The 20th century was about brands using advertising to build recall. The 21st Century could be about them using social media to fortify their reputations.
Marketing professionals have been quick to gauge the potential of social media as a medium to communicate directly with their consumers, straighten out negative perceptions about brands and keep potential consumers engaged as a community. Such is the lure that brands ranging from multinationals such as Vodafone, Airtel, Skoda Auto, Ford and Reebok to low-profile small and medium business enterprises all have a presence on the social media today.
And the ease of marketing and its maintenance only adds to the lure of having a page at Facebook or a dedicated commercial video on YouTube.
The baby steps: create a dedicated page on Facebook, generate a hashtag on Twitter (to catch or attract a buzz) and launch your commercial advertisement video on YouTube — all this at a fraction of the total marketing budget. But much more important, talk or listen to consumers or would-be buyers.
Karthik Srinivasan, a senior PR professional now in a management role, says the challenge is to keep consumers engaged on these sites. He adds that today when a company devises its media strategy, it works out separate strategies for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
For the consumer the brand is just a click away and for brands social media helps keep a tab on the pulse of the people. But then it is a double-edged sword. Facebook status messages against poor customer service and Twitter hollers (with telltale #fail hashtags) on companies that fleece are quite common.
Social media companies step in to help the brands — and that's how they make the money. A good bit of the successful share valuation of Facebook this year was based on that premise. A new set of marketing intermediaries have sprung up to help companies talk to customers on social sites.
Facebook equips its users with marketing tools that can be deployed by business owners easily. “A new feature, Real-time Page Insights presents data that helps a firm know about what is working and what is not on their page and how to optimise quickly,” says Kirthiga Reddy, spokesperson for Facebook India.
Brands increasingly use social media to tackle misconceptions.
IndiaSocial.in, a website promoted by Scenario Consulting, mentions how Czech car-maker Skoda Auto India successfully got rid of the perception of its poor after-sales service.
The “Butt Revolution” launched by Reebok Easytone shoes — talking about a favourite topic of women and building its brand around of it — was also a big success.
Industry estimates suggest that around R100 crore or an estimated 10% of total digital media budget is garnered by various social media sites in India.
“Advertisers will go fishing where the fish is (on social media). A consumer sticks more on a particular website when routed through a social media site,” explains Shubho Sengupta, a social media and digital consultant.
But, then social media is no panacea and murmurs of rigging are getting louder by the day. “Of course there is rigging. There are firms that sell ‘Likes’ for a company’s Facebook page by having fake Facebook profiles,” says Gitanjali Sriram, founding partner of marketing service firm Naked Communications.
Sriram adds that not all forms of social media are necessary for a brand. “A brand should first understand why does it need social media and with whom does it want to communicate along with the level of interaction.”