While every young thing out there is on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, few job seekers are aware that the social media industry is an emerging career option in India today. We speak to seasoned social media strategists, corporate houses, newcomers and in-betweeners who have got their “Poking” skills polished enough to make big bucks.
– Nilofar Shamim Ansher
Delhi lad Clinton Jeff starts his day with Gmail, followed by postings to Twitter and Facebook, a couple of breaks for lunch and coffee, with a hard day’s work ending on Flickr, YouTube and his personal blog. Keeping up with a few close friends, several hundred followers and several more readers can be quite exhausting, but doing it as part of his company’s business strategy is a totally different scenario. But hey, he’s not complaining, after all, working extensively on these social media websites is earning him his monthly paycheck!
Clinton Jeff, Head of Consumer Strategy, Bloggers’ Mind, Delhi, says, “On one hand, I use social media to keep in touch with my various friends who are scattered around the globe. On the other hand, I also use it to help my own blog grow and get my content in front of more eyeballs.”
So, what do we mean by the term social media? The term is still too new to attempt any sort of formalized definition, however, the consensus is that social media generally refers to any online portal, community, technology or software application that is deployed or created to disseminate, manage, organize, share and reuse content – both textual and graphic – falls under the purview of social media. In that sense, Wikipedia is definitely a social media platform as you have thousands of users collaborating, sharing and aggregating information via the medium of the World Wide Web. You also have friend connecting sites like Facebook or Orkut, where users create groups, share information and events online and produce and reuse content for multiple users.
Businesses are leveraging social media to build brand awareness, share in on real time customer feedback, launch products and services, advertise beyond the traditional channels of television, print and radio, do damage control over any negative feedback or publicity, and engage audiences in even more interactive, and in extension, immersive product lines through cutting-edge animated advertisements online. “Social media is relevant to any company whose audiences participate in or are influenced by online discussions,” says Jeremy Woolf, the Global Social Media Practice Lead for Text 100, a PR consultancy based in New York, with offices across the globe, including India.
What this translates to is companies hiring social media agencies to understand how social media can be intelligently utilized to drive various objectives and supplement the offline money-intensive activities such as TV ads and print spots. Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Social Wavelength, a Mumbai-based social media agency, explains, “We use social media for multiple functional objectives such as product launch, idea generation, online reputation management, driving sales to online store, and to create a community around a brand.” Adds Abhinav Sahai, the 25-year-old co-founder of Bangalore-based social media agency Zapylacz, “Sooner or later all companies will have to establish their social media presence. It may either be for selling products, generating leads or for monitoring the progress and reputation of their brands.”
Variously, social media is adopted differently by different brands. So, if you have Channel V using Twitter, Orkut, Facebook and YouTube for its 2009 relaunch, there’s car manufacturer Mitsubishi launching its new model Cedia through the awarding winning campaign ‘The Great Driving Challenge’, a dedicated portal for travel enthusiasts. Explains Sandip Maiti, CEO of Experience Commerce, the Mumbai-based digital agency behind the Cedia campaign, “It is important to understand the context in which the brand wishes to engage with its core audience. Some brands like to entertain, some like to seed conversation spaces while many prefer to take the utlitarian track. Social media is best used to build awareness and create buzz around new product launches.”
Another advantage of adopting social media as a marketing tool is that it cuts across market sectors and pre-determined target groups. Amita Malhotra, the 28-year-old Knowledge Manager at Blogworks, a New Delhi-based social media agency, gives us an idea about the umbrella of businesses that social media encompasses today. “Up until two years ago, social media was the mainstay only among technology companies. As social media adoption is on a rise, companies are increasingly realizing its potential and using it for recruitment, marketing and promotions, customer service, internal communication, crisis communication among others. There has been a big shift since then with social media being adopted across verticals such as travel and tourism, hospitality, retail, FMCG, consumer durables, media and NGOs,” explains Amita.
It therefore comes as no surprise that India Inc – our multimillion dollar corporate houses such as Wipro, Hindustan Unilever, Infosys and Maruti – too is catching up to its western counterparts in terms of investing in the new channel. Star Network, the group of channels comprising Star Plus, Star One, Channel V and so on, has hired Social Wavelength to build it social media presence. All these channels now have a huge fan following online via Facebook and Twitter. The Star Network is an example of “a very visible brand, with a fairly large marketing budget, who also want to ensure corresponding visibility now, on social media” according to Mehta, whose agency, Social Wavelength counts Star Group, Lavasa Corporation, Just Dial, India Infoline, Havells, Su-kam, and IndusInd Bank among its clients.
Bloggers’ Mind created the hugely popular “Search for N” campaign for the Nokia N97 cellular phone and the “Tag Your Music” Facebook activity for Nokia India’s Music Page. Says Clinton, the 24-year-old Head of Consumer Strategy at Bloggers’ Mind, Delhi, “What we use varies from Facebook applications, stand-alone widgets, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook page activities. Bloggers’ Mind is a ‘Word of Mouth’ and ‘Conversation Analytics’ company – basically, it helps companies such as mobile giant Nokia, to read, understand and analyze conversations taking place online on their products.
What we don’t see yet is official statistics or major research studies by market research firms confirming and aggregating the impact of social media on increased sales or business margins. However, experts says that social media is not an organic ‘tool’ that can be measured for its viability. “It is a myth, we believe, to constantly look at Social Media from an ROI point of view. Social Media needs to be integrated into the business processes of an organization, and to that extent, needs to be evaluated in a very different sense, and not just as one more marketing / sales tool,” says Mehta. Adds Woolf, “Although we do not have any specific data on this, there are examples like Flipkart.com (an online book store) and cleartrip.com (an online travel organizer) having leveraged social media to generate new business.”
In the American and European markets, social media strategies have reached a maturity gradient with consumers quite comfortable reading about products, getting reviews and making purchases online. Songita Verma, Founder and CEO of Delhi-based social media agency, Bloggers’ Mind, cites a 2008 Cone Business Study on Social Media, “…93% of Americans believe that a company should have a presence on social media sites and 85% believe that these companies should use these services to interact with consumers and 56% of consumers believe that a company is providing them with a better service by interacting with them on social media sites.” That’s a big chunk of consumers weaned away from the staple diet of advertisements and promotions on TV and newspapers.
FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING: “…93% of Americans believe that a company should have a presence on social media sites..” – 2008 Cone Business Study on social media.
Then you also have unconventional entities such as Bollywood stars, cricketers, chefs, new age spritiual gurus, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs making a splash on social media to connect to fans, release titbits of information on their work, upload photos and respond to audience curiosity instantly. Maiti’s agency handled the promotional campaign for liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s Champions League Twenty 20 cricket team, Royal Challengers’ Fan Club, online. Details Maiti, “We launched the club with the Fanatic Fans Challenge (FFC) – fans could apply for a position as Official Blogger, Photographer and Fan and travel with the team throughout CLT20 2009. The campaign made a huge impact, helping the fan club acquire 18,500 new members, and paving the way to our current club which is strong at over 90,000.”
It’s not just the Fortune 1,000 companies who are benefitting from the accessible nature of social media. Organizations such as NGOs, schools and colleges, public institutions, museums and art galleries, trade associations and informal society groups, are all on social media today. So, we have a mid-sized book publisher such as Tulika Books, now using the online social medium to cater to a new section of their audience – the Facebook generation. Explains Malarvizhi Jayant, 29, the Online Editor of Web & Social Media for Chennai-based Tulika Publishers, “We use social media to announce new books, continue discussions about older publications, talk about issues of literacy and reading, share news, collect reviews of Tulika’s books. The goal is to tell more people about Tulika and the kind of books we publish and to have a communication channel open for fans.”
Social media is seen as a low-investment, high ROI (return of interest) tool for fringe organizations such as NGOs and public institutions who can’t afford the advertising rates of a tabloid or television to garner support for their causes. Bangalore-based Pratham Books, a not-for-profit trust is a children’s book publisher and has championed its cause using social media tools – Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Scribd, YouTube, and Flickr – quite effectively. Says Gautam John, the 31-year-old incharge of New Projects at the organization, “Our long term vision is to build a platform to engage our community to co-create and do so much more to contribute to the cause of a book in every child’s hand using a legal framework that allows for a participatory culture.”
“If a manager were to talk about the possibility of this happening 5 years ago — the Internet boosting pizza sales — he or she would have been laughed out of a room.” – LINDSAY PEREIRA, MID DAY, MUMBAI
Even news producing agencies such as newspapers, radio, television and now digital TV, and online broadcasting media are tuning in to social media to ramp up circulation, disseminate news, involve readers through promotional activities such as games, contests and interactive quizzes, and constantly provide breaking news. Lindsay Pereira, Editor for Mumbai-based Mid Day Multimedia Ltd’s Mid Day newspaper, says, “Twitter is currently perfect for what we do as a media company — offer readers the hottest tabloid stories as they break across the country — and is, as such, our core media platform. We also use Facebook and Orkut to engage with readers better, and allocate resources to social media marketing using social news websites like Digg and Stumbleupon.”
It’s now a rarity for the once ubiquitous PR guy to handle the entire gamut of product and service promotions for a client as we have social media agencies to do just that – in the online world. And if the increasing population of Facebook is anything to go by – 500 million on last count – social media professionals have their work cut out for them catering to ever increasing fan base for a myriad of products and services. Where do these ‘addicts’ work? The new age social media and digital agencies are springing up across the country, with Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore seeing high profile firms working with India Inc’s who’s-who.
“Any youngster wanting a foothold in this industry, should possess a deep understanding of marketing communications and all related faculties. One could take up a brief internship in the space so they get hands on experience or do some quality projects.”With social media agencies making their presence felt on the market map, it certainly spells good news for job hunters with a passion for a host of key domains – online technologies, consumer behaviour, communications, marketing and brand promotion, advertising, content management and writing, software engineering, and more. A quick search for the keywords ‘Social Media’ on Naukri.com throws up 2,800 plus job postings on last count and the list is growing. There are unique job designations being created all the time. Sample these: Social Media Strategist, Global and Regional Social Media Practice Lead, Online Marketing Executive, SEO and SEM Architect, Interactive Marketing Specialist, Communities Manager, and even the curiously eyebrow raising, Social Media Addict! “
Entry level jobs in social media would require graduates to be polished with their Pokes and Likes – Facebook applications – and that’s the least you can start from in an industry where the learning curve is sky-high. It’s not just about updating your Twitter or Orkut account every now and then. “Career options start right from the base level i.e. executive team, content writing team, monitoring team, team leaders, managers, creative cells, designing cells, quality team to building client relations,” explains Abhishek Kisla, 29-year-old Operations Manager at Social Wavelength. Advices Maiti, “A certain amount of geekiness and an affinity for technology and a curiosity for all things digital can take an aspiring social media marketer a long way.” A job within the social media world requires one to be a jack of all trades. One would need to be a communications & marketing expert, or have a background in advertising, consumer behaviour and psychology, or even something as traditional as public relations, market research and software engineering and of course, be deeply interested in the Internet and all its latest social media applications and websites.
Few professionals have a different take on the necessary skills and background one needs to be equipped with for a career in social media. Take the case of Malarvizhi Jayant, who has a Masters in Cultural Studies (English) and a Diploma in Print Journalism. “Training in marketing might not be an asset in this area – social media requires a radical rethinking of ‘marketing’ notions. I think I have gained a better understanding of this medium because I didn’t know the first thing about marketing when I started out.” A point of view also shared by Woolf. “People from diverse backgrounds can certainly play a role. However, it is critical that they understand communications basics (messages, audience, influence, and measurement) as well as how social channels work,” he says. Adds Gautam John, “Social media isn’t so much about the tools and the platforms as it is about the social part. All of the tools and platforms are only methods for us to be social and being social is something that comes naturally to us all.”
HR Perspective: According to a report by ComScore, 50.8% of the APAC population uses social networking sites. Sites such as Facebook and Linkedin have more than 500 million and 70 million members respectively, thus opening a plethora of options to “head hunt” for suitable candidates. – Kamal Karanth, MD, Kelly Services, a recruitment agency
IS IT HERE TO STAY?
As with any new phenomenon, we wonder whether the social media wave will be able to sustain all the hype it is riding on. There are obvious gaps of information in the career mart, be it lack of awareness about the social media industry within HR departments, corporate houses or placement agencies; low or zero visibility of job postings on leading newspapers; lack of any institutionalized or established educational curricula on social media technologies; and a bit of an outdated and unwarranted attitude to what is being perceived as a “timepass” platform for youngsters to make friends and play games. In the dot com domain where fear of the dot com bust of 1999-2000 still looms large, a long term career purely dependent on ‘youth’ centric websites seems a bit of a gamble.
However, social media practitioners are optimistic, and assert that social media is here to stay. Lindsay chirps in, “Social media isn’t just here to stay; strategy in this space will soon become an integral part of any good business plan.” He cites an example of a pizza chain in the UK which recently attributed a 29% surge in pre-tax profits to online promotions. Adds Lindsay, “Its (pizza chain’s) e-Commerce unit grew 61% in 26 weeks, and online sales now account for over 30% of overall delivered sales in the UK. If a manager were to talk about the possibility of this happening 5 years ago — the Internet boosting pizza sales — he or she would have been laughed out of a room.” Maya Hemant, a 24-year-old Content Manager at Pratham Books, also has similar experiences to share. “I’ve seen how social media has grown rapidly in India. It has also been interesting to see how non-profits are using social media to reach audiences they never could have earlier and this reach doesn’t involve huge expenses,” says Maya.
Recent graduates at entry level positions or mid level professionals who have evolved as social media strategists also express no qualms while planning for a long term stay within the social media setup. Says Nidhi Makhija of Experience Commerce, “The industry is so new and many opportunities lie undiscovered. There’s vast scope to grow either into a digital planner or as a business development executive. These are just stepping stones into higher positions – Account Directors and VPs of Business Development.” Rishi Seth of Text 100, too, shares this opinion. “As social media is both highly-dynamic and fast-evolving, it is entirely possible that social media will emerge as a satisfying and rewarding career niche under the umbrella of marketing and communications in the long run,” he adds. Text 100’s Woolf sums it up succinctly when talking about the staying power of social media, “Social media exists because it meets a human need to create, collaborate and share.”
It definitely takes a while to get used to the idea of being a ‘Social Media Star’ (as seen on one Gurgaon-based company’s job post on Naukri.com). With commercial acceptance itself having taken a good bit of time among businesses, it remains to be seen whether social media jobs will find approval and acceptance among parents and youngsters for whom life beyond engineering, medicine and computer science is career anathema. Songita Verma has the last word on this, “Man is a social animal and cannot survive without conversing or expressing his opinion. This is how things worked before the development of Internet. The Internet has broadened our horizons and has shrunk the globe. Now, no distance is too far and no talk is unsaid. Thus, it is not here to stay, it was, is and will always be there.”
By Nilofar Shamim Ansher. For a more in depth report on careers in social media, colleges/institutes in India offering courses on this subject and interviews with experts, get in touch with me here: https://trailofpapercuts.wordpress.com/contact/
This is the original version of the article which first appeared in Careers360, a New Delhi-based careers magazine distributed by Outlook India Group. Read the magazine version here: http://www.careers360.com/news/4704-Social-Media-Marketing-How-to-use-social-media-websites-for-business