Social Media

Can media become social enough?

A few days back, it was reported that Facebook now had a million active advertisers, and that LinkedIn has 3 million company pages. I’ll let that sink in, in case you hadn’t heard. Despite all the social-ness, I realised it’s impossible not to call it media. The wiki definition for media is “tools used to store and deliver information or data” That, for me, is a smartphone now! I also wondered how many media behemoths could boast of a million active advertisers. And that’s when it really struck me how much the traditional media we were used to have been sidelined – yes, they still get advertising revenue, but from a sheer reach perspective. Google, Facebook, YouTube and many more platforms get anywhere between a few million to a few hundred million visitors every day.  To put it all in perspective, TOI – the world’s largest English daily has a readership of over 7 million.

Media and advertising have had a very intertwined life, unless of course the publication/channel has been on solely a subscription based model. I think the magic of Facebook (and Google, before it) and those that followed is that they have democratised advertising by not just making it something any small business could spend on according to their means, but also giving them the ability to advertise according to contexts – intent, interest, social etc.  Though Google, Facebook etc are still intermediaries, they never flashed their powers, though the latter has begun to, recently. As brands move away from a one-size-fits-all mode of advertising, these platforms give them more options of form and function, and changing the face of advertising. (Google’s exploits are known, here’s a pertinent read on Facebook)

In such a scenario, what really does a traditional media channel have to offer to its consumers and clients? I’m not saying that they’re all going bankrupt next Sunday, but it’s clear which way the wind is blowing. One way, of course, is to use their brand value, and replicate (and grow) their audience on devices and platforms which better serve advertising interests. They can hone their value offerings by offering various contexts and their combinations – local, social, interests, and so on, and build business models for each. The early movers are already making big deals. But that is the red ocean that everyone is fighting for. How really can a player differentiate?

Biz_Is_The_ArtI had a vague thought. Media’s original strength was its relationship with users and the trust involved. In the social media era, how can that be leveraged? Flipboard has already allowed users to become curators and create their own magazines. Is that the future, along with shared revenue on advertising? What if users can also curate the advertising their ‘subscribers’ can see? After all advertising is also news/information and has a certain value depending on the source. Traditionally, media  has been the middle man between advertisers and users, but what happens when everyone is media? Can media start aggregating influencers in every domain, including niches, provide them the material for curation, negotiate on their behalf to relevant advertisers, and share the revenue? Perhaps the next  disruption will be the platform that can handle the complexities involved. What do you think?

until next time, mediator

@ Social Business Summit

I was quite thrilled to be invited to speak at the Mumbai version of the Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit – not just because of my awesome co-speakers, but because this is a platform that has seen the likes of Tony Hsieh and John Hagel earlier this year! To confess, a little nervous too, since (as my friend Kavi Arasu, whom I met for the first time after years of knowing him online, put it) I was going to ‘open the batting’! But in the end, it did turn out very well, judging from the audience reaction. Here’s my presentation – The Currencies of Engagement @ Scale, with a talk flow right below since slides with Yoda and Spock could seem way out of context in the subject of Engagement @ Scale.

The currencies of engagement @ scale

It was a fantastic experience – the crowd, perspectives of co-speakers, meeting Gaurav, Haroon, Nadhiya for the first time outside of Twitter, catching up with Gautam, Sumant, Sanjay and Ideasmith, and being introduced to a whole bunch of people that I hope to be in touch with.

But my biggest thrill was in getting this platform to share my ideas on an evolving domain that I am passionate about, and being appreciated by the likes of Jeff Dachis and Michael Jones. It was both exhilarating, and humbling.


A few photos here, though my expressions make it seem more like ComicCon or a theatre workshop! :O

I also wrote a more elaborate post at Medianama. Do take a look.

until next time, #SBS2013 #ftw :)

The more things change….

Just a couple of weeks back, I’d written about influence and context, and last week the twitterverse had some excitement delivered courtesy Disney. I couldn’t experience it first hand, but got quite a lot of perspective thanks to Karthik’s post and the comments that followed.

Personally, instances such as Disney serve as a great filter for keeping track of the trust quotient. I don’t expect agencies/brands/celebrities to be unbiased or disclose, but once upon a time, it was natural for regular twitterati to do that. But times have changed, and all of this is personal philosophy, so I’ll move on.

On hindsight, and when comparing the patterns of evolution of traditional and social media, the current scenario seems inevitable! Platform – Community – Audience -Brand – Ads (hashtags) – and when ads became noise, brands differentiate by bringing in a fresh voice. (celebrities/micro celebrities) Where we are now is with an army of mini TOIs, relatively more genuine-sounding, and significantly less costly. There are quirks, of course. For instance, brands don’t have to pay the platform to be present, and can incentivise the community to provide publicity. On the flip side, brands are also ‘being held to ransom’ (previous post) by ‘influencers’ and we’ll probably see guns for hire being used by rival brands pretty soon. [Just last week, we saw a tweet from a person working at a competitor stating that she liked shopping at Myntra. One of the various scenarios we considered was a #conspiracytheory – that the moment we used the tweet in some way, the person would prove to be a non-employee and we’d be accused of playing dirty]

At one point, I really thought (or hoped) social would be new wine, but it has more or less ended up a new bottle. If we continue the evolution pattern, the future is easy to imagine. Context will disappear, and noise will magnify, until the next disruption. But I still have some hope, because the nature of the platforms (and the tools that are getting built) are such that a user can, at least to an extent, mould it according to the way in which he wants to consume it.

That does take me back to what I said in the last post – people will actively build their own trusted sources. And the real opportunity for brands is still to become a trusted source. Yes, I do think it’s possible, and we have a relaunched buzzword on cue – social business. In fact, there are probably brands doing it already, spending resources to build the foundations so that the hashtag (or its equivalent in the future) is not manufactured for its own sake, but is organically and genuinely built by contextually relevant influencers who can be publicly rewarded for helping the brand meet its business objectives.

But wait, that was where social platforms started too. Which leads me to wonder if the future of brands and media will always work in cycles, and end up near square one!

until next time, the more they remain the same…


Influence & Context

Last week, I read two stories on influencers on sites that influence me. 😀 Since that’s a topic that has been seen here before (1,2,3) and it’s been a while since I’ve written about it, a couple of cents.

YourStory’s post, I cheered, despite failing on their influencer scale, (of 5000 twitter followers) because it asked a very pertinent question – “Are brands being  held at ransom by Social Media Influencers?” I completely agree with Mekin’s tweet (cited there) on how it takes the twitterati only a few minutes to demolish years of hard work. Anyone who handles a brand account would relate to that. Expecting ‘influencers’ to mature and watch what they say is like expecting, say, a response from the nation’s leader. The other way to handle it is to be really good at what you do as a brand, be sure of yourself, be transparent, so that you can back up your tweets (no, not that kind of backup) with facts. (more)

LHI’s post was about brands leveraging social influencers. Prasant (of LHI, but didn’t write this post) had commented in the YourStory post about contextual influence, and I quite agree with his views. In fact, my stance remains the same as when I wrote this. To sum it up, (in general, there are of course exceptions including whole domains) brands tend to treat influencers just as they treat traditional media. The more reach, the better, who cares about context? No offense meant, but I am not really influenced by the gentleman in the LHI story. Mercedes needn’t care about that because I’m not really their audience. But the entire episode makes a very good story, so if that was the intent, and not necessarily the person’s influence, opportunity well spotted, and a PR job well done!

But if brands do treat influencers as media, how long will this party last, especially when people are already trying to correct their filter failure? (noise in the stream) Mass media’s  indisputable role in creating perception have been blunted in the web and social eras. Arguable, but I think, in a while, we’ll see a kind of flip. Folks would start figuring out their go-to people, when making consumption decisions. I already do that – in fact, I realised that with a few exceptions, everyone on this list is a go-to person for me! Not all of them have 5k followers, but in their domains, they’re #likeaboss. What has social contributed here – 90% of them were unknown to me before blogging/twitter, but if I am asked for a recommendation in their domains, I don’t have to think twice. I trust them, and this has been built over various interactions across time.

In essence, using influencers would boil down to the intent of brands – mass reach or targeted reach (in this context) – for each activity. There are tons of ways to get reach on social media, in many ways it has already begun to resemble its media predecessors, but trusted sources remains a precious commodity. If brands earn and retain the trust of influencers in their domain – and they could only do that if they are really good at what they do – think of how it could help them when it comes to responding to those ransom calls.

until next time, an affluence of followers :)

Project Lead

My earlier post on media consumption fragmentation also made me think of the other side – the creation perspective. Despite the hubbub of “integrated campaigns”, some platform, more often than not, plays the lead. In earlier eras, choices were easier – until televisions came into the picture, it was limited to newspapers, events, radio; even after TV made its inroads, things like objectives, costs, geographical reach of the brand etc could be used to make decisions. In general, I’ve seen TV trumping print more and more as time passes, taking on the role of project lead.

After the advent of social, and despite the low internet penetration, the above parameters have increasingly started working in favour of social ‘media’. Of course, there’s always the beginning of the curve when everyone wants in because of the shiny new object syndrome, but I do believe we are crossing that stage now. I still see “let’s do this on social media too” (after the entire campaign has been conceived and produced) or the single slide on social rampant, but that’s also part of the learning curve. As always, some brands are moving faster than others.

We already have brands, internationally, that are experimenting (and successfully) with ideas that are inherently social, and using traditional media for say, additional reach. Just as TV took over from newspapers, it is possible that social will take the seat at the head of the table at some point. It is also possible that it would go the way of digital – relegated to performance campaigns, and belying its potential. That is even more so if social is measured in the same ways as the media before it. However, I think this time the story would be played out differently. But then again, I also think there will be a fragmentation of the brand story, understanding each platform’s nuances, using its inherent strengths, making frameworks that have tailored measurement indices, and in the process, providing a cohesive perspective to the consumer, and cohesive metrics for the brand.

until next time, leaderboards 😉

Confessions of a ‘social worker’

It’s raining discounts and practically everything is on ‘Sale’, except probably Trivortex bangles! At Myntra, we’ve been having an ‘I Love Sale’ campaign running since January. While we have been tweeting about it since then, last week we decided to take the relationship to the next level. The #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithSale turned out to be a huge success for us, and I’ve chronicled the details on our corporate blog.

Since there were many interesting answers, I even tweeted about it from my personal account, a rare occurrence. I was asked by a couple of people why we chose the cliched hashtag, and I thought this would be a good time to convey my version beyond a few multiples of 140 characters.

I’ve always been a staunch believer of figuring out intent before anything else and it driving everything else. In that sense, I still stick to my earlier stance on hashtags, but it’s more nuanced now, because I begin to understand the kind of roles it can play in a brand’s framework. As the perfect example, in this case, our objective was simple – create a buzz around the sale at Myntra. We could have tried a more ‘critically acclaimed’ hashtag, like #bachpanstyle, but our intent was reach, and the more ‘banal’ it was, the higher its chances of usage. And boy, it worked – generated more than 7000 tweets in 3 hours, and not only was it a #1 trending topic in India, it also touched a worldwide #2. Mission pretty much accomplished.

Zooming outward a bit. I like to think that I’m a social purist, to the extent that I request people not to use social and media as though they are doomed to be married to each other. There are so many things that are social and not media, at least yet! However, social media is a reality, or rather, social is also media. In fact, this is what marketers can instinctively relate to, because it can be viewed in the same paradigms of reference that they have been used to in traditional media. It can also, unfortunately be ‘bought’ – from Promoted Tweets/Followers to Promoted Stories and Page Like Ads. The purist in me lives by not doing this.

However, if I approached all of my assignment as a purist and argued that this is only a long term game and numbers don’t really matter, I’d probably be raised to sainthood in future, but my job would have died long before that! In essence, I need to be pragmatic, and run the sprint and the marathon. My intent decides what I should be running and when. It’s a balance, and one that needs to be worked at every day. If I asked you about the 100m sprint record holder, you’d probably do the pose in a second, but if I asked you the same about marathons…. In general, that holds true for social activities as well. After all, it’s real time, and is a nascent domain in which we have seen very few marathons. :)

In summation, the whole world is on sale, and another sale is not really a news maker. But the sprint can help, by adding a layer that helps this sale stand out. Thanks afaqs and Lighthouse Insights:)

until next time, now running

Search me..

I was quoted in a recent Social Samosa post – on Facebook Graph Search. Do check it out on their website, it has useful thoughts from various others as well.

Given that it is a fairly large move, (third pillar, Facebook calls it) I thought I’ll add to my quote there. As a final goal, both Google and Facebook are trying to organise and display information to users, because contextually relevant information is still a means to revenue, especially in the era of information overload. Google crawls the web, and Facebook uses social connections as a means to gaining this information. Google is also trying to add social as a context, and Facebook has Bing’s support. It’s not a war now, but it’s definitely armament.

Facebook has tons of data to get this right, and this is dynamic data, thanks to the information we supply, and this is going to get better as Pages (and people) start optimising for Graph Search. Also, once the Open Graph is integrated and actions outside FB also start becoming data, it will become a larger treasure trove of information. Though there’s no advertising product in sight, I will wager that it is an advertising foray in the guise of a consumer tool. As I wrote in the article, Facebook now has the user’s intent broadly divided into 4 categories (people, places, photos and interests), along with his/her ‘influencers’. All of this will allow for some massive segmentation, and thus better targeted ads. And this is not necessarily evil, it can be damn useful because discoverability will be increased.

In terms of implication for brands, (like I said in the quote) brands with organic signals (eg. for a retail outlet, check in at a physical location) will have a starting advantage. Once the Open Graph kicks in, social actions on websites will become a huge advantage. Content marketing takes on added significance since every action on FB increases the chances of a brand being discovered. Oh yes, Like is a back with a vengeance! On a tangential note, recruiters could use Graph Search as a hiring tool.

It’s a long shot, but what would happen if Graph Search was thrown open to Pages. Think about it – as a page admin, I already have the ability to target my post to a certain level (about 7 parameters) but that’s really basic demographics. What if I were able to target (organically) (as Myntra) an Angry Birds t-shirt post at people in India who Like Angry Birds. (or even standard apparel brands)

Meanwhile, there are two immediate concerns. One – privacy. Users will, over a period of time, calibrate the information they supply to Facebook with the advantages of doing so, but it will be a difficult process. The second, I will highlight through a comment made by Romit on Twitter

But this is just version 1. I’m sure Facebook will have/build more signals inside the hood to filter data. Social just became even more interesting. For that. Facebook gets a thank you.

until next time, Like I said…

With great data…

LinkedIn’s article curation is improving very well in my case. What I particularly like is the dash of serendipity in the list. One of the articles I recently read was “Are we all being fooled by Big Data?” Though it is less to do with business per se and is skewed towards economic forecasting, it does make for a very interesting read.

Gartner’s 2013 Strategic Technology Trends has Strategic Big Data as one. In fact, I’d also add ‘The Internet of Things’, ‘In Memory Computing’ and ‘Actionable Analytics’ (also in the list) as related items, as a source, enabler and application respectively. While Big Data has been talked about for a while now, and has seen applications as well, I am not sure how accessible it is to the majority of organisations and brands. In essence, is it ‘mainstream’ enough? (I see organisations struggling to link existing data) Are there frameworks being built that will aid analysis and action across various functional domains – ways to nimbly access and use contextually relevant ‘packets’ from troves?

Probably 2013 is when we will see things moving. But there’s something about data that worries me. This has come from my own experience as well as from the things I have read/heard. And that’s where the organisation’s intent becomes important, because you can find data to validate most anything! This is all the more significant because with improving technology, the volumes of data will have the potential to help brands shift paradigms and disrupt the status quo. But it can also be used for strategic/tactical blunders. As the saying goes “If you torture data long enough, it will confess to almost anything

All of this reminds me of social media. The hype, the evangelism, the tools and so on. And just like social, Big Data has in it the ability to amplify the inherent nature of the enterprise.

until next time, think big

Social v2.0.1.3

I really avoid writing “trends for 20xx”, but towards the end of last year, I jotted down a few things for an article. Same thoughts, but I expanded a bit.

Barring a game changing phenomenon that further complicates the already shifting landscape, these are the 3 areas where I see the needle shifting more than others, in 2013.

1. Content is (also) Advertising: Branded content will continue to rise as the worlds of publishing and commerce collide. Brands will invest (talent, money, time) more in content creation and curation. Also, paid media (traditional and social) will be used to promote owned media (blogs/twitter/FB page content etc) and we’ll continue to wonder how much was earned by publishers in supposedly earned media! By ‘advertising’, I don’t just mean the traditional marketing communication kind, but one that brings out more of the character of the brand/organisation itself. Hopefully this will be the first step towards a larger culture of authenticity, values, and transparency. Something like McDonald’s “Our food. Your questions” would fit the bill.

2. Social Orientation: Social is media, social is CRM, social is enterprise collaboration, and many other things which we haven’t even begun to explore. Silo based approaches for social will evolve into socializing business strategy itself – a horizontal approach (and team) that looks at business objectives more clearly, and encompasses everything from CRM to ORM and beyond. These teams will also be equipped to handle everything from new social platforms to how social integrates/manifests on more advanced devices to technologies from AR to Big Data. Not all of this would happen in a jiffy, and there would be challenges aplenty – right from setting objectives to harnessing various skill sets to getting buy-ins from various verticals that social would interact with and affect. Social Business is most likely this year’s gamification in terms of buzz and random usage, but while that sorts itself, businesses would at least need to start seeing social as a strategy, one that can actually provide competitive advantage.

3. Brand Voice: Speaking of competitive advantage, brands will figure out that they need to craft a voice and tonality that can resonate on social platforms as well. Many of the large brands we see now have grown up on media that never talked back, and hence adopt a  traditional media approach to communication on social as well – swinging between being apathetic and being servile. An identity and voice that can withstand the rigours of increasing conversations across platforms needs to start getting built. There might be multiple renditions of the voice as well – adapted to contexts, audiences, intent and so on, and brands will thus need to learn cohesion in narratives. A new approach to storytelling that spans media, understands popular culture and involves consumers better is the brand imperative.

Update: Very heartening when people I respect – Dina, Gautam Ghosh, Prem think all of this makes sense! Mighty pleased and grinning away! :)

until next time, #makeittrend 😉