter isn't far behind either. Twitter and Pinterest, for instance, have launched newer, brand-friendly features like cards which take users one step closer to a purchase. This helps add a lot more context to the content. Facebook, through its brand tie-ups, is constantly trying things like birthday gifts and f-commerce to augment the usability of the platform.

Why do some people say the platform barely matters?

While some say branding activities should be platform-agnostic, others say branding ought to be platform-focused. The weakness of the first approach is that it divides engagement. Also, the lack of focus on a specific platform makes the creation of a 'community of loyalists' difficult. The latter strategy is based on the premise that each platform has a unique user base and culture, which lends itself to customised branded activity. Also, it makes platform management easy.

All said and done, remember that ultimately, the platform is just one of the determinants of 'online branding' success. In the words of David Ogilvy, "What you say in advertising (to build a brand) is more important than how you say it". The efficacy of a medium for a brand depends on the content. So, a brand needs to synergise the content with the properties of the medium.

(Based on interviews with Karthik Srinivasan, national lead, Social@Ogilvy India; Sushant Kumar, social media analyst, Drizzlin Media; and Faheem Ahmed, founder and CEO, BYT Social)

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