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

Marketers, Rethink What Your #SocialMedia Should Be Doing

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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: Statista.com)
  3. Twitter: 23.2M (Source: Statista.com)
  4. Instagram: 16M (Source: Napoleoncat.com)

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.

 

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campaigns, challenges, industry, influencer marketing, social media

Making Influencer Marketing Credible Again

Is influencer marketing as influential as it used to be?

This post is probably going to rake up some controversy, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching social media closely. I’ve been hearing whispers from agency folk and brand managers. And everything points to one irrefutable fact.

Influencer marketing just isn’t as credible as it used to be.

I’ll go out on a limb, one step further.

Influencer marketing just isn’t credible any more.

And here’s why.

One. Brands aren’t being discerning enough. Anyone with enough followers or readership qualifies to be an influencer. No matter how tenuous the connection between the influencer and the brand promise.

Two. Influencers aren’t being discerning enough. Most influencers today seem to be happy to work with any brand that is willing to work with them (read: pay them well). Rather than the brands they really love. The faked enthusiasm shows in every overexcited tweet, in every hard-selling blog post.

Three, following on from my previous statement. People today are becoming more and more aware that people who randomly start promoting a brand are being paid to do so.

Having been one of the earliest exponents – and practitioners – of social influence marketing in India, I can’t help but wonder – whatever happened to the influencer marketing we used to know and love?

For those who came in late, here’s how it’s supposed to work.

  1. Brand identifies potential influencers. These are usually people who are perceived experts in a particular field (related to the brand’s sphere of operation), or die-hard brand fans.
  2. Brand contacts influencer. Influencer agrees that the brand is a great fit for them.
  3. Brand and influencer work together to co-create content.
  4. It’s a win for both, the brand and the influencer. In the truest form of influencer marketing, there is no money exchanged. The brand gains credibility. The influencer gains readership/following/indirect revenue through their association with the brand and wider exposure. And/or merchandise and/or products and/or an exclusive experience.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make it better again. Very simply, going back to the basics.

Brand Managers, be picky about the influencers you work with. Frankly, there’s a limited pool. And every social media agency has pretty much the same list. Look for a few really good and relevant influencers, rather than a wide pool of irrelevant (to your category) influencers. Or work even harder, and discover someone who could become an influencer through your campaign. Your campaign will look and feel more authentic. And you’ll save a few bucks too.

Brand Managers, avoid your instinct to hard-sell. The more sell-y the content you co-create, the more people will avoid it. Don’t be lazy. Find a way to subtly weave your brand promise into your influencer’s natural content. It’s a brand-building exercise, not a sales one.

Influencers, stay true to yourselves. If music is your passion (and the reason people follow you), you have no business working on a food brand. And if you love rock music, don’t pick up a campaign related to Bollywood pop. If you’re an iPhone fan, don’t work with an Android OEM. If you’re a jeans-and-tees person, avoid the business/formal clothing brands.

Influencers, don’t do every campaign you get. I’ve seen people tweet for OLX one day and Quikr the next. The agreement you sign with a client may not be exclusive. But being loyal to the brands you actually respect or use will win you more credibility with your audience. It’ll also keep your client loyal to you. Money is always tempting. But eventually, you’ll end up diluting your brand equity. And your follower count.

Influencers, be transparent about your engagement with the brand. There’s no need to pretend that you wrote a post out of sheer love. Talk about how you’re engaging with the brand. It’s also ok to tell the world that they paid for your trip, or paid you to write the post, and leave it to your followers to judge for bias. It’ll just help you build further credibility.

As usual, I’d love to know what you think. Do leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Footnote: I want to touch upon the issue of brands paying an influencer. I personally believe that paying an influencer to engage is antithetical to the concept of influencer marketing. It’s no different from hiring a celeb to endorse your brand. I do also believe that influencers work hard to create content and build a deeply engaged following, and deserve to be rewarded for the work they do. It’s a grey area; so in the end, you should just do what seems ethical to you.

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Twitter: Where Identity Is Everything
digital, social media, technology

Twitter: Where Identity Is Everything

I don’t believe any other (non-professional) social networking platform lays as much emphasis on a user’s profile as does Twitter.

Think about it.

The average Twitter user has spent at least a few minutes deciding what to write in their bio. And the (hyper)active Twitter user changes their bio frequently to reflect a change in status, a new opinion, new news or just their latest favourite quote.

Apart from the content, of course, is the way it’s written. People go to great lengths to be witty, or to understate the coolness of who they are or what they do.

And, of course, there’s the whole Verified Account thing.

Personally, I’ve spent a decent amount of time crafting and re-crafting my bio, more times than I can count.

Typically, my bio tells followers — and prospective followers — a bunch of things:

  • It acts as a quick professional introduction. (Digital Creative Director).
  • It’ll tell people where I work (most of the time, at least).
  • It also tells people how I perceive myself. (Reader, writer, geek).
  • A shameless plug for my wife’s burgeoning small business (CXO @PoppadumArt — the longstanding joke is that the value of X varies daily based on whether she needs a packer or a social media manager).
  • Occasionally, it tells people about my latest piece of work (Creator @BioStories).
  • I specialise in puns and “Aaww Dad” kind of humour, so my bio has a hat tip to that too (Purveyor of fine PJs).
  • I might round it off with a note on something that’s on my mind right now; as it turns out, this week’s topic is Indian politics (Itinerant Twitter activist).
  • All of this, of course, is written with an undercurrent of humour that makes me (in my eyes, at least) seem more follow-worthy.
  • A dissection of a sample of Twitter bios will probably yield similar results.

Of course, the whole purpose of sweating over my bio is to attract more followers, and reduce unfollows.

Naturally, once I’ve made a statement about myself, I need to make sure my tweets live up to it. Take a look at my timeline, and you’ll realise they do.

It sounds rather simplistic, right? But what I’m getting at is this:

Your bio is the first step in building a personal brand identity on Twitter.
It’s the headline of the ad, or the baseline of the company. And everything you do on Twitter simply follows from there. Many people get on Twitter for a purpose, and the bio helps them establish that purpose.

Which is why it surprises me that Twitter pays little heed to the bio. To the extent that, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, it doesn’t tell your followers when you’ve updated your bio.

A gaping hole in the feature set of a platform that revolves around strong personal branding.

A couple of weeks ago, the team at Hansa Cequity, the digital-driven marketing agency where I work, rolled out a tool to fix that hole. It’s called BioStories.

BioStories - Home

BioStories

 

At a basic level, BioStories sets up a user’s Twitter handle to auto-tweet every time you update your bio, thus giving the user’s new status the visibility it deserves.

The tweet carries with it a link to the user’s public BioStories page, which aggregates all the user’s bios since they signed up.

A user's public profile page on BioStories

A user’s public profile page on BioStories

 

In a very real sense, BioStories lets your followers — and prospective followers — learn more about you and your life based on your Twitter identity.

BioStories is free to use and in open beta at www.biostories.net. As you read this, we’re working on improving the app, and will soon be churning out a whole host of bug fixes and new features.

We didn’t build this with monetisation in mind. But we do hope to gather data and learn more about Twitter users in the process. Our biggest validation, of course, would be if Twitter picked it up and built the feature into its own system.

Do sign up and give it a shot. Feedback — tweet to @BioStories — would always be welcome.

 

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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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influencer marketing, insight, reputation, social media, trend

#TomatoGate: How Twitter Got A Restaurant To Change Their Business Practices

The Story
It all began on Saturday, 5th May, when my wife, a friend and I decided to drop in at Burgs, a gourmet burger restaurant in Bandra. 


In a nutshell, they refused to remove the tomato slice from my burger, stating that it was against their company policy. 


Feeling rather angry, I wrote a blog post about my experience on Sunday, 6th May, and put it up here for all the world to see. I urge you to read that story before continuing to read this post.


How It Spread
I was so angry that I didn’t want to just vent through a blog post. I wanted to make sure that everybody who googled up Burgs saw my review of the place. I spent an hour posting my review to websites like MumbaiBoss, Zomato and Burrp, as well as foodie blogs like The Big Bhookad.


Around the same time, I picked up on Burgs’ Twitter account, and reached out to them as well. My wife, sitting next to me, started scrolling through @BurgsIndia – and was shocked to see that their attitude existed on their Twitter account as well. Here’s a selection of their tweets.

That’s about when some folks on Twitter picked up on my story, and started tweeting back. Here’s how it unfolded.


A glance at their Twitter profiles will tell you that these guys are popular, influential on (and off) Twitter, and have possibly been rubbed the wrong way by Burgs. The reply from Burgs was the last straw.


Within the hour, most of Twitter had started chucking virtual tomatoes at Burgs. They flayed Burgs alive for not customising my burger and for their couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude. And  also started cracking tomato jokes all around. The Tomato Tweeters included stand-up comics like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi, journos like Ashish Shakya, foodies like Adarsh Munjal, Sahil K and Aneesh Bhasin, fashionistas like Latha Sunadh, and the ones who’d started it all off – Nik, Rahul Chawra, Mithun K, Roopak Saluja, Roycin D’Souza, RanjitOne Black Coffee, et al.

Soon enough, ‘tomato’ was trending on Trendsmap Mumbai. And if Satyameva Jayate hadn’t hogged the Trending Topics pane on Twitter, ‘tomato’ would’ve been up there for sure. It got better. Somebody went and created the official Twitter account of the tomato in the burger. Finally, Burgs India responded. Announced that tomatoes were now  optional. Put it up on their Twitter bio even.

But even then, the attitude persisted. And the Tomato Tweeple picked up on it.


Finally, around evening, the story died down. And Burgs could breathe a sigh of relief.


Why #TomatoGate Went Viral
Two reasons, in my opinion.


One: Who hasn’t been at the receiving end of poor service from restaurants (and other service businesses)? We hear stories from friends and acquaintances about their experiences every day. My story was no different – but it was completely relatable. It became all about sticking it to ‘the Man’.


Two: Burgs India shot themselves in the proverbial foot. They were rude to guys like Adarsh and Roycin. And too proud and insensitive on Twitter overall. Their reply to me was the icing on the cake. And they still haven’t apologised to me. Nobody trolls someone who’s made one mistake and shows that they want to rectify it. But if you’re going to persist in being a smartass…be prepared to have your ass handed to you.


Lessons learnt, I hope.



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communication, content, conversations, social media

If I Were Managing @PMOIndia

On 23rd January 2012, the Indian Internet community was abuzz with the news that the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, had set up an official Twitter account – @PMOIndia.

Initially the move was welcomed. Most of us thought it’d be a great opportunity for the PM tso connect with his people. We’ve all seen what Barack Obama and the White House are doing on Twitter, and we hoped that the good Doctor and his PR team would take a leaf out of their books.

Instead, what we got was a bunch of posts that looked like this:

[<a href=”http://storify.com/smartkani/at-pmoindia” target=”_blank”>View the story “@PMOIndia” on Storify</a>]

A quick analysis tells you that:

  1. The account is a bland mouthpiece for the PM.
  2. There’s nothing on the account that you can’t get in traditional news coverage.
  3. It’s a purely one-way street. There’s no conversation, no response to tweets or questions that might be coming in. Which goes against everything that Twitter is supposed to be.
Watching The West Wing has triggered a serious interest in me for political communication, and I’ve watched avidly how social media has changed the nature of the field. So here’s my (admittedly idealistic) pitch presentation on handling the official social media account of the Prime Minister of India.

The Insight
Ordinary people don’t know or understand the reasons behind decisions the government makes. All we get is the information that TV channels and newspapers put out. With scams and scandals at the centre of attention for the last couple of years, people have a very bleak and cynical perspective of the government. Evidence of this can be found in the consistently low voter turnout in urban areas. Belief in the government – and indeed Indian democracy – is at an all-time low.

The Strategy
Let’s make governance more accessible to the people through content that is transparent, relevant and understandable. And carry on conversations that will help the government listen to and engage with people at a deeper level.

The Execution
Deconstruct decision-making.
Even the simplest-sounding decision has some logic (we hope) behind it. Just announcing that you’re going to be amending the Factories Act to strengthen labour laws and ensure their compliance doesn’t mean much to anybody.

What I’d do is this: post the ‘in a nutshell’ decision in 140 characters. And then follow up with a link to a Slideshare presentation for those who want to know more about the decision.

The presentation itself needs to be written in a different language than Governmentalese. Make it simple. Advertising-style. Problem/Opportunity –> Idea –> Decision –> Execution –> Responsibility –> Measurability. Write it simply, make it visual rather than verbose. Think of it as an Executive Summary of an Executive Summary. After all, who has the time to go through insanely lengthy government reports?

Listen.
The nature of Twitter is such that things that make news swiftly show up in that little pane in the bottom left of your Twitter screen. First, it’s a great way for the PM to tell what his electorate is discussing, from defining who is poor to Kingfisher Airline’s woes. It’d make sense for the PM to comment (online, if not offline as well) on some of these topics.

And why does the PM have to wait for a conversation to begin? What’s stopping the PM’s social media team from getting a hashtag trending, like we do for our clients day after day. Use hashtags as a tool to spark a conversation, and get an insight into what India feels about an issue.

This’d make governance far more democratic, because the PM would actually be listening to the voice of the people.

Have a point of view.
Twitter is an influencer medium. Sure, there are thousands of tweeple who just share stuff and yet have lots of followers. But it’s the ones who share with a stance that are the true influencers. As I write this, @PMOIndia has 49,811 followers. Shameful for the leader of the world’s largest democracy. I’m willing to bet that if the account changed its tonality from ‘broadcast’ to ‘influence’, they’d add plenty of new followers.

The thing is, I elect my MPs (and hence my PM) for the opinions they have. When they express their opinions in public, it’s a reminder of what their government stands for, which is something all of us need to be reminded of from time to time.

It goes without saying that people use Twitter to crib, curse and make fun of people. @PMOIndia is already the butt of many jokes – as seen in the conversation below.

But I believe it’s better to be roasted for expressing your opinion than just for being there. And we’ve seen how the twitterati can spring to a brand’s (or a person’s) defence when they think he or she is being criticised unfairly.

Have conversations.
I fundamentally believe that people like to talk to the brands they use or aspire to use. And they like it even more when those brands talk back. If Volkswagen were to have a conversation with me, I’d RT every post, and then talk about it offline as well. Apply the same thought here.

It’s impossible (and not a good idea, because of all the trolls out there) for @PMOIndia to converse with every single person who mentions them. Instead, pick one person a day to have a conversation with. He or she could be a loyalist or an opposer or simply neutral. But an intelligent conversation is an opportunity to reinforce or sway beliefs, and turn somebody into an influencer for you, both online and offline.

Social media is a governance tool, not a political one.
Use it as such. If you’re going to use Twitter to tell people how evil the Opposition is, or whom to vote for, it’s going to backfire. Rise above the politics. @PMOIndia seems to have got this bit right, and I’d carry on this approach.

The Metrics
What could the ROI for @PMOIndia be? On a qualitative, non-political basis, I’d measure the success of the account as follows:

  • Have I built loyalty among online Indians towards the PM? Loyalty in this case goes beyond the number of followers, and extends into overall sentiment and number and quality of positive mentions. Above all – have the tweeple of India shown their support of the PM online, maybe even outshouting the dissenters?
  • Has listening online helped the government validate, improve or change a decision? If yes, then how often?
  • The PM is the face of the government. How he or she is perceived affects how the government is perceived. Has there been a notable improvement in how people perceive the PM (online and offline) after he’s taken to Twitter?
  • Do people believe that the government is more accessible and more relevant to them?
I haven’t included election-related metrics because I don’t believe the @PMOIndia account should be used as a political tool. It is the account of the office of Prime Minster, not the person currently occupying the chair and the party he belongs to.
I’ll end with a disclaimer: this post is not intended to reflect my political beliefs. Dr. Singh could resign tomorrow, the Opposition could win the election, and I’d still make the same sort of recommendations to our next PM.
I’d love to know what your take on this is. Weigh in with a comment and let’s start talking.

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campaigns, challenges, social media

Hashtag Wars

Call me a troll, but some things need to be trolled.

[<a href=”http://storify.com/smartkani/hashtag-wars” target=”_blank”>View the story “Hashtag Wars” on Storify</a>]

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