advertising, campaigns, communication, conversations, digital, how to, measurement, social media

Marketers, Rethink What Your #SocialMedia Should Be Doing


Sound familiar?

For the longest time, marketers have had the wrong expectations from social media.

I’ve spent years, both on the agency side and the client side, hearing about the need to “educate”, “drive engagement”, “sell”, “build awareness”, “drive traffic” and other such goals. All devised with the intention of “moving the needle”.

To be fair, I’ve been part of the problem, pitching these expectations to clients. And at this point, I’m willing to go out a limb and suggest that I’ve been mistaken.

When marketers write an integrated communications brief, we do it with an end goal in mind:

  • Increase usage by x points over the course of the year
  • Sell y units by the end of the quarter
  • Convince z people to sign up for the programme
  • And so on.

The error we make is the assumption that (organic) social media can have an outsized impact on these ROI/revenue-driven goals the way that paid media does.

Why is this assumption an error?

As of 30 June 2016, India’s Internet-going audience was estimated at about 462M users. This is roughly 37% of India’s population.

Here are the reach figures for the top 3 social networks in India.

  1. Facebook: 161M (Source: Facebook Ads Manager)
  2. LinkedIn: 35M (Source:
  3. Twitter: 23.2M (Source:
  4. Instagram: 16M (Source:

It’s fair to assume that everyone with a LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram profile is also on Facebook. So, the size of India’s social media population is 161M. This works out to 35% of India’s Internet population and 13% of India’s overall population.

We also know that, courtesy algorithms, current Facebook organic reach for pages with over 50,000 followers is at a mere 1%. Or even less for pages with high fan following. This article dated June 2016 pegs it at 2% and declining fast, towards zero. Facebook will also cut organic reach for posts that they deem too promotional.

So, here’s best case scenario for a brand with 18M fans on Facebook, assuming no further decline in reach:

The absolute maximum reach a single Facebook post can get is 1% of 18M = 0.18M = 0.000144% of India’s population. Assume that a brand creates 5 organic posts a day, each of which reaches a different audience (which we know is not true), you get to about 0.9M people a day. Or a mere 0.00072% of India’s population.

With figures like this, there is absolutely no way organic social media content can move the needle on ROI/revenue goals at scale for large brands.

So what should the end goal of social media be?

Let’s remind ourselves that social media is not a place people visit to shop. They’re here to kill time. To be distracted. To be entertained. To see what’s going on in the world at large. To share stuff that helps them build the image they want for themselves.

It’s true. People share things that help them appear interesting, knowledgeable, opinionated, concerned, trendy, cool, fashionable, successful, happy, and so on. Things that they subconsciously believe will raise their esteem in the eyes of their networks. Every analysis I’ve ever read points out different things that people share, and different reasons. The common thread uniting them all: the not-so-latent need for everyone to be seen in a very positive light by their peers.

This is where we marketers have a chance. Because, among all the other things people post to boost their image, are the products and services they use; the useful products and services they want to tell their networks about; and the brands they feel suit the image they want to create for themselves.

If we can create content that builds both brands – ours, and the user’s – we have found a recipe for social sharing, a recipe for starting positive conversations about our brand.

A recipe for brand love and advocacy.

Which, of course, has a knock-on effect on sales and revenue.

And that, grasshopper, is what we should orient our social media towards.


advertising, content, copywriting, digital, industry

Return Of The (Long) Copy Writer?

My love affair with long copy began in 2002, during my internship with Ambience D’Arcy. My then boss, Raghu Bhat, suggested I focus on learning how to craft copy. So during my next internship, I pestered my Creative Director, Elvis Sequeira, to teach me how to write, and never looked back.

All through my mainline stint, long copy was my – pun intended – long suit. I set myself a goal – every year, I would present at least one long copy campaign to a client. In a period when everyone wanted to crack a TV commercial, I became the long copy guy. A lot of work remained unpublished as clients showed ever-decreasing belief in print and long copy. But there were some memorable releases, and I fed off those.

Copywriting became a bit frustrating about three years ago. There wasn’t much appreciation for the carefully crafted paragraph, or for print as a medium itself. Most long-copy ads were written as scam entries for Goafest, hung on the walls for an audience comprising twelve jury members and a few hundred festival delegates. Worst of all, it became impossible to find young talent that could actually put together a grammatically correct sentence in the Queen’s English. Fewer still possessed the ability to vary their tone and vocabulary to suit different brands, the way David Abbott taught us.

And so long-copy advertising in India seemed destined to fade into oblivion.

Until the digital explosion came along.

Portals like Yahoo have long known what digital marketing professionals are just beginning to cotton on to – content, if interesting, relevant and well targeted, will be consumed, no matter the length or format. Long-form content, mostly text, keeps websites alive and audiences engaged. Millions of text-heavy blogs are consumed each day, read through from cover to cover. While video views are increasing rapidly in India – YouTube is the second most-widely searched site in India – bandwidth considerations mean that text is still the primary form of content online.

The other aspect of this is the explosion of social media. Brand engagement on Facebook and Twitter is growing exponentially. Each day, users’ timelines are populated by a plethora of content from brands, be it long form or short.

Here’s the rub. What I’m seeing right now is an explosion of social media content, but an appalling paucity of good writing. I see strings of cliches masquerading as headlines, reams of soulless copy packaged and labelled as blog posts. Take the line, “Winter fashion just got hotter!” How many times have you read this line, in print or online? Replace ‘winter fashion’ and ‘hotter’ with ‘travel’ and ‘easier’, and you have yet another bad headline. Look at brand blogs next, and you will see generic news coverage instead of engaging brand content.

Social media and branded content demand a mix of advertising and journalistic writing skills. The best-written Twitter account I’ve seen for a brand in India is the one for Hippo. It’s run by the copywriters at Creativeland Asia, and brings a distinctive brand voice to popular news and culture.

The other problem with journalism in India is that ideas have become stale and worn, giving way to sensationalism and battles to coin a superlative. Every sale is India’s biggest sale; every party is India’s most happening party. What happened to the idea of positioning each piece of content to make it distinctive, impactful and memorable? What happened to the need for command over the English language? (If you’d watched the TV coverage of the Indian F1 Grand Pricks, you’d know what I mean.)

I believe that there are skills each discipline can learn from the other. But I also believe very strongly that if we can get the hardcore journalists among the social media fraternity to understand nuances of brands a lot better, we’ll be in a happier place. After all, those nuances are what distinguish a Red Bull page on Formula 1 from ESPN F1.

It’s going to take a whole lot of effort to train journalists to think differently when writing for brands. But at the end, my aim is that in my company, we blur the lines between the Content Writers and the Advertising Writers.

And then, perhaps, our people will truly deserve to be called copywriters.

advertising, digital, office, publisher

Agencyguy In Publisherland

“It’s different!”

Shortly after I began my stint at Yahoo, my friend Nishad from Contract Advertising asked me how it was to be working at a publisher.

I couldn’t give him an appropriate answer – it was too soon, honestly. So, a short while later, he asked again. And so did almost everybody else I’d worked with in my previous life.

Now, four months into my journey at Yahoo, it’s time to answer his question. Here, in no particular order, are my ten key discoveries after diving into this strange new world.

The first thing to realise at Yahoo is that, as a creative person, you don’t take centre-stage. Agencies live and die by their creative product, and thus treat their creative teams like demigods. The team I lead exists purely to help sell our media properties, which is the core of any publisher’s business. We do so by adding value to brands through cutting-edge digital solutions. It was a tricky adjustment for me to make – but once you realise your place in the system, once you let go of the attitude, you can figure out how to do the work you want.

The second thing that hits you about working at Yahoo is how knowledge-driven the place is. We know stuff about the web, about our users, about tools, about activities that would stun you! Hard numbers! Not surprising, really, considering Yahoo is one of the places that has literally powered the evolution of the Internet, and is continuing to do so. Even better – what we don’t know, we find out. If agencies had the wealth of digital knowledge that we at Yahoo do, they’d be churning out some seriously brilliant stuff. I guess that’s why clients see us as the digital experts.

At number three is my one bugbear. At Linteractive, I had pretty much the freedom to develop a solution wholly based on Facebook, or a micro-site, or QR codes, or whatever. At Yahoo, I’m tasked to develop a solution based primarily on Yahoo. Thankfully, it isn’t as restrictive as it sounds. Yahoo has deeply integrated with Facebook (you can access your Facebook account from your Yahoo home page) and we openly use social media connections on our properties. We also do mobile, apps, on-ground, the works – but all of them rest on Yahoo and its properties.

Number four is something I’m really proud of. We at Yahoo are proud of who we are, what we do and what we know. Yet, we don’t have the ego traditional creative agencies do. An example: we were recently stuck on a particular brief. Like, really, really stuck! And the pitch was the next day. We needed help – and asked for it. The team spent six hours with the media agency handling the account, running them through our pitch presentation, taking aboard their perspective. The next morning, we rewrote the entire presentation…and won the account later that afternoon. Can you imagine an agency creative team doing that?

Number five is a spin-off from number four, and is more personal than general. In my short stint here, I’ve met and collaborated with a number of people from different walks of life. These include media agencies, cutting-edge digital and social media agencies, copy editors, game designers, techies and many more. My world isn’t as insulated as it used to be.

Number six – Yahoo is a global company…and acts like it! We interact with our global counterparts on an almost daily basis. Insights are shared. Ideas are critiqued. Help is offered. There are no barriers to collaboration.

Number seven is every geek’s dream. We’re a digital company. So everything here is digital. Every system, every report, every form, every tool – it’s all on our company Intranet. We don’t circulate Excel sheets with everyone’s extensions on them – we just look ’em up! We use VoIP phones, Adobe Remote Connect and British Telecom Bridges to get together remotely (anyone decipher what I’m saying?), all without first calling for IT assistance. And if our Internet connections were F1 cars, they’d leave Sebastian Vettel eating their dust. I’m in heaven.

Eighth on the list is how accountable we hold ourselves. We’re always tracking, measuring and optimising our campaigns. When banner clicks drop, we develop more creative renditions overnight. When pageviews slide, we make an aggressive editorial, social and promotional push. This partly comes from the nature of digital as a measurable and quickly modifiable medium – but mostly it comes from a hungry, positive attitude.

Ninth is a lesson I should imbibe if I ever start up my own agency. The first position I’ll fill is that of New Business Director – and I’ll hire a salesperson from Yahoo to fill it.

Finally, number ten. I now work in a company that believes that life isn’t all about work. A company for whom the phrase ‘work-life balance’ isn’t just something out of an HR manual. On normal days we come in at 9 and leave at 6. By 7, the office is deserted. By 8, the lights are off. On days that we have personal errands to run, we log in remotely and work from home. I still don’t get it sometimes…but who’s complaining!

It’s a whole new world, Publisherland. I don’t know yet if this is the last job I’ll ever want and I don’t know how long it’ll remain new and fun and exciting. But for now, my amazing journey through the rabbit-hole continues.