Leveraging Social Media's opportunities

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Leveraging Social Media's opportunities

Social media today has reached a stage where an individual’s tweet is a matter of concern for organisations. Facebook postings are seriously analysed. LinkedIn updates are a matter of deep studies. YouTube is emerging as a great marketing tool.

A posting in a blog can derail a very well laid out marketing plan. Even internationally, well known brands such as Nestle or United Airlines have suffered immensely against the combined might of users in the Social Media; their recent PR disasters cost them sales, steep drop in stock prices, etc.

Social Media’s most popular platforms are technologies such as blogs, micro-blogs, forums, review rating sites, news aggregators, wikis, RSS feeds, etc.  Reportedly they connect more than 60% of the online audience in India and are growing at a bubonic pace.

The most important aspect of the Social Media is the viral effect and the booming mobile phones market, especially smart phones, has only accentuated it. Social Media poses both immense opportunities and challenges. It has rightly emerged as a force to reckon with and spans the entire marketing process: identifying needs, creating products, promoting, branding, measuring customer satisfaction, managing public relations, etc.

The viral impact of Social Media can make or break a firm. Social Media has challenged conventional marketing techniques. Earlier, marketers had the privilege of ‘I-talk-you-listen’ mode. Now, with the advent of Social Media, consumers are talking and firms that do not listen are quickly way-laid. So the new mantra is ‘engage the consumers’.

Managing Social Media also calls for a set of very different marketing techniques. The growing influence is forcing organisations to hire Social Media specialists. These specialists are expected to garner insights by monitoring, set relevant marketing objectives, create campaigns to meet those objectives, measure responses and tweak campaigns if required.

Such people are a rare commodity across the world and rarer so in India.  Some part of the demand for such services today is catered to by ad-agencies or small niche firms. All the same, firms, realising the importance of Social Media, are increasingly directing their marketing spends and hoping to learn by trial and error.

In the coming years, companies will only more actively seek professionals to manage their Social Media campaigns/presence and opportunities are going to arise not just on the agency side and niche firms but also with clients directly.

Social Media has become an indispensable part of the marketing channel and will continue to survive in the same manner for years to come. But a lot depends on how firms leverage Social Media.

Many Indian firms intertwine their offline communications with social media to create and nurture brands, create new product experiences, help information supply and purchase decision. In that sense, Social Media marketing requires a very good understanding of the usual marketing techniques too.

Several start-ups see Social Media as a great way to counter deep pockets of established players. In this sense, it is indeed a new leveler. However, with reference to India, its adoption rate is just gaining momentum. For most of them, getting started with this phenomenon is not the issue, but getting started right.

Opening a Facebook or Twitter account is not Social Media marketing. Unfortunately, as said earlier, people with good understanding of Social Media marketing techniques are in short supply in India and hence the slow rate of adoption and leverage. Now, with MBA colleges taking the initiative to introduce courses specifically designed to suit the market needs of this field and prepare MBA executives to crack the space, the supply is definitely going to rise up.

The industry in India is embryonic and most of its potential lie undiscovered. There is cosmic scope of growth for professionals who plan to delve into this space and build a career out of it.

Understanding the market’s demand for such people, several B-schools are pioneering courses in Social Media marketing, as a part of the MBA curriculum.  As a career, Social Media is specifically created for the youth. Today’s youth are extremely computer savvy and therefore have the right enthusiasm and spark to understand and respond to the online community.

It’s not surprising that the highest number of users are in the 15-24 age groups. Orkut and Facebook together cater to about 90% of the users in the Social Media space. The job opportunities are wide and profiles are very distinct.

Some popular profiles include, Social Media Strategist, Social Media Campaign Manager, Social Media Monitoring and Analysts, Professional Blogging, Online Community Manager, Game Developer, Applications Developer, Content Developer, etc. Social Media Optimization and Social Media Marketing are the hot trends in the market. Interesting designations are coined.

‘Audience Acquisition’ is one such profile others being Interactive Marketing Specialist, Social Media Marketing Manager, Emerging Media and Content Manager, Social Networking and Communities Manager, Social Media Evangelists, Social Media Addicts.

The roles and designations vary right from the executive straight up to the VP levels, hence the scope is huge and people with little to abundance of experience are all in demand. There’s vast scope to grow either into a Digital Planner or as a Business Development Executive. These are just stepping stones to higher positions – Account Directors and VPs of Business Development.  Salaries range from about Rs. 2 lakh per annum and rise exponentially to about Rs. 8 – 12 lakh as one moves up the ladder or with the kind of Social Media work one performs.

While such professionals are being trained, a few are also questioning whether the entire Social Media is just a passing fad with no future. The answer is a resounding no! Data and underlying forces that propel adoption indicate otherwise.

Facebook has the highest reach with 2.21 crore members followed by Orkut with 1.85 crore. Ibibio ranks third at a distant 35.6 lakh users which is followed further by Twitter.

Blogging is at its height. All these numbers and members in other platforms are only increasing by the hour. The fundamental drivers of adoption of Social Media (such as human beings’ need to stay connected, share and socialise) are permanent. With increasing penetration rates of computer and mobile-based internet, Social Media will be perhaps the most important way to connect with others. Children have adopted Social Media like ducks to water. So it’s here to stay and deepen.

(The writer is Professor, Marketing and Social Media,  Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Chennai)

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