Prathamesh Mirashi wakes up at 7.30am wondering how his posts on Facebook, Orkut and Twitter last night fared. As he brushes his teeth, he checks the “fan pages” he handles for people’s reaction to his uploads in these social networks. Even while he is bathing and finishing other chores, he is figuring out analyses and conclusions about those reactions.
By the time he reaches the workplace, he has formulated new ideas. By around 10am, he opens all the social media accounts he handles and makes his first post, a little “better” than what appeared last night. Mirashi eats, drinks and breathes social networking, and is paid for it too. After all, he’s senior executive, copy and social media operations, at Pinstorm, a Mumbai-based digital and social media firm. “At times, I feel like a masked crusader,” he says. “It’s like opening a window into people’s psyche. It’s important for the success of any brand or marketing campaign.”
For the uninitiated, social media refer to media vehicles that are created by the users themselves to disseminate, manage, organise, share and reuse textual and graphic content across computer networks. Unlike traditional media, social media are a collaborative venture -a sort of an online community -controlled by consumers. “It has grown hugely in India, with well over 40 million users,” says Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm. “In many cases, the usage has grown more than that of traditional digital media sites.”
That’s why most brands consider social media an integral part of their marketing mix now, explains Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Social Wavelength, a Mumbai-based social media agency . Social media marketing or advertising -through Face book, YouTube, Orkut, LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter and the like — has become the fastest growing buzz in brand communication, despite marketing professionals’ limited understanding of its impact, adds Sandip Maiti, CEO, ExperienceCommerce.com, a social media firm. “Since the medium continues to evolve at a rate faster than most marketers can absorb, the rules of the game change constantly. The shortage of agencies with a firm grip on the fundamentals of social media marketing just add to the woes,” he adds.
Little wonder then that this emerging field promises a host of opportunities. “The focus is on client service, social strategies, writing, tagging (tracking brand mentions in social media), analysis, application, development and design,” says Murthy. Marketing knowhow helps, notes Daksh Sharma, director, Iffort Consulting, a digital marketing and web strategy consulting firm. “A background in communication would be advantageous. But most important is a passion for all things online.” Consumers look to connect with real humans — creating a demand for professionals who can help companies manage the different aspects of the interactive web, he adds.
According to Abhinav Sahai, co-founder of Zapylacz, Bangalore, hard core marketing professionals aren’t welcome here. “They are keen on selling rather than engaging the community. It’s more about communication, less about selling and advertising,” he explains. It needs professionals ranging from content developers to managers. “Software developers, user interface experts (who design software applications and websites focusing on users’ experience), search engine optimisation professionals (who decide how search engines work and what people search for) and people who can conduct research or understand consumer behaviour,” he adds. Sahai himself is a computer science engineer but with no MBA or any other specialisation. Mirashi is a BSc in information technology and a “master of computer application (MCA) dropout”. So what does one need to break into this field? Murthy of Pinstorm says, “No formal course is required. You only need a flair for engaging profiles on Facebook or Twitter. Being able to write persuasively in English is a must.” But is this sort of thing here to stay? The consensus among social media professionals is: it’s only set to grow. “The biggest advantage is its viral nature — each person has at least 100 friends. You can reach 1,000 x 100 users in just a week through re-shares on Facebook or retweets on Twitter,” says Sahai of Zapylacz. “That’s why most Fortune 500 firms are using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to launch viral marketing campaigns,” says Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO of Brand-comm, a brand consulting company. “In the US, nearly 75 per cent of retailers now use social media to market products.” Another obvious advantage this platform enjoys over traditional ad strategies is the cost. A page on Facebook or Twitter costs peanuts compared to a fullscale ad in a national publication or television channel.
Murthy goes much further: he thinks social media are the first nail in the coffin of advertisingfunded traditional media. “This is where the future lies -the sooner you get there, the brighter your prospects,” he states.
But of course, this media too suffer from certain weaknesses. The audience is quick to point out the saleability or non-saleability of a product, points out Sridharan of Brand-comm. In other words, negative publicity is difficult to contain. “The biggest disadvantage is its uncontrollable nature -if something goes wrong, it can blow apart a company’s reputation,” agrees Sahai.
Nonetheless, social media marketing does have tremendous potential, with the Internet set to penetrate even rural areas, riding on 3G mobile phones. “But the downside in a country like India is that a media planner [who helps ad agencies choose the best outlet or medium to reach the customer they want] does not have the tool to convince marketing firms of the financial returns,” says Durga Rani Sinha, associate dean, Icfai Business School (IBS), Calcutta.
“For instance, marketers know that an ad in a leading daily would hit 28 lakh customers. There’s data to tell you how many of their target members (say, women over 25 in the lower income group) would be in that 28 lakh. However, there’s no such information for social media,” she says. In other words, while a page on Twitter may get a million hits, there’s no way of knowing