Business Today

Through the looking glass

Nimesh Shah & Sandhya Sadanand        Print Edition: Jan 8, 2012

As social media is about discussing, commenting and addressing current topics, let us start with Kapil Sibal's statement on monitoring the Internet and blocking defamatory mentions. Social media is not owned by a handful of publishers and editors who have the authority to decide what and whom to publish on. There is also a technological issue of how to monitor millions of mentions on all platforms. As of now there is no software available that can do it.

It was in 2008 that social media took its first fledgling steps in India. In 2011, social media got truly established as 20 million Indians went social. In 2015, we foresee exponential growth and significant innovations as 500 million Indians log on. With so much happening, social media promises to be full of drama, triumphs and twists. Let us take a quick peek into some of the future trends.

Emergence of rural social media:
Airtel believes that 700 mn rural Indian Internet users exist who remain untapped. Given that, Indian businesses will have to think rural in all aspects - social communication strategies, customised content - as media consumption will be drastically different from urban centres. Companies will have to divert advertising resources into creating content that is both captivating, relevant and ultimately builds brand affinity with the users - be it in the form of videos, applications or plain text.  Also companies will need to educate and nurture the rural workforce. After all a 24-year old executive in Gurgaon will not be able to write content for a farmer in Warangal.

Community development:
There already is a shift in advertising spends as more monies are being diverted to BTL activities. This trend will see as significant boost going forward as companies will have to start investing in creating and maintaining social ecosystems for their brand. Ecosystems would involve building a community of individuals who will spend their time and effort being not just customers for the brand but also product innovators and ideators. Brands - especially those operating in passion-led sectors like photography, bikes, etc - will need to identify these individuals and seek their ideas from the product development stage through marketing and distributing. A few brands in India that have taken the first steps in this direction include Royal Enfield and Canon. Both companies have built a social ecosystem that they can leverage not just for sales but also engage in a more profitable manner. By doing that, they are betting that the collective social presence of this group will endorse and influence a much wider audience towards their products, as close to 40 million Indians today base their purchase decisions on online reviews.

Profiles of brand managers: The biggest change that we anticipate will be a change in the profile of the brand manager. Today, several corporations have global brand teams that manage the larger nuances of brand building and the local teams are involved with execution and activation around the brand. The profile of the local brand activation team will undergo a drastic shift as social media gains significance. In order to operate successful online communities as mentioned in the previous point, corporations will seek out individuals who exhibit and follow hobbies & interests that are in sync with their business. A clear case in point is Red Bull that has individuals on board with specific skill sets and inherent passion who lead their various sports & cultural initiatives. Hence an employee list that boasts former cricketers and sports journalists.

Social media for senior leadership: As Indian companies go global, it will be imperative for the senior leadership to build their presence in the social space. Global media will want to know more about the company and its team and will look at social media for the same. It is not uncommon today to read CEO tweets as newspaper headlines. Also senior leadership will have to address other stakeholders - employees, customers and shareholders to help build connect with the company, receive direct feedback on their brands and assure safety on the monies invested respectively. Few good examples of this that come to mind are Anand Mahindra's Twitter presence, HCL's Vineet  Nayyar's blog and GE India's CEO John Flannery's internal blog meant for employees.

Individual celebrities: Brand endorsers will change completely. Gone will the days where the Bollywood and Sports brigade lapped up everything. Brands will sign up real life individuals to bring in relevance and connect with their customers. These real life celebrities will be specialists in their own field and hence influencers on social media platforms. Of late, various writers such as Chetan Bhagat (Revolution 2020), Ashwin Sanghi (Chanakya Chants) and Sidin Vadukut (Dork & God Save the Dork) have successfully leveraged social media to gain celebrity status. Given that, Huawei India signed Chetan Bhagat so that they could connect with his fan base for their mobile and tablet offerings.

The authors are co-founders of Windchimes Communications, a social media agency


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