Companies, banks, TV channels and even marketers and advertising agencies are seeing value in having a presence on micro-blogging and social networking sites
Of what use can 140 characters be to ICICI Bank, India’s largest private bank? If those characters make a “tweet”, and belong to a micro-blogging site called Twitter, the results will surprise you.
Here’s a typical tweet to ICICI Bank: The author: anubhav_ism: “6 days and counting... money2india has no time to even do step 1 (debit from source). Alright I’ve got other options too @ICICIBank_Care” (9:32 AM Feb 17). And here’s ICICI Bank’s reply: “# @anubhav_ism Sorry abt the trble. Do email us @ care @icicibank. com (Sub: UID 240251) wid details & yr contact info so that we cn luk into it”. (5:30 AM Feb 18 — from web in reply to anubhav_ism).
ICICI Bank monitors around 1,500 to 2,000 such tweets or conversations a day on its twitter address @icicibank_care. “We recognise that many of our customers and their influencers spend an increasing amount of time on digital and other user-generated media. Our first objective is to align our communication channels with those used by our customers and their influencers — be it Twitter, blogs or other online forums. We want to be present where our customers are,” reasons an ICICI Bank spokesperson.
ICICI Bank, with over 500 twitter followers, is simply a case in point. Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained extensive popularity. India, in fact, has an estimated 1.5-2 million users on Twitter (Facebook would have around 8 million users, while Orkut has around 16 million users) and it is the third-largest “tweeting” country after Germany and the US. Twitter does not release the number of active users but it is estimated that there are over 75 million Twitter users worldwide. In comparison, Facebook has over 400 million users but it has been around for over six years now.
In just under three years, the “tweet” or humble SMS of the Internet, as it is known, has crossed the five-billion mark globally. It’s a free social networking and micro-blogging service that asks a simple question: “What are you doing?” The answers (or tweets) are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users (via mobiles too) who have subscribed to them (known as followers).
Tweets can be used as a tool to provide customer service, generate sales (taking leads by tracking tweets that are scouting for a product) or directly sell a brand. As a brand manager, if you run a search for your brand, you may find people posting messages about how happy they are with your products. Others may post minor complaints about desired features that they would never bother to contact you about — invaluable customer feedback. One can respond to these right away or use them for future planning. Still others may twitter about serious problems with their products — letting you offer customer service that can turn around a bad situation.
India’s largest IT services provider, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), has around 3,000 followers while Channel V (India) has over 3,500 followers. And they are willing to spend money on new media initiatives — anywhere between Rs 100,000 and Rs 200,000 per month on an average on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and some blogs.
Banks like ICICI Bank and other corporations are helped by new media agencies like Pinstorm and Social Wavelength. For instance, when Rajeev Laxman (associated with Colosceum Media) was ready with his show The Player, which is being aired on Channel V, Social Wavelength identified all the contestants from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. “We were very successful in doing so,” says Hareesh Tibrewala, joint CEO of the social media agency.
“Even simple things like not having enough cash in an ATM get reported in tweets. It is extremely important to react at the earliest to such problems and the tweets give the bank ample opportunity to take quick action, remedy the situation, and preserve its brand image in the bargain,” explains Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of Pinstorm. His team helps corporations respond to multiple tweets daily to either thank a twitter for a complimentary remark or to “correct a perception”, as Murthy puts it. The other tweets are ignored but nevertheless stored for future reference by the bank.
Over 80 per cent of Indian youth use chat applications, acknowledges Srinivasan K Swamy, chairman and managing director of RK Swamy BBDO, while 40 per cent are on Orkut, Facebook and Twitter. There are around 50 to 60 million internet subscribers in India for 200 million people living in urban areas. Morevoer, there are over 500 million mobile phones in India, and Twitter can be accessed on mobiles too.
“Indian youth spend about 60 per cent of their time on the Internet or using their mobile phones. An average Indian youth spends 25,800 minutes a month, over 14 hours a day in the digital world,” adds Swamy, asserting: “This is an indicator where marketing should head.”
Unilever used social media sites successfully to push up sales of its toothpaste brand Close-up in Vietnam, according to Rahul Welde, vice-president, media services, Unilever Asia, Africa, West Asia and Turkey. He adds that 81 per cent companies are planning to increase their spends on social media marketing in the near term.
Twitter’s success, according to Moksh Juneja, social media analyst from Avignyata, lies in the fact that “it can be accessed via the internet (GPRS connectivity), on mobiles and through applications (like tweetdeck) on the iPhone and Blackberry”. And the tweets will only increase in India with the country’s largest mobile operator, Bharti Airtel, partnering with Twitter and allowing the 100 million-odd Airtel subscribers to tweet without having to pay for an international SMS.
Critics, however, have called tweets “pointless babble”, but Murthy counters: “It’s as useful or useless as a conversation can get. In fact, it’s the pulse of the people which you can choose to acknowledge or ignore.”
Critics also argue that the online population is not large enough, and say many twitters are inactive. “We are not sure why there is a perception that audiences online are not large in India. Today, over 400 million people send and receive SMS. Over 60 million people interact online. A large proportion of ICICI Bank’s customers transact online; that number alone is in millions,” counters the ICICI Bank spokesperson.
Tweet for cash
In India, the concept is still in its infancy when it comes to making money off Twitter. For instance, Tibrewala handles the account for ‘Just Dial’ (an information service) which now provides information not only on phones but also on Twitter and “makes money” in the bargain. Such examples, however, are far and few.
Globally, though, the world’s third-largest PC maker is a sterling case in point. Lionel Menchaca, Chief Blogger, Dell, explains (in one of his blogs posted in December 2009) that @DellOutlet has slightly over 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and in June 2009, earned $3 million in revenue from Twitter alone. Today, it’s not just Dell Outlet that has been successful in connecting with customers on Twitter. In total, Dell’s global reach on Twitter has resulted in more than $6.5 million in revenue, says Menchaca.