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On Social Media & Brands: Marketing Or PR?

NIIT spends around 40 percent of its advertising budget on digital, but very little on social media. At the Tenth Digital Marketing Round Table, held last Friday in Delhi by the IAMAI, Mohit Hira, President (Training.com) for NIIT said that Social Media (Marketing) is like a cards game that you’re playing blind, and marketers tend to forget that they’re gambling with Social Media. “You never know what you’re going to get, and you can’t force yourself into a relationship with a consumer: there’s just no depth. I wouldn’t call it marketing because it hasn’t reached the level of a science.”

Later on, during the discussion, he also questioned that a majority of those paying for courses on training.com are not Indian, and at the same time, 90 percent of the fans on its Facebook fan page are Indian; they aren’t paying.

Marketing Mandate?

Hira’s issues with Social Media Marketing are right, but only if you look at it from an advertising and promotion perspective. Frankly, I don’t think it should be a Marketing mandate at all: in an open environment that is prone to volatility and herd mentality, those best equipped to track, evaluate and manage situations on social networks are in Public Relations (PR).

Of course, given the recency of the need to manage these situations (though social networks by themselves are but an evolved form of forums), the industry is awash with “Experts” who know how to wield the tools and promote brands/products, create buzz, but would not know what to do if things go pear shaped. I think brands should keep that in mind before experimenting with Social Media and opening themselves to, well, “feedback”. Online, the loudest voices are the angry ones; maybe Abuse Per Milli should be a metric.

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Campaign vs Long Term Asset Management

But disaster management isn’t the only piece of the puzzle: activities should involve nurturing relationships between brands and consumers. Only, the approach needs to be around building long term relationships, as opposed to coming in with a campaign mentality. Creating buzz around a product should be keeping in mind that something needs to keep the fan page or twitter stream alive when the campaign ends. As Gaurav Gupta, Director Marketing at General Motors said during the discussion, agencies often approach them wearing blinkers, while a long term approach is needed. Thus, as I’d pointed out to the panel during the Q&A, this would involve a larger investment from brands, particularly in a dedicated team. Gupta concurred, saying that while GM might have one person monitoring activities on TV, they’d need many more monitoring smaller activities on Social Media. Anjali Hedge (VP & Founding Partner) at Interactive Avenues also mentioned that Jet Airways has a team that looks into such issues. At the same time, she said, there are clients who have expectations of leads and sales from Social Media. Post the discussion, others also mentioned the same issue to me. I guess that’s because companies are sold on Social Media Marketing, as opposed to Social Media PR.

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