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.


campaigns, digital, how to, technology, trend

Remarketing: From Stalking To Smart

If you haven’t been through the experience of searching for a product or service and then being served ads all over the web for the same product or service, then this is probably your first day online. Welcome to the Internet. There’s a lot more than porn here.

Jokes apart. The way marketers currently use cookie- or sign-in-based ad remarketing makes most users feel like they’re being shadowed. Like their every move is being tracked. Like Big Brother is watching.

For those who came in late, remarketing is the act of targeting users who have already visited your website, or clicked on an ad, or searched for a particular product or category, or interacted with you on social media, or downloaded your app.

It initially began as a really smart idea. Someone who’s interacted with you or your business’ category is more likely to be persuaded if you are able to identify them and serve them an ad based on their earlier interaction with you. It sounded like a beautiful blend of digital marketing and CRM.

And then all hell broke loose.

Here’s the greatest prank I ever heard of.

Remarketing Prank

This is exactly how remarketers work. If the user’s shown interest in spoons, let’s give him spoons. Big spoons, little spoons, silver spoons, gold spoons, plastic spoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons…

Here are some reasons why this kind of remarketing doesn’t work.

  1. It’s as close to online stalking as you can legally get.
  2. The user might have actually already bought the spoons, in which case the ad impression was wasted.
  3. The user may have had only a fleeting interest in the product or category.

So how do you make remarketing more effective?

By making it useful to your users.

Here’s one way to do that.

Suppose you let your user pick what they’re interested in. You store that information – either through a signed-in profile or a cookie or both – on that user’s browser. And then target them with ads focused on those interest categories.

At any point of time, the user can update their interest categories, making sure they’re always being served fresh, relevant ads. They can also – in the interest of privacy – choose to opt-out of this programme.

In a sense, you’re getting your users to optimise your advertising for you. And increasing your relevance to them; and, hopefully, brand equity.


campaigns, communication, content, creative, digital, how to

Seven Steps To Construct A Digital Campaign

Digital isn’t old enough to have theories. Or gurus.

The understanding of the medium, and how to use it to build brands, varies wildly. As a result, the planning and structure of digital campaigns is often a matter of guesswork.

The thing is, there is no single method to cracking a digital campaign. You can start with an idea, an objective, technology, data, a platform or the audience. Each method looks at the medium differently. Each method is equally correct.

Each truly great digital campaign has, however, some things in common. Let’s break those down into seven steps.

Seven steps to construct a digital campaign

The extremely complicated, ever-evolving, one-stop infographic of digital marketing.


Part 1: The Brief

In a medium that’s targetable, measurable and fast-evolving, writing a good brief needs to go beyond the basics.

Step 1: What do we want to say?

Nothing different from a traditional advertising brief. Have a single, clear message. If it can be differentiated from competition, excellent.

Step 2: Who is our audience and what do we know about them?

Digital allows one to segment and target by location, gender, age, browsing behaviour, interests, networks, content preferences, frequency of visits, online shopping habits, search history and much more.

Yahoo serves up over 6 billion unique versions of its home page based on this kind of segmentation and targeting.

Basically, digital allows you to put aside the bazooka and pick up a flyswatter when you have to kill a fly.

Forget the safety of numbers. Go for the effectiveness of tightly-segmented messaging.

Step 3: What do we know about their digital media habits that might help us crack this brief?

It’s time to drill down and slice-and-dice the data available to you. And it isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Figure out where your audience is spending most of their time online. Which devices they’re using. Which browsers. What they are talking about. When. What time of day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it one well-inferred nugget can lead to a brilliant campaign.

Knowing that mums are the biggest online shoppers in India helped us plan an entire campaign for a baby brand. Knowing that most of our aspirational audience surfs the Internet on tablets helped us build a website designed for touch. Knowing the frequency of visits helped us optimise messaging on a website.

The more you know about them, the better your solutions.

Step 4: What do we want them to say, feel or do as a result of this campaign?

Traditional advertising teaches that perception influences behaviour. In digital, behaviour can influence perception.

Case in point: Many people I know perceived Twitter as a waste of time. They thought it was confusing, and wouldn’t touch it. But when pushed by friends to use it, they got hooked. They now think Twitter’s the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Behaviour influences perception.

So think smaller. Break down a large objective into more everyday tasks. For example, replace build expertise for our skincare brand with get people to visit our website every time they have a skin-related query. You’ll find a smarter, more effective solution.

Part 2: The Creative

It isn’t as simple as writing a TVC and crafting the print, poster and outdoor. Our campaigns need to be viral, and that needs a different approach.

Step 1: The Story

Digital is a multi-screen platform. Each screen is different in terms of size, content and usage. It isn’t enough anymore to adapt the same message for each screen. Instead, it helps to think of your idea as a story. And use each screen differently, to tell different chapters of it.

There are three kinds of media we can use to tell our brand’s story; unabridged, unaltered, under our control.

Owned media — the website, the mobile app, any other platforms the brand may have created.

Paid media — banner ads, search ads, emailers, SMS.

And social media — which is, in my opinion, more leased media than owned.

Take the example of a fashion brand. One can use the website to showcase products; the blog to drive imagery; the mobile app to combine a loyalty programme, a virtual dressing room and personalised, location-aware content; targeted, contextual, paid media to tell people what the brand has to offer and drive them back to the website; and social media to help begin conversations around the product range and image.

One story, different screens.

Step 2: The Virality

There’s no point in having a great story if nobody’s hearing it.

Remember: the average user visits 89 websites a month. And has Liked 80 brand Pages on Facebook. And has 229 other friends filling his or her News Feed.

The only way your story will be heard above all this clutter is if you can find enough of the right people to help you broadcast it.

Social Influence Marketing refers to leveraging people’s influence on social media to broadcast and amplify your message.

However, they’re not going to tweet out your body copy. You have to give them something malleable that they can reshape to create their own unique content, while still staying true to your story. Their mashup of your story then goes out to their own followers, which exponentially increases your reach.

Earned media, of course, generally refers to news coverage. While a smart PR agency will naturally tap news media online and offline, there is merit in seeding your story among bloggers and smaller, perhaps category-specific, online channels. It’s a quick way to ensure more and more people know about your story.

Make sure your story has something in it that’ll help you get talked about. Then find the people who’ll amplify it for you.

Step 3: The Reward

Here’s the thing.

People are overloaded with information. It’s easy to miss something. It’s even easier to close a browser tab in irritation or absent-mindedness.

So, when someone clicks through to your campaign, be grateful. Very grateful.

I always like to give my audience a reward to show how grateful I am. The obvious way is through a contest, or gifts to loyal fans. However, I believe we can do more.

People come online to socialise, search for information, find a utility or just for entertainment. Make sure your campaign ticks one or more of those boxes, and you’ll have a reward worth coming back for.

The brand must have its reward as well. It could be crowdsourced content, new fans, time spent, leads generated, shares received, hashtags trended, what have you. Identify the rewards the brand will earn. And match them up against your objectives. If they don’t match, maybe you need to rework your campaign. For example, 100,000 new fans may not be a sensible reward if your objective is to get people to spend more with you than they already do, right?

These seven steps aren’t the alpha and omega of digital marketing. But, properly executed, they could help you develop better, brighter campaigns going forward.

This post originally appeared on afaqs! Campus.

communication, content, how to, social media

Enough With The Social Media Pissing Contests!

Statutory Warning: Angry rant ahead.

Image credit: Funny Eye For The Corporate Guy

There are two phrases in social media that are beginning to annoy the living crap out of me.

“We have 5 million fans on our Facebook Page.”

And, “We got #ComeTakeAFreeIPad trending number one in India!”

They piss me off. Because they make me feel like social media agencies aren’t delivering real returns to their clients. And I don’t want to be counted among those who don’t deliver real returns to clients.

Let’s start with the “5 million fans” argument.

For the last couple of years, I’ve run some of India’s largest Facebook Pages. Across categories like beverages, fashion, beauty, technology, entertainment and more.

Each of those pages had fan-bases ranging from 100,000 to 5 million. Large communities built up over time through a mix of good content, fan acquisition campaigns and contests.

The assumption is, or should be, that this community the brand and agency have so painstakingly created, is extremely relevant and highly engaged.

If that is truly the case, why do the same set of (a few hundred or a few thousand) people keep engaging with the Page’s content time after time?

Why is it that one out of three comments on the Page is spam?

And why is it that the numbers increase only when there’s a freebie to be won?

Go check every large Page you can think of. Scroll through the posts. Do the math. 

And then consider that only a small percentage of the people engaging with you will actually click through to your site or walk in to your store.

Is that good ROI?

5 million fans is not your goal. Driving online and offline sales – through direct product push or brand imagery – is. And Facebook is good at it.

Let’s debunk the trending topic thingy next.

As recently as 18 months ago, we used to create interesting conversations around an entertainment channel’s TV shows, and get them trending. Worldwide, even. It was even harder considering that we had to not only pick the right hashtag, but pick one that’d get people tweeting even without a giveaway.

Today, that approach is dead. I’ve seen as many as seven branded hashtags running simultaneously on my Trending Topics pane, jumping up and down the list, fighting for popularity. 

What did they have in common? They were all contest hashtags. “Tweet with #ILoveBrandBecause and win an iPad/smartphone.”

Meanwhile, a brand trying to have a genuine conversation gets confined to trending on TrendsMap.

It’s no surprise that the contest brands have a huge following among people who use the words “Contest Lover”, “Contest Junkie” or “Contest Freak” in their bios. A quick scan through some of these users’ tweets reveals that all their tweets are contest-oriented.

If you’re a social media manager, you’ll know the way they work. One person will notice the contest and tag in several of their friends. Before you know it, your hashtag will be trending as several people tweet rampantly to win the prize.

Now, let’s walk back to that slide you presented the client during the pitch. You know, the one where you told them that Twitter is an influencer medium, and that you’d use it to build positive word-of-mouth, brand advocacy, brand imagery and loyalty through influence.

Now look back at the morons tweeting out your contest hashtag and tell me, hand over heart, that you’re delivering on your promise to the client.

Basically, social media agencies are getting into pissing contests and tom-tomming the size of the splotches as real ROI for their clients. 

And ill-informed clients are biting into it hook, line and sinker!

And you’re all giving digital marketing a bad name.

The solution?

This is the age of doing, not talking. This is the age where brands stop spewing empty words and start acting on them instead. Just look at all the Cannes winners, for instance.

Here’s what I would recommend.

Don’t waste your money buying every fan you can on Facebook. Target your stamp ads tightly. And pay more attention to your content. Run more promoted posts. That way, your content will bring in the right audience. Digital in India is about quality, not quantity.

It’s the same with Twitter. Focus on getting the right audience to your Page. Follow and engage with the right people. Interact with them offline. Be human. Show them you value them. They’ll spread your message exponentially, with more meaning and value than the contest whores.

And, when it comes to getting on the trending topics, I have a suggestion that might make sense to you.

Don’t talk. Do.

Do something small. Something big. Something funny. Something senti. Something low-key. Something magnificent. Something that’ll get people talking about you because of the nature of that something. Rather than for a fucking iPad.

If Twitter’s the world’s newsroom, then make the fucking news!

We did something like this last month for one of our clients. A small, senti activity. It wasn’t huge. But it earned us tremendous love and goodwill and a whole bunch of influential followers.

Trending is not your goal. Influence is.

Yes, it’s slower growth. Yes, your community is smaller than your competitor’s. But it’ll cost you less. It’ll drive better results. Each post will pull some weight. And you won’t keep wondering who your top fans are and what ROI you’re getting from your effort.

Don’t take the easy way out. Work for it.

It’ll keep you from looking like a fool when your clients wise up.

blog, how to, influencer marketing

How To Influence The Influencer: Blogger Outreach

There’s no question among digital marketers that influencer marketing is a fantastic way to get your brand buzzing online.

The very nature of the social web points to this. It’s a theory that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and every other social network out there relies on.

Simply put, you’re more likely to buy something if someone you trust – friends, family, peers, experts – recommend them to you.

Influencer marketing could take various forms. But the most basic form of involves reaching out to the blogging community to endorse your brand. What marketers hope to achieve through this can be broken down into three basic benefits:

  1. Extend your audience by engaging with the community of loyal followers bloggers have.
  2. Generate and share content around your brand – therefore generating SEO, traffic, social mentions and consumer conversation.
  3. Build a network of bloggers around your category who you can reach out to over and over again.

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of two blogger outreach programmes recently, and conducted one myself. Here are some things I’ve learnt from all three.

The Standard Chartered Breeze Blogger Event
I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the folks over at BlogAdda, inviting bloggers to participate in an event by Standard Chartered Bank (SCB). I was one of the folks selected, and was then told that the event was being held to promote the bank’s new mobile banking app – Breeze.

The luncheon was held at Escobar in Bandra, Mumbai. A swanky, pricey joint. Clearly the clients were leaving no stone unturned. There were screens all around when I walked in, with TweetDeck and Twitter open for all the attendees to see. I soon realised that the event was limited to 30 tech and digital bloggers – an influencer audience if I ever saw one.

It was great to see the clients walking around and spending plenty of time with each blogger. Not selling the product, mind you, but just getting to know them. As were the BlogAdda team. Both organisers were clearly working hard to engage the bloggers at a personal level.

When the presentation began, we were invited to tweet our thoughts during the presentation to the Standard Chartered Breeze account. These tweets were being tracked and projected on the screens in front of us all through the event. To encourage us to tweet, the SCB team were giving away an iPad 2 (for the most creative tweet describing the product) and a BlackBerry Bold (for the most tweets). Great incentive – a cherry on the top of what was already feeling like a slick, international-quality event experience. At the end of the day, all bloggers who attended were also given Sennheiser noise-reduction headphones as they left the event.

After the event, the BlogAdda team sent out emailers with the SCB Breeze press kit attached, and asked us to email them any post we may have written around the event.

My post on the app is here. And below is a screenshot of the analytics for that post, which has influenced about 1000 people since I posted it. (Keep in mind that this is a very niche blog with a limited following, and that most of the other attendees would probably have a higher reach.)

BlogAdda and SCB did everything right. They found the right bloggers. They engaged successfully (and very classily) with them. And, judging from the response on Twitter, enthused them to broadcast Breeze to their own audiences.

The BlogAdda Book Reviews Programme
I started engaging more with BlogAdda after the SCB meet. And discovered their Book Reviews Programme. Being the speed-reading bookworm that I am, I promptly filled up a form and waited for their reply.

It wasn’t long in coming. An email arrived, informing me that I’d been picked to review a book called Love On The Rocks, by Ismita Tandon Dhankher. My book was on the way, and I was asked to post my review within 7 days of the book reaching me.

The first thing I noticed about the book was that the author (who writes a poetry blog) had handwritten a poem on the first page. A small personal touch that made me feel more connected to her, and more eager to start reading.

The book had some pages missing, and I’ve since written to BlogAdda requesting a new copy (I’m yet to get it, though). But I wanted to highlight two points here.

  1. The personalised touch that the author – the brand owner – added that made this so much more appealing.
  2. The very idea of a first-time author turning to social media and influencers to promote her book. Not just relying on professional critics in the press and online, but getting an opinion from the only people who matter – the ones who will buy (and get others to buy) the book. Understanding, and willing to risk, a negative backlash.
I love the way the Internet has changed the face of marketing communication!
The Yahoo! Real Beauty Blogger Contest, Powered By Dove
Nearly a year ago, Yahoo launched a fantastic property called Real Beauty, sponsored by Dove. Yahoo Real Beauty is a reflection of the Dove brand philosophy, and brings the conversation around beauty online. I began working on this property shortly after I joined Yahoo.
In May, in partnership with Indiblogger, we launched a blogger contest for Yahoo Real Beauty. We invited bloggers to answer the question, “What does Real Beauty mean to you?” The incentives? Cash prizes worth Rs. 3.5 lakh, and the promise that winning posts would be featured on Real Beauty.
The results were staggering. The Yahoo Real Beauty contest became India’s biggest blogger contest till date, with about 360 entries. The quality of content was top-notch – we had poets, authors, bloggers, journalists, writers and just about everybody entering. Even a great-grandmother! I cannot share the numbers for reasons of confidentiality, but the reach and influence figures are absolutely unbelievable. 
Here’s what I feel set us apart from the crowd.
  1. We didn’t just look at taking the traffic and content that the bloggers gave us. We offered to give the bloggers the exposure, credibility and traffic that only India’s leading online content destination can provide.
  2. We promised to read all 360 posts to determine winners. Not just the ones that had the most Likes. Content, not canvassing, was the determining factor.
  3. And, of course, the prize money was a huge draw.
There isn’t a formula for influencer marketing through bloggers. Neither are these examples going to change the world. But if you’re taking your first steps in the field of influencer marketing, then you might want to read this post all over again.
campaigns, creative, digital, how to

How To Use Surrogate Advertising As A Template For Digital Creativity

He’d wondered why, after several drinks,
he could still pronounce
“she sells sea shells…” correctly.

Apart from the fact that alcohol lubricates brain cells and leads to better ideas, there’s something else we digital worker bees can learn from booze manufacturers’ surrogate advertising campaigns.

If you think hard enough about it, surrogate advertising is the tried and tested foundation of digital engagement strategy.

Let’s break down what we do when briefed on a digital engagement campaign. (When I say ‘engagement’ I don’t mean product-led banner campaigns; though this Pringles banner will beg to differ.)

Typically, we will come up with one or more of the following: a microsite, a Facebook app, a Yahoo! content property, a theme for a YouTube channel, a mobile app, etc. In some way or another, these properties will revolve around the brand positioning and eventually link you to the product website. 

Then – and this is where you must pay attention, children – we encourage the client to spend media money driving traffic to the property you’ve built, rather than to the product website directly.

Isn’t that exactly how surrogate advertising works? Launch Kingfisher packaged water to eventually drive you to buy more Kingfisher beer through brand recall and imagery?

This isn’t a theory – this is how several cutting-edge campaigns have worked.

Take a look at Tourism Queensland’s Best Job In The World campaign. Instead of directly writing banner ads telling people about the various fish you could find in the seas off Queensland, they ran a surrogate campaign to build imagery and recall for Queensland.

Look at what we at Yahoo! are running for Dove. We’ve built a co-branded content property that brings conversations around Real Beauty online. Real Beauty, of course, is the philosophy of Dove worldwide. You will find very few mentions of Dove on this site – but you can’t miss the brand either.

Ben & Jerry’s used the theme of Fair Trade to create surrogate branding with They created a microsite, mobile site and Twitter plugin to promote their support of the Fair Trade movement, in turn building salience for their ice-cream.

Heineken’s Star Player is an excellent example of a brand giving users a fantastic experience. What the app has to do with beer, I have no clue. Once again, great surrogate work.

Approaching digital creativity this way might be a simple way to break down what people think is a very complicated field.

Of course, your job’s not done until you have a killer idea in your head…