Are the low rates paid for digital advertising to be blamed on the content providers and not the advertisers? Abdul Khan, Senior Vice President, Tata Teleservices, felt that way, and said, “The whole scenario has played backwards in digital. Providers set the ad rates too low to begin with and that is why the industry has not been taken seriously. Measurement of all the transactions and other metrics has been misleading, and instead of walking in with metrics, the digital industry should have walked in as the newest medium for reaching an audience, set premium rates and gotten the ball rolling. Because when the budget for digital is only a fraction of the marketing budget, heads of organisations aren't concerned about it, don't take the time to learn about it, and don't use it well.”
The medium is still developing and evolving quickly, but the problem is that even as advertisers become more familiar with social networks themselves, they do not know how to use them as marketers, and only see them as consumers.
“You need to co-create content, and you need to go beyond the kind of communication seen on company websites. Nobody wants to see you churn out your product brochures on social media,” Khan added.
The potential that exists though is clear. Kirthiga Reddy, Director of Online Operations for Facebook India cited an example of a colleague of hers whose buying decision was decided by social media. She said, “My colleague was trying to decide between a Xylo and an Innova. He'd settled on the Xylo after doing a lot of reading online, but before he bought the car, his wife just put up a question as her status on Facebook, asking her friends for their opinion. Twelve comments later, the decision was final – they were buying an Innova.”
As has been observed many times, the opinion of one’s friends is often more convincing than any facts one might be able to find. Reddy said, “We did a study with Nielsen and we saw that ads with a social component had a greater recall by 68 per cent, and a RoI of 300 per cent, compared to ads with no social component.”
According to Khan though, focus on RoI and other metrics was not the key to growth for the medium. He said, “This is a completely different medium and needs to be treated as such. It's a great platform for engaging with your audience, but most people still don't realise how to leverage this. You need to interact with the customers, create an enjoyable atmosphere for them and have a point of view, a message. Just having a presence online alone is not enough, you need to plan through things thoroughly, and be interesting.”
He added, “What's needed now is hard nosed behaviour. Instead of being priced at the bottom of the spectrum, you need to be priced at a premium. Time and money are the two things required to grow social media as a real business.”
Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands, however, had a radically different vision. He said, “We must look beyond metrics and RoI, we need to focus on engaging people and building communities instead of building commerce. Commerce will follow once we create a viable ecosystem. We need to look to the long term, and create a lot of interest for now, and convert the social capital we build today once we bring the medium to the mainstream.”
Speaking at the Summit, Sanjay Sahay, Global Head for Digital Marketing, Infosys, said, “Technology is no longer the issue. But we need to figure out the correct processes to talk to the audience and monetise it. We need to plan ahead for the future – platforms are still going through a lot of change. Orkut was a very big deal in India, and now it's Facebook's turn. That could change too, so our role is to keep planning for these eventualities and also planning for disruptions. There will be negative feedback, there will be sudden problems that you didn't anticipate and you need to be able to deal with all this or it will look even worse. Most of all, you need to encourage as many of your own employees to become your brand ambassadors. Help them to become thought leaders with their own following and it will help the brand overall.”