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?

digital, how to, offline

How To Take Digital Offline

morpheus was having a hard time explaining to neo how his actions in the matrix could have a real-life effect

I’ve been thinking for a while about the impact digital can have on a brand’s consumers, and it’s led me to a conclusion that quite a few digital professionals might find hard to swallow.

I’ve begun to believe that digital shouldn’t always be about ICE (yes, that same old, much-abused ‘Information Communication Entertainment’ buzzword).

It’s great to develop a digital engagement that meets one or more of the ICE parameters. It may be bang on brief. It may be a never-seen-before execution. It may become the biggest viral of all time. It may create fantastic online saliency for the brand. It may even result in a measurable rise in sales.

And while I want to achieve this, no doubt, I also want to create an engagement that has a powerful real-world impact. On-ground, offline.

I believe that what we do and experience online can drive us to do something to enhance that experience in the real world. The incredible viral spread of social causes online has proven that time and again. Because online causes are creatively packaged to entertain, inform and communicate; and eventually drive the user into making a real-world impact.

If we were to apply the same principles to digital brand marketing, we’d be creating engagements that spilled over from a computer or smartphone screen into real-world events and impacts.

As a digital creative, you will often be asked the (sometimes justified) question, What’s digital about it? when you come up with an offline idea. Here are some ways to help answer that question.

Can you throw some technology into it? QR code posters, pressure-sensitive touchpads, interactive kiosks, what have you. Volkswagen did just that with its ‘Fun Theory’ campaign (videos here, here and here). They then filmed people enjoying the experience offline, and went viral with those videos online.

Can you build a community online? Then continue those discussions offline with tweetups. Tweetups aren’t a Western phenomenon – they happen in India as well. Taking an online, anonymous discussion into an offline setting can have fabulous results for the people involved. I know people who met online and are now married. I know others who networked online, and struck deals offline. Online engagement, real-world impact.

Can digital be used to promote offline engagements and generate participation for them? What’s more, the after-videos could easily go viral. It’s a great way to build buzz on a low budget. Groups like Improv Everywhere have used the Internet to build a considerable fan following (not to mention willing volunteers). It’s not strictly a digital/interactive/new media engagement – but I believe there’s nothing wrong in suggesting an offline idea on a digital brief if digital would be more effective and efficient in seeding and promoting it. And if you could throw some tech into the engagement…you’re golden.

Can you use technology to bring fiction to life? One of the finest mixed-reality engagements I’ve come across was DDB’s work for Monopoly Here & Now. They turned the city of London into a giant Monopoly board, bringing the classic board game to life. They also threw in a real-world, Monopoly-style benefit – the winner would have his/her mortgage paid for a year. There was minimal digital engagement for the user…anathema for many digital professionals. But the results speak for themselves.

So the next time you get a digital brief, don’t aim for an award, or for recognition, or to impress your boss.

Aim to make an real-life impact…and the rest will follow.

how to

How To Temporarily Paralyse The Indian Economy And Miss All Advertising Deadlines

Get Sachin Tendulkar to take strike at 199*, poised to be the first man to score 200 in an ODI.

As if he hadn’t made enough history already.

creative, digital, how to

How To Shift To Thinking Digital

Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore! It’s been just a few months since I formally moved to the digital side of marketing. And already I’m putting up my copy of Cutting-Edge Advertising on ebay and looking for a new Creative Bible.

As Javed Jaffrey says in all those Maggi Ketchup commercials: it’s different. It’s not just the medium. It’s the way consumers interact with it. What they expect from it. How easily they can build or tear down your brand in it.

Bernbach laid out broad guidelines, Ogilvy prescribed rules. I don’t presume (not loudly, at least) to be of their stature, but here are some of the things this copywriter has learnt about digital communication.

  1. Be clear why you’re doing digital. Ask yourself what will digital achieve for this brand that a TV commercial won’t. In India, TV is still the fastest way to reach an audience. The trick with digital (at this point in time) is to satisfy a different need for the brand, working in conjunction with traditional media. At Lowe Lintas, we call this Channel Planning.
  2. Don’t begin with technology. Begin with an idea. Preferably a brilliant one. Then figure out which is the right technology (or technologies) to use to build a brilliant engagement. It’s easy to get carried away by the technological novelty of the medium. We’re all nerds, but we should be nerds who can communicate. If you want to do great tech stuff, join Google.
  3. Have a clear strategy for every digital channel you’re using. Plan for what you’ll do on your website, your blog, Facebook, Twitter, banners, what-have-you. You’ll find each channel can achieve different objectives. Think of it as one dog to bark and one to bite. (Disclaimer: No dogs were hurt or mentally traumatised during the typing of that line.)
  4. Be very clear about how you’ll measure your campaign, and what will classify it as a success. That way, you’ll have enough ammo to argue with a client when he tells you he’s cutting digital spending. Don’t just show him the results, beat him over the head with them.
  5. The era of the clever headline and the twisted visual is over. Pour your heart and soul into coming up with the best engagement idea you can. But keep the communication for it simple. You want people to spend time on your website; not waste time trying to understand what that clever, subtle, visual-and-tagline emailer means.
  6. Execute your idea’s pants off. It’s far more critical online. On TV, trends emerge every year. Online, they emerge every day. Study web design, motion graphics, Flash, typography, CSS…whatever you can think of. You need to know how to get it done, and make it look better than anyone else. And the next time, the benchmark will be even higher.
  7. You want your audience to spend valuable time interacting with your brand online, and then spend even more valuable (in this economy) money buying it. Give them a reason to engage with you. An incentive. A surprise. New information. Relevant information, re-packaged. Remember: on TV, you still have a second or two to grab eyeballs before they grab the remote to change the channel. On digital, they can simply ignore you. And even get their browsers to do it for them.
  8. Keep reading. I spend my first hour in office every day catching up on my RSS feeds. Watch every campaign, read every case study, dive into every new technology. You’ll find some useful links in my sidebar. Why is Girl With A One-Track Mind in there, you ask? No comment!
  9. Get involved in everything. Work with your planners on the strategy. Then put on your creative hat. Work with your art director on the web design. And work very closely with your tech team. If it seems like you’re poking your nose into everyone’s business, you’re doing something right. Because in the end people see/remember/forget the work, not the effort or compromises.
  10. The basics of communication haven’t changed. Brevity is still important. People still read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. So don’t get intimidated by a new medium. Just don’t tear up your copy of Cutting-Edge Advertising yet.
how to, resources, upward-delegation

How To Beat A Resource Crunch In Times Of Recruitment Freezes

Pick a project with serious senior management involvement.

Write a draft of copy – for the website, hypothetically.

Present this draft to the aforementioned senior management.

They will immediately want to make changes. Rewrite the whole thing, actually.

So, email them the file with a sweet note reading, “Please make your changes. I will polish it up when you’re done.”


You’ve just upward-delegated your copywriting job to the CEO.

how to, industry, underpaid

How To Compensate The Ad Industry Better

See, I think we in the ad industry can sell everything – everything in this world – except ourselves.

Detergents. Condoms. Soaps. Shampoos. Medical services. Furniture. Cars. Bikes. Clothes. Jewellery. Art. Banking. Toilet cleaners even. We can get consumers to see value in any one of these categories.

But we can’t get our clients to see the value and worth of our ideas.

So, we slaves have to continue slogging away, underpaid and overworked. Because until clients begin to fork out more dough, the agency bosses won’t.

So I came up with an idea.

I shall turn to the government, for a bailout package a la Obama.

I will approach the Minister for Small and Medium Industries – with our profit margins, you can’t classify advertising as a large-scale industry – and make the following proposal to him.

There are hundreds and thousands of young, talented advertising professionals around; young, talented professionals who are highly underpaid and cannot, even after working 7 years, afford a house in a metro.

So, to avoid some disgruntled adman (or adwoman, to be politically correct) filing a case requesting that advertising folks be classified alongside SCs, STs and OBCs, I recommend this:

Just as the government has provided Railway Officials’ Quarters, Army Quarters, Navy Quarters, etc., they should set up Advertising Executives’ Quarters.

These will be flats in the poshest areas of town – Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Malabar Hill, etc.

To avoid public envy, the buildings will be painted to appear dilapidated, just like any other government housing.

(Of course, from inside it will look like the Seventh Wonder of the World.)

How does one allot flats? According to ad agency size, of course. The biggest agencies get the most (and biggest) flats. That would give Lowe Lintas a fair chunk of the pie, and large slices too.

Within the agency, flats would be allocated to those who have just reached the stage when they would have been able to afford them had they worked in another industry.

There are some problems to be faced with this model, though.

Firstly, some agencies might begin to cook their books to appear larger than others. Careful auditing might take care of this.

And second, some agencies may demand that awards be the sole criteria for allocation. Then there would be a counter-demand that only Effies be counted, etc. This would revive the age-old scam-ad debate. But some firm Minister-speak would solve this issue.

While this idea may be scoffed at, I believe it is absolutely vital for the survival of an industry that helps con the gullible public into buying into anything, from prostitutes to politicians.

And, after all, payouts come only once in a lifetime.