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Brands cannot control online conversations: Bharat Bambawale

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Brands cannot control online conversations: Bharat Bambawale

While brands and advertisers have a big interest in trying to get consumer attention and get the conversation going, the former really cannot control the conversation, stated Bharat Bambawale, Director, Global Brand, Bharti Airtel, while speaking at the launch of the Pitch Madison Media Advertising Outlook 2012.

Delivering his special address on ‘Brand Conversations in the Age of Social Media’, Bambawale said that the days of ‘private and controlled’ conversations with consumers were over. He gave an example from the past, when brands put a message at the back of a package saying ‘Please write to us on this address…’; and the consumer, “if interested” would write back on the said address. The consumer, Bambawale said, may or may not have got a reply from the brand.

Over a period of time, the conversation, according to him, shifted to consumer help lines and company websites, where the consumer could interact with the brand and the company. “But these conversations remained invisible from the world,” he said.

However, in the age of social media, these conversations are “public and cannot be controlled. Good news travels fast, but bad news travels instantly, and it seems like human beings have an appetite for bad news rather than good news,” he said, with a warning that “with every conversation visible to everyone, social media is not for the puffed up or faint-hearted or thin-skinned.”

He felt that the consumer most of the times is not on social media looking for brand message, and they are not always ready to listen to what the brand has to say.

He felt that social media was not a natural space for brands. He felt that it was easier to communicate via a 30 or 60 second commercial on television, as entertainment on the medium could be interrupted by ads. Similar disruption is acceptable in print media too.

However, conversations on social media, Bambawale felt are a closed loop. “People go on social media to tweet, to be on Facebook to talk about topics that interest them. It’s a closed loop and in that closed loop there is no natural space for brands,” he said.

So how does one take the conversation forward? Bambawale's answer to that is to not limit the conversation to just the product but make it broader. “The conversation should be more about things that interest people,” he said, adding, “Conversations need to be sustained in a manner that people return to you” and brands “need to have the ability to speak as well as listen.”

To summarise, Bambawale felt that brands needed to attract people to exit their closed social media loops and engage with the brand. “Brands need to become a new social contact, a new friend that people invite into their worlds and interact with regularly. In other words, be a brilliant conversationalist yourself that draws people to you,” he said.

To drive his point home, Bambawale gave the example of Airtel's “Har Ek friend Zaroori Hota Hai” campaign on Facebook and Twitter, and how Airtel was trying to build a conversation with the youth.

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