Will Bosma, APAC Solu­tion Con­sult­ing Direc­tor, Adobe Aus­tralia – LinkedIn, @wbosma

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I recently spent a week in India meet­ing with some major com­pa­nies across many dif­fer­ent sec­tors – Finan­cial Ser­vices, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Travel and Hos­pi­tal­ity, eTail­ing and Fash­ion. Regard­less of what type of busi­ness, the key topic was the same: their cur­rent state of devel­op­ment in social busi­ness and their plans to inte­grate Social as part of their over­all busi­ness strategy.

It was a fas­ci­nat­ing week. The land­scape in India is chang­ing rapidly. Just to set the scene; there are some 120 mil­lion peo­ple online in India which is a large num­ber – but still only 10% of the pop­u­la­tion. There are some 900 mil­lion mobile sub­scribers and about 350 mil­lion have data pack­ages. Mobile is clearly the pre­ferred method to con­nect and it’s esti­mated there will soon be more mobile sub­scribers than peo­ple. A $50 tablet (Aakash) is being rolled out to schools in India. There some 13 bil­lion adver­tise­ments served to mobile devices every month and mobile com­merce is set to rise spec­tac­u­larly. Yet for all that, online com­merce today is still quite small.

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On the social net­work side, there are 56 mil­lion Face­book users in India, mak­ing it the third largest coun­try behind the US and Brazil – although not for long. It’s esti­mated that on cur­rent growth rates there will be more Face­book users in India than in the US by 2014. There are 15 mil­lion LinkedIn users – per­haps not sur­pris­ing given how much of the recruit­ing process is off­shored to India –  and the Twit­ter­verse is grow­ing expo­nen­tially. The largest brand page for Face­book in India is Tata Docomo with 9.2 mil­lion ‘Likes’.  Yet for all the astound­ing num­bers, the use of social media and the cre­ation of social busi­nesses are still in their very early stages – as we will soon come to see.

It’s inter­est­ing that to out­siders, India can appear as one homoge­nous coun­try. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. There are sig­nif­i­cant regional cul­tural dif­fer­ences and many regional lan­guages – all of which are going to pose seri­ous issues to using social net­works for busi­ness. Many brands in India are already wrestling with ques­tions of how many pres­ences do they need to cater to these vari­a­tions and how to man­age that? Some are look­ing at pages per branch, pages per major Tier 1 /2 cities or per state. And how many lan­guages should they sup­port? There’s a grow­ing aware­ness that every pres­ence is a void to be filled with con­tent and hope­fully, engage­ment. These are seri­ous issues for the Indian busi­ness sector.

If I were to cat­e­gorise the state of Social Busi­ness in India, I’d say it’s in an ado­les­cent stage. There is a huge amount of buzz around social in gen­eral and almost every busi­ness of note is rush­ing to shore up its social net­work pres­ence. There is a tried and true method of build­ing a large Face­book com­mu­nity – cre­ate pages or con­tent based around sport – cricket and foot­ball (soc­cer) – or around Bol­ly­wood. There are more than 20 major enter­prises with pages or appli­ca­tions ded­i­cated to the cricket T20 World Cup being played right now. There are also a lot of pages and apps around the upcom­ing F1 event in Noida.

Gen­er­ally, these pages have large engage­ment rates – cer­tainly com­pared to what we are used to – but the main brand pages still have very low engage­ment rates. So the chal­lenge for many of these organ­i­sa­tions is how to con­vert the sports and movie related fan pages (sub pages) to a com­mu­nity that is mak­ing a real con­tri­bu­tion to key busi­ness metrics.

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Most organ­i­sa­tions have yet to oper­a­tionalise social busi­ness. Social ini­tia­tives are not exe­cuted con­sis­tently; met­rics are still very much ‘van­ity’ based with the size of the com­mu­nity on Face­book or Twit­ter being proudly dis­cussed. We’re start­ing to see more focus on met­rics around engage­ment, sen­ti­ment and advo­cacy, which is great. How­ever, many organ­i­sa­tions are still strug­gling to mea­sure the impact on con­ver­sion rates, rev­enue, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, leads and so on. The excep­tions I’ve noted are a cou­ple of pure on-line busi­nesses in retail­ing and travel, and they are well advanced in these areas. But for the most part the focus is still on ‘how big is my com­mu­nity’ or ‘how do I get a com­mu­nity that’s as big as my competitor’s?’

What was inter­est­ing was to note, was that the over­whelm­ing ratio­nale for many organ­i­sa­tions to have a social pres­ence is mainly as a defen­sive posi­tion.   The buzz­word among the organ­i­sa­tions I met with is ORM – Online Rep­u­ta­tion Man­age­ment – and this was often cited as the major focus of their social pres­ence. Although Brand Health or Opti­mi­sa­tion is a valid goal for social busi­nesses, organ­i­sa­tions also need to focus on pos­i­tive out­reach and dri­ving pos­i­tive sen­ti­ment or advo­cacy as well. Find­ing a bal­ance between all these ele­ments will lead to a more well-rounded and suc­cess­ful social busi­ness strat­egy. In addi­tion, not many organ­i­sa­tions I met with have a brand cri­sis man­age­ment plan that included social net­work out­reach. With social becom­ing an inte­gral part of the mar­ket­ing mix, organ­i­sa­tions will and have started devel­op­ing and test­ing their brand cri­sis man­age­ment plan through social.

A great thing about many organ­i­sa­tions in India was to wit­ness the cross-channel think­ing from a social mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive. Many of the pro­grams, cam­paigns and appli­ca­tions being used to fos­ter engage­ment require par­tic­i­pants to share their mobile num­ber or their email address before being able to enter. This is some­thing that com­pa­nies in other mar­kets should think about more often. Being able to link social with email for exam­ple will help stop con­sumer fatigue in a sin­gle chan­nel and will pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity to cre­ate more engag­ing expe­ri­ences. Few were using ‘Like gat­ing’ which was good to see.

It was also great to see that only one organ­i­sa­tion of the many I met with was actu­ally using an out­side agency to under­take mod­er­a­tion and engage­ment. This was pretty much done in house by all. Agen­cies were cer­tainly used very com­monly for cam­paign and con­tent cre­ation, social lis­ten­ing (though many com­plained of a lack of insights deliv­ered) and there often were mul­ti­ple agen­cies used for brand, social and SEO functions.

There were lots of ques­tions on indus­try social bench­marks. For exam­ple, some­one asked what is the indus­try aver­age for con­ver­sion met­rics when social is utilised? It is evi­dent that there is a large gap in the social busi­ness arena on this type of data and even though there are lots of dif­fer­ent case stud­ies and exam­ples or pro­grammes, there are still no real indus­try bench­marks in the social arena that are accepted. There is an oppor­tu­nity here for organ­i­sa­tions to rise and set the standard.

So organ­i­sa­tions in India are work­ing very quickly to learn and improve their social strat­egy and there is always a real thirst for knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence in social business.

A final point – while I was there, the Indian gov­ern­ment announced its inten­tion to over­haul for­eign own­er­ship rules around retail­ing and if this inten­tion is car­ried through to reg­u­la­tion it is likely to light up the retail indus­try in India and cre­ate a halo effect for the on line busi­nesses and for social busi­ness.  Look out for that one – it could be a very inter­est­ing ride indeed. Even if this never even­tu­ates, it is going to be fas­ci­nat­ing to observe and be a part of the social busi­ness devel­op­ment in India in com­ing years.

I did want to say a big thank you to all the won­der­ful peo­ple I met in India on this trip who were so gen­er­ous with their time and insights. There are a lot of very pas­sion­ate brand peo­ple work­ing there and it was an absolute plea­sure meet­ing you.

Will Bosma

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