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.
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.
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.