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Social Nextworks

The impending death of Orkut (2004-2014) made me think of the evolution of social networking and its transience. Orkut lived ‘only’ for 10.5 years, and this is despite being part of Google, though some would call that a disadvantage. Facebook  has been around for the same time, and the fact that it is a force to reckon with is a testament of its understanding of this transience. It also explains the acquisition of Instagram, Whatsapp and the attempt on Snapchat.

However, I recently realised that I am probably more active on Whatsapp, Instagram and Pinterest than Facebook and Twitter. I am also reasonably active on Secret. That made me dig a bit deeper.

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What is changing? From my observations, there are at least two factors that are driving the change.

Perspectives on connectivity: The early era was fueled by the need to connect. Facebook is soaring well beyond a billion users, and its longevity is (also) because the need still exists. It continues to look for better ways to do this, manifested through front end and back end changes. But despite this, and my own curation of my newsfeed by sending signals to Facebook, I am regularly overwhelmed by the volume. This goes for Twitter too. Personally, I have treated these platforms as a means of self expression. I would also like to choose the people whose perspectives I want, and who are entitled to a judgment, if any. But that’s not so easily done on popular platforms.

That’s when I start to look at the many ways to handle this – from social networks to messaging apps. I could go to where the crowds are relatively less and/or are more ‘focused’ – by domain or use cases, (LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram) I could interact with smaller groups, (WhatsApp) use ephemerality (Snapchat) or be anonymous (Secret) As I mentioned, at least three of these work for me. A wonderful nuance I caught in Mitch Joel ‘s prophetic ‘The Next Big Thing Online Could Well Be Anonymity‘, is that it may not just be ‘something to hide’ that makes some prefer anonymity, but it could also be so that ‘who they are will not become a focal point within that discussion’. Anonymity on the web is not new, but many of its enablers are.

Devices: The networks of an earlier era (eg.Facebook) were made for desktop and had to adapt for mobile. On the other hand, Instagram, Whatsapp, Secret, Snapchat etc are mobile natives. Given the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, their growth is not surprising.

What are the possible business models and what’s a brand to do? As more and more users flock to these new platforms, they would need to mature, with business models which could mean associations with brands – the journey from social network to social media.

Instagram and Pinterest are already social media, making advertising at least one of their revenue sources. WhatsApp does not like advertising and already makes money on downloads. Its competitors like Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat etc, however, have found various other means – virtual items, (stickers, in app purchases in free video games) promotional messages, baby steps in electronic payment handling fees, and interesting tie-ups. Snapchat already has many marketers on it and is likely to offer promotion options too, probably tied to a time bound event.

Secret has a lot of negativity surrounding it – s3x talk and startup malice and being just a fad – and there are comparisons to Formspring and its demise despite funding. But beyond advertising and in app puchases, maybe, there’s also potential for insights on a brand and its use cases? Things that cannot be found on indexed platforms. Also, Whisper already has a content deal with Buzzfeed.

Analytics for such platforms haven’t even really begun yet, but it can’t be far away. But more importantly, all of these platforms are potential enablers for a brand to take forward its narrative and become relevant to its users. It continues to be about storytelling, and digital.

Social @ Myntra – Part 2

continued from Part 1

Creating, correcting and maintaining brand perception and resolving customer issues were fundamentally the objectives when operating in the customer care and brand domains respectively. But this was not an end in itself. The end objective of the business is revenue, and that makes up the remaining story.

3. Product: In this context, it includes the website itself, and the various features/enhancements/new products (eg. gift cards) that get introduced on a regular basis. Including social buttons on the home page and product pages were a given, though getting them above the fold was a mission I lost! The first major change was switching from FB Connect to the Open Graph. The potential applications, using social and interest graphs, are phenomenal, but we never progressed that far. At a basic level, I had slotted activities in this domain under acquisition and retention, and we have only implemented a small portion of the former. The easiest application of the social graph was using it for social proof. Kuliza’s Echo made that job relatively easy for us. It not only helped seamlessly amplify word-of-mouth, but also gave us a lot of data on consumption. One of the plans was to integrate this with Elevate, another Kuliza app – but inside Facebook, to try and beat FB’s throttling of organic reach. :) Another application of Echo, which should soon see the light of day, is a Fab-like social feed. If a user has registered on Myntra using Facebook, he/she would see the actions (Likes, Purchases, Wishlist additions) of his/her friends on a separate feed inside Myntra. Our expectation is that this would prompt more social actions inside Myntra and accelerate word-of-mouth inside FB further. This was actually a Phase 1 of a larger plan I had in mind. Let me explain.

While brand and customer connect can provide a strategic advantage on social, I’ve always felt that it was in the product domain that social could provide a sustainable strategic advantage. This came from my notion that ‘loyalty’ existed when the exit barrier for a customer to leave Myntra was high enough to beat any sustainable offering from a competitor. ‘Brand’ is one standard way to achieve it, but it is relatively less tangible, and in a commoditised marketplace, it would take more time. Generic discounting is not sustainable. I think, in this context, ‘Product’ can reach this ‘barrier’ in lesser time, and at lower costs. An ideal in my mind was using the social, intent and interest graphs of users from across various platforms to build a personalised experience, and through that, a gamified customer acquisition and retention architecture inside Myntra, (thereby minimising dependencies on other platforms) and then using social media to amplify relevant actions to further drive acquisition. But this approach has a high dependency on changes in the existing product and every new product/feature having relevant social features baked in (or at have it in the vicinity on its roadmap) to contribute to the larger agenda of the architecture. It also takes a mindset and backing. I did have a rough blueprint, but at this point in the e-commerce wars, this approach probably seemed a nice-to-have. :)

4. Sales: Conventional notions claim that social media should not be used for sales pitches, but from my humble experience, I’d beg to differ. It’s just a matter of what-when-how, and how much. From generic product pitches on the Facebook Page as part of the larger content strategy, to custom links on Twitter, we have consistently shown and tracked revenue from social channels. Even Pinterest and Google+ are contributors! I must admit that in the larger scheme of Myntra’s monthly revenue, these are insignificant, but let’s just say that the total contribution are in double digit lakhs every month. In fact, it reached a point where we were given a budget to see if we could scale it. In this context, I have to mention this brilliant idea by S – she used customer generated product images from our Pinterest ‘Shopped from Us’ board every week to make sales pitches on Facebook! Works like a charm. :)

The area where there were a few attempts, but didn’t really pick up was enterprise collaboration. We managed to build a fairly large community on Yammer, but what I’ve realised is that it needs champions at the highest level in all parts of the organisation using it on a consistent basis for it to be sustainable. I also had this grandiose vision of using Google+ and circles to connect customers, Customer Connect teams, Partner brands and employees in general, but this one was limited to a word document! This is an area that I believe to be a must-have as we evolve towards social business, but in the larger list of priorities, is still a few steps away.

That gives a broad view of what I’ve been up to for two years. The generic point I’m trying to make through the two posts is that from basic business outcomes like customer satisfaction and sales to more nuanced ones like brand perception and sustainable strategic advantage, social can and should play an integral part. There will be differences in terms of scale, strategy, resources etc depending on the domain, maturity of the industry/organisation, target audience and so on, but the important part is to begin because the brand/organisation needs to evolve as well. Social media has shortcuts, I’m inclined to think that social does not. These are days of nascence, and social will continue to evolve – enterprise social networks, social business, big data, the Internet of Things (add buzzwords to taste) and more will all have their hype cycles and age of maturity. By all means, measure ROI, but remember, we spend on movie tickets, we invest in mutual funds. I think we’re clear on the expected time frame of returns in both cases.

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Myntra will remain dear to me, like all the other brands I have worked on, but it will probably have a more lasting signature, because not since my days at GIM have I experienced such a rewiring of my worldview. This stint has given me oodles of confidence, friends whom I hope will last a lifetime, and relationships of trust that I will cherish.

Before I end, the last hat tip – to the super S, who joined the team mid last year and has since then, proven time and again that she’s the best social ‘investment’ we made, and made this little social adventure a total joy! “I used to believe that we are here to teach what we know. Now I know that we are here to teach what we are meant to discover

until next time, </ head – social media> :)

Social @ Myntra – Part 1

[The intent in writing this is manifold – primarily my obsession for chronicling, and it being my way of expressing gratitude. But since this might be useful to other social practitioners, I have uncharacteristically added text highlighting and such, and also sought to bring some semblance of order as opposed to the regular free flowing text :)]

Almost exactly a couple of years back – Autumn Winter 2011 – the blog had an update on a new assignment. I can only vaguely remember writing the post, but what I have not forgotten is the excitement at the opportunity – to experiment with concepts, ideas and hypotheses. I have been blessed with great bosses, they have wanted to hire me again. So the first hat tip is to S, not just for believing I could chart a social agenda for Myntra, but for using his auctoritas in the organisation to ensure I got a runway good enough to attempt a flight. The second hat tip is to Mukesh, Myntra’s founder-CEO, who nearly stumped me with his first question as I was about to begin my huge social roadmap presentation (towards the end of Oct 2011) – why does Myntra need ‘social’? It was a very fundamental question – it not only underlined what I had in mind, but also served as a subconscious beacon during my stint.

We began with stating objectives. The idea was not to create a silo out of social, but to tie its objectives and strategy to various existing domains, and therefore business outcomes. This would ensure that social could create a strategic business advantage in the long run, and also meant that we could use domain specific metrics to track the progress of social investments.

The best advice I got, again from Mukesh after the first presentation, was to prioritise, because there was so much we could do. Thus began the planning – focus areas, time frames, strategy, resources, measurable outcomes. Our focus areas were primarily four – Customer Connect, Brand, Product, and Sales, and everything we did had a link with business metrics in these.

1. Customer Connect: Before anything else, this domain had to be addressed. The rationale was simple – until we resolved the issues that customers were sharing, there could be no conversation on any other topic. We began with a shared Google doc, taking complaints from Facebook and Twitter, getting them resolved internally, and then communicating back on the relevant channel. The objective of solving customer issues quickly could easily be measured by standard Customer Satisfaction indices around the number of issues resolved and average turn-around-time. By April 2012, the excel sheet process became crazy enough for us to opt for a more robust approach. After evaluating social CRM options at varying levels of complexity, we began using Get Satisfaction in April 2011, one of the first e-commerce companies in India to do so. It allowed us to seamlessly integrate with Facebook, and later Twitter, via Hootsuite. The metrics began looking much better since then!

2. Brand: In the absence of consistent brand campaigns, social automatically becomes one of the few media platforms available to create a perception about the brand. There are many aspects to this, and among all focus areas, this is the domain which is evolving most rapidly, and in which there’s always something to do.

Listening: Unlike broadcast media, social platforms have conversations – about the brand, to the brand. The best example in the Myntra context is the reaction to our first Lisa Haydon ad. (details) Before ORM became a buzzword and a zillion tools were spawned, the choice was simple for frugal social folks – Hootsuite vs Tweetdeck. We chose the former, and continue to use it even now. Though we did try out many tools, we couldn’t really reconcile the amount we would have to pay with the value we could derive from them. Finally, Unmetric has been brought on board because they manage to give a view of the brand vis-a-vis competition, and also actionable insights.

Branded Content: I had been a blogger for 8 years when I joined Myntra, and have always considered it the original social platform. Style Mynt was my first major project at Myntra. (details) Born on December 1st 2011, with no further investments in manpower, (because there were people in various departments who were interested in, and could write well about fashion)  and costs that only included theme and hosting charges. It not only gave Myntra a platform to express fashion thought leadership and style advice with utilitarian value, but also provided content for social networks and served as a good medium to build relationships with partner brands. (eg. with behind-the-scenes brand focus posts) . End-to-end project management was fun, especially content planning and tweaking themes, and I was even de facto editor until April, when we saw that this kind of content creation had tremendous potential, and hired a full time editor. Later, the activities on Style Mynt also resulted in video content. On Twitter, we created lists and constantly curated them – one of the applications is the Myntra #LookGood Daily. The objective in all these efforts is to create a strong association between Myntra and fashion/style. There are many ways to measure this – blog subscriptions and visits generated to Myntra from the blog, questions in the brand track for evolved brands, and for others, the share of voice in relevant keywords which can be tracked using monitoring tools. Though not the primary objective, Style Mynt has been a contributor to revenue as well, and Thinglink needs to be mentioned in this context. (details)

Social Media: Or rather, social as media. In 2011, Facebook and Twitter were the only platforms that were considered serious enough to be active on. We tracked platform metrics (Likes, PTAT, Followers) because they were surrogates that gave us an idea of the reach of our content and even brand salience to an extent, all the while conscious that they were a means, not an end. The content strategy on both were in a constant state of evolution, until it found its current version which aims to balance infotainment, (with creatives made specially for social) content marketing and selling pitches. Facebook Insights, though by no means perfect, gave us indicators of the efficacy of the content we were sharing. ‘Social as media’ is also where the much vilified hashtags on Twitter can play a part. All our hashtags have had a clear objective – to create some buzz around a tactical or strategic initiative. (examples) Their reach can be measured using free/paid tools. Also to be mentioned in this context – we are connected to over 60 of our partner brands on Twitter.

We tried out an interesting Foursquare experiment as well, to emphasise the fashion destination positioning – leaving tips at retail outlets of partner brands on seasonal trends. Being a fashion brand, we got active on Pinterest and Instagram early too. We’re probably the first Indian e-com/fashion brand to have season collection videos on Instagram. We were present on Google+ because it had a rub off on SEO as well, but in addition, there is much potential for creating excellent branded content using Hangouts. (and its On Air version) On YouTube, we began with content curation until we got our own videos. But even given that, at this stage, I’d have to say that it is an under exploited channel.

The value for the original two can now be measured in terms of reach metrics (brand) as well as revenue. The others are in a nascent stage, and will evolve rapidly, I’m sure. Earlier this year, Franchisee India gave us an award for the Best Use of Social Media & Communication Strategy. In terms of ‘vanity metrics’, when I started out, we had 5.8L Likes and 984 followers, and were non existent on the other platforms! Now, we have over 1.5m Likes, 13000+ followers on Twitter, more than a 1000 followers on Pinterest, 500+ on Instagram, 400+ on Foursquare, 600+ subscribers on YouTube and 3000+ on Google+.

Corporate Brand: Style Mynt had taken off very well, and blogs were in tremendous favour within Myntra. :) I pitched that a corporate blog would allow us to showcase values, culture, and build trust, within the organisation and among consumers. Myntra’s corporate blog is now a year old and continues to do exactly what I wrote it aimed to do in its About page.  The benchmark continues to be the Cleartrip blog, but this one is a labour of love at this point. I’m confident though, that having a place to air the brand’s side of the story can only do good in the long run. I’d also recommend the use of Quora – you cannot be present as the brand, but if you can get 2-3 management team members to be active, it could do a lot for you.

Blogger Outreach: Fashion is a domain of specialisation for many bloggers, and we began associating with them pretty early. From guest posts to sponsored contest giveaways in the initial days to a more organised and rigorous blogger outreach program for reviews more recently, we have tried a lot of stuff. They’re invited to our events, their posts get promoted via twitter, we have a board exclusively with their posts on Pinterest, and they even get #fridayfollow tweets from us. We have built relationships and there are plans in the pipeline that for more concrete ways to take this further – providing value to both parties. These efforts help in associating Myntra with fashion, catering to the bloggers’ niche audiences, and generating positive buzz about Myntra.

This has proven to be longer than I expected! Therefore, to be continued..

Revisiting Social Commerce

It’s been more than 2 years since I wrote about social commerce on afaqs, and since then, there have been massive changes right from the definitions to the operations of social commerce. Karthik’s recent post on the subject led me to think about it again.

I’ve always felt that most of the popular definitions of social commerce have constrained its actual scope. Back in 2011, facebook stores accounted for most of the social commerce discussions. These days, it is mostly referral traffic and sales from social, and that too, in terms of last-touch attribution, as the Ecommerce quarterly (that Karthik cites) would suggest. While I’d not contest EQ’s methodology or assessment, I think it’s only fair to point out that there have been a great number of exceptions. (read; Disclosure: that list includes Myntra where I work) I’m not a fan of how Facebook has throttled what we used to call organic reach, but if you want to read about how Facebook helps target users at different levels of the funnel, Zappos serves as a good example. Facebook’s Custom Audiences and FB Exchange products allow different ways of targeting consumers. Twitter is a bit late to the party, but their products also have excellent potential from what I’ve seen, and they’re moving quickly! (already into retargeting)  YouTube is already a big bet for advertisers, and Pinterest is already being used by scores of Etsy users! (read) From small experiments, I also suspect that Google+ is a potential top rung player. Even if you’d like to leave the $ out and consider (for example) only organic (eg. Open Graph actions) there are case studies evolving. (example)

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So, can commerce be driven through social channels – advertising as well as organic? An emphatic yes would be my answer. Yes, it might score low if one considers only last-touch attribution, but hey, many of Facebook’s strategic PMDs are getting a handle on multi-touch attribution. (Kenshoo is an example) One should also consider that other traffic channels like search, affiliates etc have been around for longer and have tried and tested models. The point is rather simple – if we judge social’s contribution on the basis of models created for an earlier version of the web, it would not measure up. We’re at a stage where both technology and tools are still evolving to help measure social on terms that balance its uniqueness with the needs of the business. The good news is that the little that I have seen of Facebook’s strategic PMDs has been inspiring!

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But I think using social channels as sources of traffic/revenue for commerce is still not capturing ‘social commerce’ in its entirety. Though arguable and reducing in favour, I’d still label many group buying options as social commerce. (example) But to me, the elephant in the room is  p2p commerce. Though the collaborative economy is more vast in scope, I’d put it in the same bucket in this context. (do read Jeremiah Owyang on the subject) From Airbnb to RelayRides to Loosecubes to TaskRabbit to even KickStarter, commerce is now happening between individuals with everyone playing creator, buyer and seller as per context. While the $ is inevitable, trust and one’s network itself are becoming currencies. Yes, these also use social platforms for extended reach, but this is inherently more social than the pure commerce play of brands.

It is interesting to see social platforms working on these lines as well. Facebook’s Marketplace was probably a bit ahead of its time, but nothing stops them from bringing it back. I read recently that Google is planning to release Mine – a service integrated with G+ that allows users to keep track of “belongings” and then share those with friends in different circles. (via) Yes, there will obviously an Android App. It’s not just these platforms, I’d think that Amazon is slowly approaching it from a different direction as well. (read)

To sum it up, commerce has always been social, it’s only the dynamics that keep changing.

until next time, commercial breaks

Pinning it down

Though it’s almost been 2 years since it launched, the buzz on Pinterest has grown stronger in the last few months. This infographic should help you get a quick update. The ‘experts’ are polarised on this, and I have seen some digs on my twitter timeline, which remind me of the things I used to hear about Twitter on Facebook. :) Will Pinterest grow that big? I don’t know, but it always helps to build one’s own perspective.

This is one of those social networks which have not been easy for me to adopt. As the text-only posts here would indicate, I am not an ‘image’ person. :) This was probably why delicious worked for me very well. But I did manage to find my own applications of Pinterest, most significantly, my infographics board, which is now nearing a 100 pins, and others that I enjoy – Angry Birds, Star Farce, and so on. One apprehension I have is whether it will go the way of all social platforms when they go more mainstream – from pinning ‘what I like’ to ‘what I think you want to see’ or ‘what I want you to see’. An extension of the carefully crafted persona.

But meanwhile, over at Myntra, we have created an account and have been busy pinning and ‘boarding’. We’re in the process of experimenting with the platform, and as part of that, have also integrated it on our fashion blog. We have already found quite a few use cases for it, and I plan to consolidate that before moving further on boards.

One of the most interesting stats in the infographic I shared earlier is that Pinterest has now beaten twitter as a source for referral traffic. From a brand perspective, this is indeed turning out to be an interesting tool, especially if the brand is related to e-com or fashion. Many fashion brands are already there. In fact, JustFabulous is even doing an extremely interesting Scrabble based contest there. I’d think that food, travel, and other visually appealing domains would also do well here. In fact there are over 100 brands across categories already on Pinterest.

So, should you believe the hype? Not necessarily, but as a brand marketer or a social web practitioner, I think it’s probably a good time to take a long look at Pinterest and see if it can deliver value to your brand. It could be traffic generation, relationship building, or thought leadership, and these are just a few use cases. Unless you play, you won’t know. :)

until next time, you could fancy this too 😉