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Old Buyers, new markets

This is the piece I wrote as part of the Exchange4Media and Blogworks “India Social Media Survey 2009” Report Document that we revealed released on 28 March 2009. It summarizes the gap I see amongst the marketing/ communication fraternity in their understanding of the connected consumer and social media. The gap was obvious on many occasions at the India Social Media Summit 2009 indicating that we are all still just learning the rules of this new game.
Here is the piece:
The game has changed, and for a change, it’s not the marketers who are in the driver’s seat. The Consumer is…
Meet the ‘new and improved’ Consumer 2.0. She and her peers (they) are coming together on social networks, blogs, content communities and forming tribes, sharing opinion and voicing their concerns on a variety of social issue, customer service, brand experiences, politics – life.
When Mumbai is attacked, they don’t just report live in a perpetual stream, they also take the government to task; when Ram Sene dictates that women belong within the four walls of their homes, smiling they send Pink Chaddis to Sene bosses; Not just are they creators and editors of news, they also take head-on battles with mainstream media from time-to-time.
Mainstream media itself is evolving, integrating social media, to stay relevant to the times. Not the types to be left behind, celebrities and politicians too have joined the social media space engaging stakeholders.
Social media has forever changed the dynamics of how the Internet is consumed – from predominantly being a work tool, to becoming a tool for personal expression & connections
Conversational marketing
Marketing and communication ought to change too, for, marketers now have the opportunity to narrowcast messages; to change the tone from greedy sales pitches, to personal conversations.
How are the marketer’s responding? The focus is still on the tool…
Have you seen a child play with a toy? He fumbles with it, turns it around in his hands trying to figure out how the damn thing works; once figured, he plays with it for a bit, gets bored; a new toy appears on his limited horizon – his neighborhood friend – that’s what he wants now.
Social media play for most marketers is no different: “Mummy, mummy mujhe bhee apna social network chahiye.”
So you got yourself a fan page on Facebook? Also a video up on YouTube? Even an account on Twitter? Great! So?
Have you really thought through why you are doing, whatever you are doing? Are you listening to what the consumers are saying? Do you know where you really want to go?
The rules of the social media game are a little different, they are being written by the community and the game is evolving so rapidly that if you turn away, just for a minute, the scene has already changed.
Why are most marketers lagging behind?

  1. Marketers are scared of the unknown and aren’t prepared to jump in
  2. Marketers have never spoken face-to-face- they get the agencies to front and want to continue doing so
  3. Marketers are plain lazy
  4. All of the above

Social media is like masturbation, you have to participate ‘yourself’ to get anywhere.
What is clear though…

  1. Social networks are where media will be consumed, besides content being created
  2. Brands will be discussed
  3. People want to talk brands when they want to, not when we want them to
  4. They are equally vocal about brands/ experiences they love/ hate
  5. Social media influences purchase decisions
  6. Negative comments allow for an educated purchase, besides helping marketers improve the product/ service
  7. Social media can’t wipe off inefficiencies, or poor quality

So what to expect?

  1. Social media credibility is going up, as it attains critical mass and more & more thought leaders join in
  2. Social media impact on marketing will only get stronger
  3. Social media will seamlessly merge into mainstream media
  4. Meaningful blogging, with thought leaders joining in
  5. Micro-blogging
  6. Breaking news moves away from television, to citizen journalists
  7. Social networking will continues to surge
  8. Anytime, any device consumption and creation of content
  9. Social noise- with so many voices saying so many things- making it difficult & important to separate noise versus signals/ meaning/ insights

Savvy marketers are also evolving: going beyond mere buzz aspects of social media, to draw real time insights and feedback to improve product/ service; the focus is shifting to engagement; social media is becoming central to marketing.
All is well in my world.

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HT Tech4U focuses on What Blogging Did Next. My piece "Micro-blogging, anyone?" – also the longer, unedited version.

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Today’s Hindustan Times Tech4U page focuses on “What Blogging Did Next” and features 2 main pieces on the subject.
In the first piece, titled Hum Blog, Twilight Fairy of Delhi Bloggers Bloc talks about the blogging scene in general and Delhi in particular, online and offline.
The second piece, written by me talks about Twitter.
You can find the newspaper version here.
My longer, unedited version, is below. Choose whichever, but do leave your thoughts:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the most viral of them all?” I asked.
“Twitter, O dear sir!” answered the magic mirror without doubt.
Twitter , the service that lets you stay connected with friends, colleagues and family through exchange of short message updates, sharing “what are you doing right now?” has achieved almost cult following among its users, many of whom are celebrity bloggers and internet influencers from across the globe.
So what really is Twitter?
I could tell you that Twitter is a micro-blogging platform (messages can contain a maximum of 140 characters) and a social networking site (connect with and friends and make new ones). I could also say that it is blogging on the go and lets you disseminate and receive messages using the web interface, an internet messenger/ desktop client or your mobile phone. All of these are correct.
However, think of it as a café, people keep coming, conversations are perpetually on, someone leaves, and someone else joins in. You chat with your friends and acquaintances regularly and ever so often you also meet one of their friends. You join into their conversations and make new friends in the process. Someone you didn’t know earlier reaches out to connect; you do the same when you want to reach out. This café is virtual, but the people are real and they do meet up often – at work, at parties, at Tweet ups (offline group meets of Tweople, or Twitter users).
Like someone said so beautifully on a Social Media Today podcast “Twitter is like talking to friends on way back home from school, reading their blogs is like reading their homework.” No wonder Twitterholics prefer Twittering over even singing ;).
But what makes Twitter so special, so viral?
To understand this, it’s important to understand the genesis of Twitter for the service is based on some powerful insights:

  1. The Always on internet environment has less dependency and focus on a web page and that the desktop, widgets, IM are gaining importance.
  2. Mobile is quickly becoming the ubiquitous converged device and is increasingly married to the internet.
  3. Bloggers, already addicted to posting, were/ are looking for ways to disseminate content quickly, on the go and without having to spend a long time in crafting it. That they were/ are also looking at ways to share their content across multiple platforms.
  4. Successful services will be those, which allows users to find unique and multiple uses for the service and that to do so, it would be important to:
    – Becoming the enabling layer
    – Allow other developers to use the Application Programming Interface (API)
    – Create a network but also use other networks to reach larger mass of users/ consumers

The result is a service that lets you use its web interface to push the message, but you could have easily have used your G Talk client or simply sms’d the message instead, using your handset to now an India short-code (5566511).
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The moment you did so, the message would be received by people ‘following’ your feed, on their preferred device – mobile handset, IM, or simply their Twitter web-page. You could, similarly, get their messages if you too were following them.
Powerful, you’d agree, but it doesn’t end here. You could display yours and your friends’ messages on your blog using a Twitter widget, let the message be seen as your status update on Facebook (which is where more and more of your friends are) and so on. Add to this many dozens applications and mash-ups developed by 3rd party developers (find them at here) and you have one of the most visible and sticky service on the internet today.
So how are people using Twitter? Honestly, new uses are coming up every minute. Here are a few:

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Mint helps propel the "Corporate Traffic Brigade" thought .

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I had written about the CSR opportunity in the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway Toll Plaza crisis recently. Today’s Mint helps propel the message:
Two weeks into the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway toll plaza crisis, things don’t seem to have changed much and the promised seven-minute journey now seems more a mirage than reality. Commuters are losing 15-45 minutes one way at the gate, but both the National Highways Authority (NHAI) and the operator seem busy counting the booty — more than Rs70 lakh is collected daily as toll fees, said news reports.
I worry that things might turn ugly — this morning, crossing into Gurgaon, I witnessed the usual…poor management, unconcerned staff. I also saw simmering anger with no police back-up — perhaps the making of a different crisis?
Read the full story here.

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So, where are you going? A piece I wrote for Hindustan Times

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Today’s Hindustan Times carried a piece written by me. You can read it on the HT epaper: 12 December 2007, Delhi Edition, HT2, Tech4U Page. In reverence to the editor, here is the final text as appeared in print:
So, where are you going?
A few day ago, I was chatting on the phone with someone from Mumbai, who had called to discuss ‘use of blogs and social media tools for internal knowledge management by organisations’ and the talk swerved “Is a blog is better than a forum or vice-versa?”.
I was reminded of times when – very young – my younger sister and I would often gather available pillows to create a square/ rectangle, which was our ‘car’ and using an imaginary steering wheel, made appropriate driving noises. Only, obviously our car shell was going nowhere, for, it didn’t have wheels or an engine for that matter.
So the question is: Now that you have got yourselves a car called social media, do you know where are you going?
As is expected with anything that’s surrounded with intense hype, as has been the case with blogs & social media, the focus is on the TOOL with relatively less thought on THE NEED. A mere shell (blog/forum/social networking site or whatever) is not enough. The car is surely not going anywhere without an engine and an ongoing supply of fuel! It’s also good to remember- the car cannot drive itself.
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Organisations/ marketers in India are finally beginning to look at adopting social media and blogs, but, given that the concepts are relatively new, the emphasis seems to be on continuing traditional marketing thoughts/ logic into the neo-environment. However, Participating in this neo-environment is not about following tradition, here the rules are different – the rules are being written by the consumer, the community. In fact, many believe that the moment you attempt to ‘sell’ on social media, you have lost the users attention – focus has to be on conversations, on adding value to the user.
Given all that, here are points to consider, which can act as a checklist for you to figure out what a blog can do.

  1. What is the need?
    No, I mean what is the REAL need that can be met by adopting blogs & social media? Just because another brand or organisation has adopted/ is adopting the tool is not a good enough reason for you to adopt it too. Remember there is a cost of engagement.
    Yes, many, if not most, of these tools cost very little themselves but as a brand/ organisation the costs to consider are not to the ‘monetary’. There are associated cost in terms of time, content generation, outreach & promotion and like there is a cost of engagement, even more importantly there is a cost to disengagement – mostly on your reputation. Think this through, for, an abrupt withdrawal may not be an option later.
  2. Message is your car’s engine.
    Which stakeholders are you trying to reach through your social media initiatives? Are they users of the Internet? Of course there is increasing indirect impact as messages get picked by mainstream media/ influencers but are your stakeholders ‘direct users’ of these tools, communities? Which ones?
    What is the message that you wish to share with your stakeholders? Figured your message? Now be prepared to let go of control, evolve the same, for, on social media, it is the user/ community that partly controls the message.
  3. Content is the fuel.
    What is it that you are sharing with users that will keep them engaged, keep them coming back for more? It’s important that you have clarity of purpose, and stakeholders, which in turn will help you determine content.
  4. So, who is driving?
    The initiative; the content – are you looking at a corporate blog written by many stakeholders or a CEO blog? Maybe set-up a community generating user generated content of interest to your customers?
    Who is in charge of content? No one/everyone doesn’t work, like we may have witnessed elsewhere.
  5. Look into the side mirror, often.
    Are you tracking what the competition is up to? While you are busy doing your own thing, the competition maybe close by (or ahead for that matter). Look around, but don’t copy their moves.
  6. Do you know the rules?
    Don’t get caught on the wrong foot. The social media space is a relatively new. It’s important to know the basis, but evolving rules.
    Punishment can be swift and severe, and witnesses have been… mighty giants & countless individuals, who forgot.
  7. Show some reverence, please.
    Sure blogs can be a free tool, so is uploading content on YouTube, as is setting up communities on Social Networking Sites… but hey, your brand/ organisation is very valuable! While adopting social media, do show YOUR BRAND/ YOUR ORGANISATION some reverence – your brand has a personality, an identity, an image, a reputation – so doesn’t your 360 degree apply to blogs and social media?
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Today's HT piece

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Today’s HT – Tech 4 U (Delhi Edition) has a piece, written by me, probing if blogging is for you, and if yes, how you could get started. You can also see the piece here: http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/default.aspx (See under HT 2)
Off to Mumbai now, where I have a talk to deliver, but will try and put the text here tomorrow.
UPDATED at 7.37 a.m. IST, 26 May 2007.
Here’s the text as I submitted and is slightly longer than the print edition; the structure too is a bit different . The piece was originally titled You Blog? . If the piece reads different from my other blog post, please remember that it was written with ‘print’ in mind and for a larger, diverse reader group. Do share your inputs and feedback.
Here we go:
Even though this piece appears on the technology page, it has really less to do with technology and more with conversations, though enabled by today’s Internet technology.
By now of course all of us know about blogs – that they are diaries on the web; that they are easy to write and manage; that thanks to thousands of free templates you will never need a designer (only partly correct ? ); that they are the Internet live and ticking; also that they are big and are seemingly here to stay.
Truth also is that, even as a there is a new blog launched every second, majority of them end up dead, soon after launch.
So we won’t delve upon how big the blogosphere is and all that stuff, instead, let’s try and figure out whether indeed YOU need to blog and if yes, how could you ensure that once you have set one up, it doesn’t end up, like perhaps a majority from among the 71 million + that are listed on Technorati.com (www.technorati.com) already are – dead!
The answer to this can be really simple:

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