Online Reputation : Don’t Miss the “Social” in Social Media

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Online Reputation : Don’t Miss the “Social” in Social Media

Social media is fundamentally different in its approach than traditional offline media and hence needs very different messaging techniques. 

--BY SUBHRAJIT DUTTA

Scene 1: Five people in a room.  A popular local television soapgetting aired. Some are engrossed. Some feel impatient to change the channel as soon as the programme ends, still stealing a few glances atwhat’s happening on the screen. Some are not bothered.

Scene 2: Setting same as scene 1. Five people in a room along with their mobile phones. Television showing the same soap. Barring one, the rest are engaged in their phones,only watching what they like. Movies, news, serials, fashion, science fiction, scandals, gossip or playing games on the mobile screens.

The key difference between these two scenarios is the “me-ness”. Oxforddictionaries.com defines me-ness as, “the fact or consciousness of one's identity as a unique individual.” Every human being is different, but the celebratory tone of individuality is more widely visible in social media. Beyond language, race, nationality and other demographic criteria, individualism is the newest kid on the block causing headache seven for ace marketers. 

Integrated Marketing Communication or IMC focuses on developing and disseminating a single message across all communication modes, e.g., newspaper, television, radio, social media etc.  The marketing question is, how will a single message reach a hugely fragmented audience,busy in seeing their “individual selves” every where? If one wishes to watch a song, or a movie on social media, he turns into an active consumer, pulling content from the internet rather than the traditional media where manufacturers of content are pushing it. By this unprecedented technology-aided audience action, “passivity” of reception has given way to “activity” on social media. 

A marketer’s target audience on social media can be extremely diverse, beyond traditional demographic parameters, arriving from various sources, e.g., some arriving from Google search and stumbling upon a Facebook promotion, or your die-hardfollowers who have signed-up to receive your updates regularly. The level of audience loyalty can also vary significantly. How will you satisfy these myriad demands?

Social media by its very construct resembles a virtual society similar to our visit to a neighbour’s home if we need to get their buy-in on any issue instead of shouting from the rooftop. In social media, marketers should not shout out their offers, the specifications or benefits to the audience. Any misplaced piece of communication can result in “un-subscribing,” which denotes that the existing or potential customers are lost forever.

The art of storytelling can be another factor. With marginal or no gatekeepersi.e.,in absence of editors in the offline media like news papers along with the flood of fake news, social media is abuzz with many false incidences that can cause more adrenaline rush than the actual news.With the onslaught of “me-ness” and manufactured “more than the original” news, where does the marketing messaging stand?   

Let’s look at some key recommendations to start with including a few low hanging fruits  that are easy to achieve and some high up in the value chain. 

Make the pyramid upside down: Avoid the temptation of placing the same piece of communication on social media that you have advertised on the traditional media. Declaring a Rs. 5 reduction on 500 grams of washing powder on Facebook may not yield the desired result. Always think about the conversation that follows your communication on social media. Taking the same example of the just promoted marginal reduction in price, the customers may not show enthusiasm, or express their delight or disappointment. Social media thrives on interaction. Design your messages for social media considering the conversation it mightignite. Chuck the message, if it fails the test. 

Create a movement: Think you are a cycle manufacturer and the brand of your cycle is“Green Crusader”. While you post extensively on social media on the benefits of cycling, most people in your office drive to work in fossil fuel guzzling vehicles. Does it tell a unified story? Is this communication believable? The objective of a story on social media is to create a sense of societal coexistence and fulfilling a common need. How wonderful it would be if we were able to depict an organisation that believes in itsideologies and products and connects these two in perfect synergy. Does this mean that your people need to come on cycles all the time? Nope, it simply means that every business decision and communication piece that you design, starting from your office building interiors to the paints, all will focus on being a crusader for the environment. Your car may burn petrol, but instead of being the lone passenger in your car, can four of you pool one?  Social media is not about only pushing a message, but living up to it, just like you switch off the loudspeaker at your house party in the late hours so that others are not disturbed. 

Social media is highly contextual: The ecosystem of social media follows a number of social rules and patterns.Posts receive immediate approval or disapproval from the audience. Two friends can differ instantly on social media than on offline media due to its virtual nature. A troll can get impetus from thousands of othersif they find the “me-ness” in it and will join in droves or can be asked to keep shut by the netizens - all in real time. 

Make your customers your co-conspirators:Don’t wait till your product is ready. Talk at every phase. Ask yourself at which stage of the product development you are in. Branding? Packaging? Or you just got an amazing idea? Social media gives you an opportunity to experiment with your audience. Talk to them at every stage. Discuss without disclosing all- just like cars with camouflage do test runs before launch. Continue creating excitement all the time. Make your customers your partners. Change the paradigm. They are not your buyers, it's their product,you are only developing it as per their collectivespecifications. Let them have some fun. 

One message, but layered story:Recently, an Indian electronics professordanced at a wedding. It became massively viral, with Bollywood stars tweeting and even the chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) commenting on his dance. If we decipher this phenomenon from a branding perspective,it uncovers varied psychological elements. Everyone has a desire to dance, but many think that good looks and fitness are essentialsfor dancing. Again, many pursue hobbies in their childhood, but very few can continue that later in their lives.This professor now crowned as the “dancing uncle” by social media, is a middle aged man. Millions of unfulfilled aspirationsattained satisfaction with his simple dance steps, and thus it became a widespread social phenomenon. The professor’s desire to dance and steadfast determination broke many social stereotypes. People make brands and stories viral on social media. Social media by its structure is neural having many nodes within the system. The more nodes a brand can touch in its story, the more it can help us experienceemotions, sometimes even contradictory to our prevailing belief. 

To conclude, howdo the marketing messages integrate? More than our written claim, the integration happens at the core level of belief. Positioninga brand is still very important, and due to our enhanced “me-ness” on social media, marketers need to highlight the associated meaning of the communications they have designed.

The author is currently at King's College, Kathmandu as Head, PR-Corporate Communications & Digital Marketing. He has worked with leadership and cross-functional teams with companies like Ogilvy, Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd, DuPont, Mahindra & Mahindra and Accenture.

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