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Stephanie Agresta

Global Director - Social Media & Digital | 31 Jan 2014

Everything that I see suggests that brands operating in India are aware that a large part of their audience spends most of their time online today and are trying to engage with them. The only thing that may be holding back some brands is the amount of money they are willing to spend on social media engagement and activation as compared to digital advertising. But Indian marketeers are smart – they operate in a tough environment and are perhaps the fastest movers in the world.

Stephanie Agresta has been recognised as both a thought leader and hands-on counselor in social and digital media for the last 15 years. In the course of her career, Agresta has been instrumental in developing digital and social media initiatives for major brands such as Samsung, Unilever, PepsiCo, Microsoft, HP and P&G.

She joined the MSLGroup in December 2012. As MSLGroup’s Global Director of Social Media and Digital, Agresta is based in the US and works in partnership with leaders around the global network on social and digital vision, strategy and talent in support of the agency’s global social media offering, Social Hive.

In 2008, she launched ‘Bloggers Lounge’, a networking hub for digital media influencers at the SXSW conference. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Social Media Advertising Consortium (SMAC).

In conversation with exchange4media’s Abhinn Shreshtha, Agresta speaks about digital trends, social media best practices, and more…

Q. What do you think will be the key digital trends to emerge in 2014?

We’ve identified 10 key trends that are important globally. These are: Return of the corporate website as a content hub, the necessity of a corporate innovation lab, the growing importance of content distribution, video production for online distribution, the new age of data capture, analysis and reporting, programming for the second screen (which is now the first screen), the emerging consumer geek – understanding how your consumers access information, knowing when to say no to digital efforts that don’t matter to you or your brand, the growing popularity of mobile messengers in Asia, omni-channel retailing. Another trend that has emerged is that 3D printing is becoming a communication tool.

Q. What would your advice be to a highly customer-facing brand (telecom operators, for example) on social media hygiene; in terms of response time, empowerment to social media team to answer queries without escalating them every time, etc.?

Social can be a valued tool for your front line of customer service. The most important thing, however, is that you are clear with consumers about what they can expect. If you have coverage only four hours per day – tell them that. Publish how you use the channel and set clear expectations around every channel in which you engage. Whenever possible, it’s best to be consistent across channels.

Q. How do you think Indian brands are faring in social media as compared to their Western counterparts?

I think Indian brands are doing quite well – and in some cases better than they are doing in other geographies. Everything that I see suggests that brands operating in India are aware that a large part of their audience spends most of their time online today and are trying to engage with them. The only thing that may be holding back some brands is the amount of money they are willing to spend on social media engagement and activation as compared to digital advertising. But Indian marketeers are smart – they operate in a tough environment and are perhaps the fastest movers in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see a significant shift in the way campaigns are designed and money gets spent in the near future, with social at the heart of everything they do.

Q. Which digital/ social duties should brands outsource and which need to be done internally?

In our opinion, brands should outsource all their digital and social duties. Brands that choose to engage an agency to handle their content creation, social management and social execution benefit strongly from the shared knowledge acquired at the agency. Agency partners learn from other clients, industry best practices and in general have greater exposure and relationship with vendors, influencers and platforms.

Q. People usually comment that most digital marketing heads are on the other side of 40 and so might not be in touch with the current digital savvy crowd. What are your thoughts on this?

According to data studies done in 2013, the No. 1 growing segment in social media usage is the 40-60 age range for both men and women. As social media continues to become an embedded part of our lives, it is no longer a ‘young person’s’ game and we see a much more even disbursement of all demographics across the digital landscape. That said, older digital marketers need to find ways to stay in touch with the younger geeks in their midst to learn from them.

Q. Google is aggressively pushing Google+ to marketers. Facebook has revamped its advertising features and launched its ad exchange. Twitter is getting aggressive on the advertising side too as are most other social media platforms. Are we looking at a complete makeover for social platforms? Where does that leave the end user?

The platforms have certainly changed. Visibility is no longer free on Facebook. Google Plus is now directly connected to SEO strength and Twitter is throttling the public reach. These changes and others do not make the platforms obsolete for marketers; the changes only make them more difficult to leverage effectively. It’s not that we need to stop using them, but rather we should learn to use them differently. It is important to note that while many platforms are now essentially a paid form of media (Facebook), their accuracy and reach makes them still the best place to spend a dollar. Add in their ability to layer sales knowledge to cross reference against community members, and these platforms can be a magical place to answer client objectives.

Q. Where do you see traditional advertising platforms such as TV, radio, print, etc., in this increasingly digital world?

These traditional channels are not going away. Instead, they are evolving into new forms, many of which put digital at the core – that is, online radio and online on-demand TV viewing services such as Netflicks.

Q. Could you give us some social/ digital trends that were forecast, but never actually occurred?

I really can’t think of any. Most of the forecasting in this category has been on-spot.

Q. Your advice to brands on managing social media bloopers.

Transparency is a key code of conduct when engaging online. If you follow this approach and are as open and transparent as possible, you are free to be human, admit an error and – in most cases – move on.

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