A detailed survey of 267 people, comprising of working professionals, executives and business leaders, conducted by exchange4media.com and Blogworks in December 2008 & January 2009, affirms certain perceptions related to Social Media.

Social Media is being seen by a majority (53%) of the respondents to the survey as a long term strategy, and though most of them are currently spending less than 5% of their budgets on this domain, budget allocation is expected to increase, but steadily, over the next two years. Note that as many as 15% of the respondents are spending over 20 percent of their budget on the segment.

Social Media is the term used to represent media formats that allow interactivity and sharing, including blogs and social networking, video and bookmaring sites, among others.

Download the report here.

Social Media Metrics

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For us, the key finding involves the metrics that marketers are using to evaluate the impact of social media: this is a topic often debated in informal conversation. A majority of the respondents believe that the success or failure of a campaign can be judged on the basis of brand awareness; the volume of user generated content, the number of touch points with the customer, website traffic and search engine ranking, and the positive tone of links, feedback, reviews, forwards etc are also being seen as metrics.

Frankly, we’re not sure sure of how some of these metrics can be quantified for the purpose of comparison: when it comes to social media, each campaign would involve a different mix. 89.4% of the respondents believe “Buzz and Word of Mouth” to be top deliverables, followed by Insights and Engagement.

Impact On Sales

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It’s important to note that sales – usually a key metric for a marketing campaign – was not viewed as among the top five metrics- and only 35.2% of the respondents Social Media will deliver sales. I have a slightly different take on this – I view Social Media activity – whether it is responding to people on Twitter or as a means to manage potentially dangerous situations, which may put off customers.

As an example – there were several comments on Twitter related to the Reliance Data Card, which were far from complimentary. Many of them appear to have been removed now. Also see how this situation was managed. Users do search the Internet for feedback and reviews, and managing that is key. We’ve heard of instances of certain handset brands looking to pay bloggers to write positive reviews – frankly, that is dangerous, and should be avoided.

The survey concurs with the importance of Social Media for sales – around 85% of the respondents believe it Social Media impacts sales, and the impact of on high involvement categories like Automobiles, Gadgets, Mobiles, Healthcare, Travel, Finance amongst others is greater.

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Interestingly, most respondents believe that Social Media is a means to address primarily  customers and the media, as well as the influencers and employees.

Do Agencies Understand Social Media?

A significant number of the respondents (47%) believe that agencies in India have only a cursory understanding of Social Media: frankly, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that many of them are trying to understand the space. Even then, marketeres appear to be outsourcing “social media engagement” mostly to Digital Advertising Agencies and PR Agencies.

I found it surprising that as many as 22 percent of the respondents say that engagements are being outsourced to Social Media Agencies: apparently, a lot of techies moonlight as social media agencies; the separation of tools from strategy hasn’t yet taken place in this domain, in the same way that there’s a separation between create and media planning in advertising.

This is compounded by the situation that most marketers – 63% of the respondents believe this – have only a curory understanding of Social Media; 18% believe marketers have no understanding at all. Hence, the outsourcing?

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Note: readers should keep in mind that these results are based on an online survey of 267 respondents, so may be skewed in favor of the digital medium. A majority of those who responded – 54% – have engaged in a Social Media activity in the past: you may see that as a trend, or a skew.

Disclosure and Disclaimer: I had participated in this survey. MediaNama is also Social Media site, so there may be a perceived bias, though we’ve tried to take an objective view of the report.