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Simon Ashwin feels Facebook is not social media

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Simon Ashwin, Regional Head of Social Media, Asia Pacific, Mindshare

Simon Ashwin, Regional Head of Social Media, Asia Pacific, Mindshare

In an interview with Pitch, Simon Ashwin, Regional Head of Social Media, Asia Pacific, Mindshare, talks about the importance of social media in a brands’ life, the Dos and the Don’ts of the medium, the irrelevance of fans and much more… Excerpts:

How important is social media for marketers in India?
Social isn’t for everybody, particularly in markets like India, which is still growing very fast. Take the example of Facebook for instance. Interestingly, India ranks No 3 in the Facebook world. There are about 53.5-54 million people online on Facebook from India that represents 67 per cent of the online population of the world. But if you look at the social media penetration in the country, it is only about 4.5 per cent. Also, these 54 million people are mostly urban dwellers than rural and heavily skewed towards males. The gender spread on Facebook in India is 70 per cent male and 30 per cent female. Age-wise, most of Facebook users in India fall in the age group of 18-34 years. So it certainly doesn’t make sense for every brand to have presence on social media today itself.

So if a brand’s TG is predominantly male, between 18-34 years it makes sense for them to invest on a social media platform like Facebook. In other cases, a brand may have a wider target audience but may be looking at targeting a particular segment through social media.

How important is social media in the marketing budget of brands?
Digital is small in the overall ad pie. In the recent past, brands have started shifting budgets away from traditional mediums for different reasons like inflation in cost of 30 second slots. Also brands are realising that audience behaviour is changing they are not watching as much TV as they use to and their internet consumption through various screens is going up. When they are on bus, on train, on the move, in office, they are mostly online searching web engaging with friends through various social media platforms. And so, brands are also saying that lets move spends on digital.

What is your take on Indian marketers’ understanding of the Social Media?
Most clients see Facebook as social media and I have strong views about that. Facebook is not social media and Facebook strategy is not social media strategy. Facebook is a tactic that you deploy to build a robust social media strategy. Many of our clients see Facebook investment as a starting point. When I think about some of those brands and their target audience, Facebook totally is an inappropriate starting point. However they are now asking us what we should do with the ‘X’ number of fans we have. Usually, they should have thought about that before but again that’s not unique to India. This is what happens in every market in the initial stages when marketers are exploring social media platforms. We tend to feel that social media is technology driven. Social is the conversation you have about a brand with your friends and families and technology is just a medium that facilitates those conversations. So the blogs and forums where people talk about brand and product is also social media. Then there is an opportunity to have branded social presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ etc.

So what is the value of Facebook fans for the brands?
We get asked this very frequently. To the horror of some clients, I say that a fan is worth zero rupees. They are worthless. Look at it this way: if the same brand had an email database of consumers but never used it, what value does the database have? It is worthless! So it is not about what database or fan base you have but about what you do with that fan base to drive business outcomes. So, just collecting numbers adds no value to brands. Driving those fans to on ground events to create content, which can further be connected back to social media is important.

You also talked about the importance of having defined objectives for social media presence. What are some key objectives clients have and how do you help them identify these objectives?
We have developed, globally, the 7As process to help clients find the objectives of their social media strategy. And you will be surprised to know that choosing the platform like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc is step No 4. Most often, clients jump to that but when we go through the planning process, it naturally leads us to an easy understanding of what platform works best to achieve this objective.

Can you share the steps in this 7 A’s process?
Yes. The steps are: 1. Audience (who are you wishing to engage with?) 2. Aims (what are you wanting to achieve? What are your goals?) 3. Approach (what is your social media architecture? How will you assess and respond to consumer comments? What is your tone of voice?) 4. Areas (what social media platform/s will best meet your needs?) 5. Assets (what content do you have or need?) 6. Activation (how will you let people know where you are? How will you drive eyeballs to your social media sites?) 7. Analysis (what metrics/ measurements will you use to track success?)

How important is Twitter as a social media platform and how different is it than Facebook?
Twitter is a very different channel. It is like an apple and a pear. The way Twitter is used and consumed is totally different from Facebook. Twitter serves different objectives: it is about news blocks, quick timely content, about short links etc.

There are many aspects of the Twitter strategy like: Tweet strategy, link strategy, hashtags, videos and pictures etc. We all know that Twitter has 140 character limit for the Tweets. But we recommend to clients that they should limit Tweets to 100-120 characters, reason being when somebody retweets, their handle goes in the front, which means the original message will not be displayed completely.
Then there is whole link strategy that comes into play. Research shows that if u put your link in the middle of your tweet you get a higher engagement than if you put it in the end. Plus, hashtags have evolved into a marketing opportunity but it also brings the risk of what we call ‘bashtagging’, that’s where communities on Twitter may have a disagreement with the brand and overtake the brand’s objective of being there. But then that risk is present in all advertising.

What are the challenges you see in the social media space?
One of the challenges, which is an external challenge, is client’s understanding and acceptance of it. For instance, for most of the clients, their Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is based on GRPs. So even if they want to do a lot of digital and social stuff,  it will not get them promotions or pay hike. So that’s one challenge.

Another challenge is that clients think that if they open a brand page, everyone will complain. But, this is illusionary. I say, they are anyways complaining whether you are or aren’t on the social media. We use tools to show clients on Twitter the conversations people were having about them, even when they were not present on the medium. To avoid social media crisis, brands should always plan in advance for most situations. Many clients ask me for good crisis management case studies, but I say there are none, because a well-managed challenging situation never actually becomes a crisis.

How does consumer psyche get influenced by brands on social media?
In end of 2010 and early 2011, as GroupM, we did a research where we looked that the digital elements of the consumer’s past researches. We looked across different categories and found out that the consumer generally starts purchase via search on platforms like Yahoo, Google, Bing etc.

These search results now include social results and that is not restricted to only FB but also means writing reviews and blogs. Here word of mouth comes to play an important role in influencing purchase decisions. In fact, Nielsen released a report in 2010-2011 that 74 per cent of consumers don’t believe a single word what advertisers say. I am not surprised as I look at my own experience. I go to search and see what people have said about the brand and then go back to the brand site and either go to point of sale or may even go back to search again. I may then eventually, may or may not buy the product. Depending on my experience, I may or may not join the brand’s Facebook page.

So, for brands being inventive and relevant is very important. Just posting for the sake of posting I think can be detrimental, so post when you have something to add value to and sometimes that will be branded content or content that is relevant for your brand territory; other times it will be commercial.

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Abhinav Mohapatra

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