How some companies are using the social media space for having a dialogue with consumers.
At the AdAsia 2011 conclave held earlier this month, much of the conversation centered on the role of the digital, more importantly social media, in communicating with consumers and overall marketing strategies. But experts say as with all communication, this too can be two-way. That is, it is as potent a medium as any for not just talking to but rather listening to consumers.
Saurabh Yagnik, GM & VP, English Channels for Star India, agrees. He should know as Star World, the group’s flagship English general entertainment channel’s latest offering, Love 2 Hate U, is a result of listening closely to the audience and their conversations in cyber space. It is inspired from the hate club culture predominant in social media.
“Our viewers reside heavily in digital media and are active users of social media platforms. And using these, they love to express their opinions strongly. It was while going through these that the show was conceptualised,” says Yagnik.
The channel must have been quite enthused after this for having a dialogue with the audience and making it integral to any market research or marketing activities. And that is evident from the ‘viewer partner programme’ that they launched about two months ago on Facebook.
Individuals can sign up for the programme via the channel’s Facebook page. They would be a part of a captive focus group and be involved with helping the channel flesh out content through constant feedback. The group, whose membership will be restricted to about 2,000, may even be used for testing out episode pilots, according to Yagnik.
Star World is not alone in using this platform to connect with its audience. In fact, earlier this year Parle Agro won awards at the creative and media awards held in Goa for its innovative use of Twitter for engaging with customers. The company used the website to track inventory of its snack brand Hippo. Consumers were encouraged to tweet if there was adequate stock of the brand at their nearest store or wherever they walked in. If sufficient stocks weren’t there, based on the consumers’ tweets, the company would attempt to refill in the shortest possible time.
Another example would be Sony PIX, an English movie channel that runs a PIX movie club, where it screens latest Hollywood releases for its members (only college students) free. The channel uses its Facebook page to run polls regularly for the members to vote on the movies they would like to watch.
The flip-side to the story is that not all feedback or views are shared by the customers directly with the brands. “People share their views and experiences about various brands and service providers online with their connections (friends),” says Ranjit Nair, CEO, Germinait Solutions, a consumer analytics firm. Some of the platforms used to do so include blogging websites, micro blogging sites like Twitter, review websites like Tripadvisor or Mouth Shut, social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut.
“These views are mostly in public domain and often relied on by other consumers for making their purchase decisions. Thus, views expressed in virtual space can influence others’ choices or perceptions in real time,” adds Nair.
What’s more, this information is unsolicited and cannot be controlled. More importantly, it can even damage one’s brand image. Nair’s Germinait Solutions helps its clients to listen to online conversations about their brands using its in-house software, Explic8. This is how it’s done — parameters for the search and key words are defined along with sources (any particular websites) and a date range (within which the posts/comments have been uploaded). Then, using crawlers, all conversations mentioning the key words are picked up. Finally data gets analysed and the wheat separated from the chaff.
Some of the projects undertaken by Germinait include a study commissioned by a US-based five-star hotel chain. Parameters like service quality, decor, cleanliness and hotel locations were considered. Based on these, the study focused on understanding the customer’s experiences at the various properties and their pain as well as pleasure points as shared online. This helped the hotel chain identify internally properties that were performing as per customer expectations and those that were lagging behind and the areas in which they underperformed.
Similarly, another project involved a leading private sector Indian bank. The bank wished to analyse how the company was spoken about in online conversations, the tonality used and the sentiment expressed and how it changed while discussing competitors.
“Such research can give companies a holistic view on the voice of the customers and help sharpen the focus of their branding and marketing strategies based on the insights,” says Lulu Raghvan, country director, Landor India. However, there are numerous challenges. The sheer quantity of data can be a deterrent. Plus the quality can also be questionable on occasions.
Brands currently use such research sparingly and the space is not gaining much traction. Mainly because not all brands are ‘talkable’ and do not generate much conversation. Some sectors like hospitality, telecomm service providers may find the option more useful than others. Irrespective of the difficulties or shortcomings involved, all agree that for the one listening carefully enough, there may be precious lessons to learn or inputs to gain via this medium.