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.

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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.
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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 fairtweets.com. 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…

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how to, social media

How To Manage A Brand’s Social Media Conversations

Too many cooks can spoil more than just your appetite.
Every brand wants to be on social media.

After all, when ad agencies, digital agencies, online publishers, social media agencies, brand consultancies and just about everybody on Twitter is shouting on and on about social media, brand managers are eventually going to listen.

There’s no question that social media is exciting. That it’s a platform for deep, meaningful engagement with the consumer. Or that it reduces CRM costs. And increases customer satisfaction and retention.

It’s one thing to get on to social media to create meaningful conversations with one’s consumer. It’s quite another to manage it.

To decide who will manage social media conversation for a brand, we must understand two things: who the stakeholders involved are, and what the aspects of a brand’s social media are.

There are several entities that need to work together to build a brand’s social media effort – the client, the agency, the digital agency (sometimes the same as the agency), the social media management (SMM) agency, the media agency and, very often, the online publisher.

Similarly, there are several aspects to a social media campaign. Some of these include viral marketing, engagements, announcements, CRM through online conversations and website promotion. And, whatever the objective of the social media effort, it requires the brand to speak with one voice, that’s in keeping with the brand’s tone in mainline media.

The challenge? When every stakeholder wants to use social media to support its work on the brand, who will ensure that the brand presents a cohesive, coherent and consistent face to its online consumer?

Sherlock Holmes once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer.” I’ll apply the same principle to figure out the answer to my question.

We’ll begin with the online publisher. Typically, an online publisher makes money by selling advertising space, branded editorial content and, in a few cases, offering creative solutions for the same. It needs social media to promote the content it creates for the brand, but that’s about all. A publisher is generally too occupied with managing the campaign’s efficiency to get involved in managing conversations – and neither is it set up to do so.

Next up, the media agency. It’s close to the brand, understands the business and the consumer, controls where the money is spent. But creativity has never been a media agency’s strong suit – and getting people’s attention on Facebook and Twitter takes a certain amount of creativity. So, we cross the media agency off our list of possibilities.

Now for the social media agency. These guys would make great partners in theory, but I have three problems with them. Firstly, they don’t understand the brand’s voice very well. You can see that in the case of brands like Tata Tea. Jaago Re has a voice of it’s own – distinctive, youthful, fresh and provocative. I don’t see that voice in its social media effort on Facebook. And, after having devoted three years of my career to Jaago Re, it hurts.

Secondly, most SMM agencies today aren’t organised very well. They don’t have the resources or, very often, the domain knowledge to execute all that they promise. Plenty of them are startups trying to jump on to the bandwagon, or fly-by-night operators. I’ve been on the receiving end of a poor SMM agency…and it isn’t a nice place to be.

Thirdly, SMM agencies are not yet very high up on the pecking order for marketing managers. You can judge that by the irregular stream of updates on certain Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles. It means the marketing manager isn’t updating them very often on what’s going on in the company…and a brand that doesn’t tweet very often is as good as a brand that doesn’t tweet at all. Knowing what content to put up can be an SMM agency’s bugbear.

Next we move on to the creative/digital agency. They understand the brand and its voice. They know what’s going on, and hence what to tweet. Sounds good? Yes, except for one fundamental problem. Agencies handle multiple clients. Which generally means lots of work on the plate. In the rush to meet deadlines and expectations of clients and accounting executives competing for their time, creative folks simply don’t have the bandwidth to handle consumer conversation in a timely and effective manner – which is what social media is all about.

That leaves us with only one option that ticks all the boxes – the client. So how do you help your client manage his social media conversation?

What the agency needs to do is this: hire a dedicated resource on behalf of the client to handle his social media conversation. This resource will be a print journalist, someone who knows how to spark conversation with his/her news headlines. He/she will be paid for by the client, and sit at the client’s office, embedded into the marketing team. He/she will be trained by the agency to understand the brand’s tone of voice, and will liaise with all the brand’s stakeholders to provide social media support to their marketing innovations.

Several brands have started doing this. I have had fruitful interactions with Jet Airways and Le Royal Meridien Mumbai, to name a couple. The former resolved a query relating to their frequent flyer programme in a matter of hours. And the latter created a relationship with me, incentivised me and eventually made me a paying customer.

It’s not so surprising, really, that the responsibility for social media conversation is best rested on the client’s shoulders.

After  all, who better to speak for the brand than the brand itself?

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