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Social Media ROI becomes important

Social Media ROI is a rather complex concept, I’ve observed. Unlike more direct forms of marketing, its indicators may not include actual sales. This has resulted in a lot of skepticism about its impact and hence relevance.

With Social Media, you can touch your stars. I wrote to my favorite writer, I’m ‘following’ my favorite actors and I know what the politicians I hate are up to now. I’m also a follower of the Dell blog, the retail chains I ‘like’ and the events I’m ‘attending’. Truth be told, Shoppers Stop and Bingo! Chips are as big stars to me as any actor. The fact that when I comment on its Facebook page saying a particular brand of clothing wasn’t available, Shoppers Stop replies informing me of the outlets it is available at, is strangely reassuring and encouraging. And I’m not going to deny the sudden high of having Shahrukh Khan (twitter) reply to my question on Twitter.

Which is all great and all, but how are Shah Rukh and Bingo! (Or Lays) profiting from this? Writing to SRK on Twitter is no assurance that I’m going to be watching Ra 1.

Well, they’re not. Not monetarily, anyway (even if sales do increase, but it’s impossible to relate that to any one cause). But Social Media Marketing is great PR, even if that is a slight contradiction in terms. Which means ROI needs to be mentioned in nontraditional ways. Fitting, since Social Media Marketing is nontraditional.

Social Media ROI is most important when it comes to actually measuring non-quantitative indicators like the audience reactions to new plans, satisfaction with customer service and referring to the brand as an expert on a particular concept or area of service. A few thousand people who ‘like’ your retail chain/restaurant/bookstore come online everyday and tell you what they think about you, what they want from you and how they will respond to a new t-shirt collection/event you’re introducing, and who they’d rather have performing there – everything you want to know, really.

ROI goes past money, here. It can actually affect the number of people who like your brand enough to buy from you.

Real budgets for Social Media Marketing

Nothing on an average Facebook feed lasts more than a minute on top. It’s full of people: talking, sharing links and pictures and stories, taking random quizzes – making their presence felt. Social media has incredible potential in terms of presence – otherwise fulfilled by marketing and PR. Unlike other mediums of marketing, social media’s fabulous interactivity makes it invaluable in both customer service and brand value.

Social Networking on the web has caught on furiously. The fact that on Facebook, you can watch videos and have whacky conversations about them somehow makes Facebook so much attractive than TV to ‘Gen Y’. Youngsters watching 90210 log in to post “I <3 Navid” statuses ( or ‘Dil Mil Gaye’ and “I <3 Armaan”), people make political statements on status updates (short of standing up before an audience, there are few ways you can get a message across to 200 people at a time; and this is way more graceful) – basically everyone is there. Day and night. Marketing professionals would have already identified the potential of Social Media, then – possibly greater than that of advertising, because of the huge extent of time and numbers involved. However budgets for Social Media Marketing are still planned hesitantly, with an air of dubious puzzlement. For some reason, belief in the power of Social Media seems tentative and shaky. In my experience, this trend is more than a trend. The Indian Gen Y has higher self-esteem and more freedom than previous generations – they sanction and relish the exhibitionism of their lives on the web. Their obvious gratification in comments and conversation over any chosen facet of their lives tells me that Social Media is here to stay. Social Media Marketing requires truly consequential attention and considerable budgets. Think of it as an untapped reservoir in a water-starved Bombay. Corporations – big and tiny – need to turn their consciousness to it. Social networking is now too big a media to be ignored.

Audience Control in Social Media Marketing

We’re in the age of the listening parent. Children and teens don’t repress their desires for lack of money or fear of the parent anymore, and astutely enough, the parent’s methods of regulation and culling the best out of their children have changed correspondingly. Today I can see an educated breed of parent who neither smacks nor whips but ‘has a talk’ with her/his child to make the child aware of behavioral transgressions. This breed grows progressively.

Wonderfully, this trend of liberalism seems to be seeping into marketing. So long has the product been the manufacturer’s dominion, subject only to the general demands of the customer. The question then, was: Will they buy, or not buy? (Of course, there are notable exceptions – the Tatas and some international brands have relied more on building open, perceptive, dependable brand images)

Today, the question is: Do they want to buy or do they not? Today’s audience is the charmingly spoilt child. Cross them, deny them something and they react by scorning your brand. If you plan to use social media platforms to promote your business, you must be reasonable, kind and democratic in your approach. The one-sided, self-selling approach is neither appreciated nor tolerated. However, in this case the child has some great chocolates to give. A good recommendation by a consumer on a social media platform visited by hundreds is worth a hundred advertisements, in my opinion.

On social media, both the producer and the consumer have their say, and most often the consumer is more widely believed. Power of influence. What can the producer do for power? Nothing. In the words of the great Beatles: “Let it be.” And work for consumer-satisfaction.

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Geo Location – FourSquare trend catching on!!

Foursquare = pure genius. It’s odd how genius can manifest itself in ways that, on seeing, you realize were right there all the time. Foursquare is one of these manifestations. There is nothing particularly difficult to imagine or do in the concept or execution of Foursquare, yet for some reason, not even Google was able to achieve location-based networking that is this clear and successful, even though they had the feature available. So did Twitter. Cheers to Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai for that one! Despite Google buying Crowley’s initial idea, Foursquare turned out more efficient than imagined.

Combining social networking, SMM and social gaming, Foursquare is one ingenious application. Foursquare gives you multiple reasons to visit that bar around the corner. Or the one at the opposite end of town, for that matter. Not only do you gain game points for visiting it, chances are that the bar has a special offer for Foursquare users who check in there and you know by a single glance at your phone, that your friends are hanging out there.

What’s more, if you visit the same place more than anyone else on Foursquare, you get a ‘Mayor’ badge – and probably free drinks too in the offline world, once the venue starts recognizing Foursquare and your loyalty to the website and the venue. This is of particular gain to the bar-owner – he knows, simply by putting his business on Foursquare, how many different people visit on any day, the regulars if any. The gaming part practically pulls people to the business.

Daniel knows that going to Red Shoes is going to get him game points, and he is going to have a great time doing it. It’s a win-win situation for him (unless he is broke). Also, if the Red Shoes bartender makes an amazing Cosmopolitan, Nina knows through a recommendation Stacy put on Foursquare – and now she also knows where she is going to be dancing away her birthday night. Foursquare combines 3 of the things youngsters are most excited about today : nightlife, friends and achievement. Party, know where your friends are and get a mayor badge for it. What adds up here is that, you are standing on hill road, and want to know, where we can go and have a nice economical burger, someone has already added the tip that you can check it out at Hearche Bakery.

Amazing psychology combined with technology that is not very difficult to comprehend = great concept and execution. The success of Foursquare is an admirable feat, especially with regard to geo-location, a scene that has been stumbling for a while. There was a missing link there – so I know where you are?

Augmented Reality

Slick, touch-responsive, elucidative glares have long been a feature of science-fiction. The suave, dashing spy strides down a bus New York street and pauses before a man with an impassive, phlegmatic expression. Cut to the hero’s glares: a blinker appears on the top-left corner for a few seconds, after which a list drops down the screen. The suspect’ stats – vital and otherwise – have just been sourced ‘from the database’.

In a few years – heck, now, probably – these glares will be reality. Augmented reality (AR), actually. That’s the technology these glares use. Augmented reality superimposes graphics, audio and other sense enhancements from computer screens onto real time environments. What is most impressive about this, is that AR’s information is given according to subjective needs. (If you want eco-friendly bags, that’s what your AR-instrument will point you towards, in the mall.) While Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense technology is the most popular and promising aspect of AR today, there are also gaming, wikitude and numerous other possibilities.

This will take convenience to a new level – Look at a lake and know if it’s too deep, cold or toxic to swim in. Calorie-count will appear as soon as you look at food. Military operations will be aided greatly by AR – blueprints, night vision, detection of weaponry – all at the touch of a screen. Surgeons will have an objective, unimpeded view of the area of surgery, with constant indicators on a single screen. Not to mention that looking at a person brings up all their information on the internet.

Which begs the question: do I *want* a stranger to see the details of my Facebook and Twitter pages? Will I have the same attitudes to the guilty culinary delights if I start using AR calorie-counts? (I know I can stop using AR if it makes me guilty, but will I ever eat Tiramisu again?). Yeah, I want the Indian Army to know the enemy’s actions like it knows cricket scores, but do I want the enemy to know the same about India? Is it really a good idea to be peering at a virtual screen every few seconds?

When AR does make an appearance in the lives of the masses, it will be extensively powerful and correspondingly dangerous. However, like all other technological progress today, it will march on regardless. Preventing a virtual Hiroshima-Nagasaki is up to the users. The choice is yours are you willing to be part of the revolution as a user or as a creator?

Trends in Social Media Marketing in 2010

Mobile will gain in Social Networking – people will start using cell phones more extensively for social net working needs. Fall in rates, more competition between mobile service providers, and the most anticipated 3G spectrum will fuel this growth.

Digital divide of the online and offline world will come together – there would be more explosion of interest based meet ups – feng shui, dog lovers

Social Networking will not be just a few handful of early adopters, but this time the voice would be much louder and the reach would be larger and more amplified

On the applications and websites the “coolness quotient” will move to more “utlity quotient”. The coolness will attract but then utility will make the stick around and keep coming back for more!!

One thing that might be negative or should be used with caution will the aspect of Peronsal Privacy and copy of content without giving acknowlegement to the user, specially true in case of blogging.

More celebrities will start engaing with their fans online, will use this tool not only to promote their movies, but also the causes that are close to their heart. Fans will be excited to have a tweet reply from their favourite celebrity or celebrities’ symphatasies on their fan’s loss.

From a more business perspective it would become micro-tagetting, mass-prsonalization and interest based profiling of users and demographic profiling of users would be a passe.

Facebook, Twitter will stagnate, next big thing would foursquare.com, are you on it yet or be left behind.

This article was featured in the DNA here

Social media network, the next film critic?

Avatar, the magnum opus of James Cameroon, could be the most successful film ever in the world in terms of revenues. It has also been a very big hit in India where generally Hollywood movies take time to be accepted by the audiences.

Moksh: I would partly attribute the success to the rave reviews on social networking sites such as Facebook, Orkut and others. It meant that the social networking sights were loaded with the personal views of the movie-buffs who saw it in and immediately uploaded their comments on these sites especially Twitter.

Daksh: The euphoria that has ensued resulted in massive revenues at the box office. Similar can be the case with 3 Idiots. The movie was discussed threadbare and there were no-holds barred discussion where it was dissected and bisected from all the directions. A critic would surely have not done in such a detailed manner. But does it mean that the role of critic as making or opinion or marring the reputation of a film is coming to an end? It seems so but it is happening slowly but surely.

Moksh: Twitter has already made its presence felt as a medium of communication that is bringing reviews of the films in a more personalized manner and is invoking a chain of communications around it. So, is it ominous signs for the art of critique for a film? The wind is flowing in that direction.

Daksh: The discussions on the social network sites that is emanating is between those who incidentally belong to the category that forms the first week’s crowd for a movie, the fate decider of a movie so to say. If they have decided to discuss the movie threadbare on their own without bothering about the review that an official designate reviewer may have put on the newspaper, a TV channel or a website, it indeed would mean that democratization in the process of movie viewing would come into play. A viewer would be more guided by the review put up by a fellow review instead of being swayed by the review that is put up by a professional reviewer.

Moksh: But the debatable point in this development would be, whether the trend would continue for other movies as well, or it would be a passing phase? Would the same sense of participation in the same magnitude become a part for all the films that are released in India? It would indeed be a tough task, as everybody, i.e. those who want to participate would have to watch the movie to chip in with the comments. Rottentomatoes.com and imbd are websites which has loads of writers giving fair review for a movie.

For the film fraternity, it could be a bonanza, as more and more people may be viewing a movie, and could it mean that the official group of a film promoted on a social network site be accorded the privilege of viewing a movie before it is released to offer their comments and discuss the issue threadbare. This could be a sort of Paid PR activity.

Why social networking sites have become so famous?

Daksh: I was wondering as to the reason for people to use these sites and what do they do for so long on social networks, the biggest discovery happened? Pictures, bingo. People just love to look at pictures. That’s the killer application of all online social networks. Seventy percent of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.” Why the popularity of photos? People who post pictures of themselves can show they are having fun and are popular without having to boast

Moksh: Another draw of photos (and of Social Network sites in general) is that they enable a form of voyeurism. In real life there is a strong norm against prying into other people’s lives. But online enables “a very delicate way for me to pry into your life without really prying”

Daksh: yes, also I found out that there are radical differences in gender use of sites. The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don’t know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views.

Moksh: This seems to be a real big surprise: A lot of guys in relationships are looking at women they don’t know. This is true more in western world than conservative Asia. It’s an easy way to see if anyone might be a better match. Online networks act as cover.

Daksh: Social networking gives access to people who you would find difficult to meet on a very frequent basis. Moreover the geographical barriers and we get to know the various things happening with your friends and acquaintances in their daily life.

Moksh: A very different question is raised by my friends. Does social networking reduce the interpersonal skills of children who prefer interacting with friends online than in person? I completely disagree to the same. It is a new form of communication and it changes with times. There are pros and cons to it and it is as yet a grey area which will be explored in times to come.

Are social networks here to stay? Is it a revolution?

Clubbing was a decade old form of social networking. Today people tweet their thoughts for the world to see. In between, we’ve had instant messaging, MySpace, Facebook and blogs.

Social networking technology is changing the way consumers, investors and traders interact and share information. However, all companies are struggling to find ways to show how the trend is actually adding to the bottom line. Almost every industry has seen the influence of social networking.

Moksh: Online social networking is here to stay—the only change will be in what form it takes. It isn’t just a fad. However it needs to keep on coming up with innovations. The content and the features will have to be kept updated very frequently for the consumer to retain interest in the same.

Daksh: yes, apart from this, more interactivity between the website and the user will go a long way in him being loyal and an evangelist for the site to a new user or even an existing user. I think the young generation get bored very easily and thus the secret to success for the network would be real time innovation, as Moksh said. It is very difficult to be logged in your site when he has plenty other options just at the click of a button.

Moksh: people ask me whether social networking would take advertisement away from the conventional media. The answer is that no media can be indispensable, ever. Period.
Each media compliments the other and social networking isn’t any different. The only thing that might happen is that initially till the media is new and people have not experienced it, some amount of content will go to it. But in the long run, it will all even out.

Daksh: people in India don’t buy or sell stuff online which I think could be a small drawback in terms of leveraging the media for trade purposes. Advertising is fine but not trade. Also the internet connectivity in India is very low which could act as a barrier. Stringent laws by the government will help trade and as people’s confidence in the system increases, more use of social networks will happen.