Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Leveraging Digital Marketing May Not Be So Easy

2012 is a momentous year for advertising, as for the first time since the inception of the internet; marketers are projected to spend more on online advertising than on advertising in print magazines and newspapers in the US. More countries will go this way soon. If you are a company in India and wondering if you should leverage the internet for your marketing, this is not just a wakeup call, it’s the alarm bell jangling.

There are numerous reasons why online advertising, be it in the form of social media marketing, SEO or PPC is the way forward for you.

To begin with, traditional advertising in print magazines and newspapers has a limited shelf life, secondly according to Google, when people need to know about a product, 58% of them turn to the internet. 65% of people purchasing retail products and 72% of people purchasing technology related products research online purchase offline (ROPO). Online advertising is far more cost effective, has a longer shelf life and most importantly has measurable return on investment (ROI).

Accordingly to more statistics by Google, there are 120 million internet users in India, which is also the third largest internet market. 48% of these users come from 2 and 3 tier cities which have a population of less than 10 lakhs which indicates that the internet is developing deep roots.

Where are your potential customers?

Interesting of these 120 million internet users, 50 million access the internet via their mobile phones, 43 million use the internet primarily for Facebook and 25 million are on YouTube, this is extremely telling and offers clear direction for marketers on how to structure their marketing strategy and where they need to be seen.

Even though internet penetration in India is growing by a low 9% YoY, the sheer size of the country means the number of users will still grow significantly.

Digital Marketing Companies are Smacking their Lips

The numbers are in favour of digital marketing agencies, as companies in India both B2B and B2C are moving towards capitalizing on free and paid online platforms.

Today, companies no matter their size are open to investing in websites even spending lakhs. According to Google, their India Get Online project which offers free online space to SBMs took off like a rocket, with 60,000 SMBs opening up websites in 6 months. Yes, it’s going to be a golden era for digital and online marketing companies, but are they ready?

My small experience of four years on both sides of the fence indicates not. Here’s why

Since social media and SEO can be done from free platforms, everyone has jumped in to grab a piece of the pie. Everybody claims expertise, from freelancers, novices and agencies, and that’s easy enough because there is no well-known certification other than for PPC from Google. Even then, most agencies are hesitant to certify their staff. High churn means agencies are reluctant to pay for employee training and since the Google algorithm is always in flux, it’s easy for half-baked experts to fool their way around.

Recently, my company needed to engage in SEO and our discussion with 10 odd digital marketing agencies was hilarious at best, sickening at worst. Sales people with fancy designations came in talking through their hat (so it wasn’t black or white), promising the sky when all we wanted was leads. If a sales manager of a digital marketing company does not understand the product he is marketing, it does not inspire confidence in the buyer, and so we chucked all of them and began to learn a bit of SEO ourselves. There are loads of companies like ours, who want to leverage social media with realistic expectations; can somebody help us with it? The answer is uncertain.

Since most digital marketing companies do not train their people, sales and account managers simple copy paste tried and tested methods from one client to the next. When we spoke to SEO vendors, we wanted them to give us intelligence, make a strong case on whether SEO was for us or not, and what we could expect from it. Rather, we got vendors asking us for keywords, (isn’t that silly?) and telling us our web content was great, when in fact we were certain the content per page needed to be urgently increased.

Its time digital marketing companies set their own standards, push for certifications and invest in training. This way they weed out ill trained people, professionalize the industry and avoid turning away potential companies like mine who is now very unsure about working with an agency.

As companies like mine acknowledge the value of an online presence, they are shifting budgets from traditional advertising to online, but this low hanging fruit is ignored as digital marketing firms do not develop the right sales strategy. The need of the hour here is trained sales personnel, who have a deep domain understanding, who can truthfully set client expectations and make an intellectual argument steeped in research on what channel can work for a client, and send in well-educated sales personnel who can make the right pitch, rather than blabber rubbish.

Where are our Youth Today?

“Where are our youth today” may seem like a rather simplistic question. But if asked in an implicit manner, it is probably a question that should get each of us thinking. More so as the YWCA works with young women of all social strata to address issues that surround their lives.

Getting from Me to them

According to some estimates 51% of the Indian population is under 25 years of age and the figure goes up to 66% if you include those less than 35 years.  India is positioned as a nation of the youth, waiting to flood the world labour market in every industry possible, and it is rather ironic that we should ask this question.

I especially experienced the absence of our youth during the recent recession. Companies were firing their employees with one hour notice. Flouting every labour law and the young people in these companies bowed their heads and accepted the verdict on them.

During this recession our youth displayed disempowerment, lack of knowledge about their rights, individualism, ignorance, low self esteem and low self perception. And yet, till a few months earlier these were the very same young people who were poised to be the pillars of future India.

No thanks to the recession friends, the pillars of the country seem to have been shaken, and while I completely believe in the tremendous resilience of our youth, there is still a task ahead for the YWCA, as an organization working with the community, working with women and working with the marginalized.

Finding Our Youth

Social Media Sites

Where are our youth today, is a question probably asked in pondering and yet it reflects a certain amount of disconnect. Because our youth are very much around, very vocal, interacting and connecting, but perhaps you know not where.

I have 240 friends on Facebook, 68 friends on Orkut, 300 followers on twitter, 70 connections on LinkedIn, 18,000 people have visited my blog on wordpress, I have two other personal blogs I write on, and this is just me! There are lakhs of young Indians like me out there who are much better connected, who have a much wider network, who are speaking and engaging at complex, higher levels.

Our youth my dear friends are very much there, albeit in cyber space, using digital media and networking through social media. Talking, making friends, discussing, thinking on very many serious issues, including social issues. They are on, and promoting groups like ‘People against cruelty of animals’, ‘People Against Child Abuse’, ‘People against Torture’, ‘People against Violence on Women, ‘Against Discrimination of People with Disabilities’ and so on.

The question now to groups like the YWCA, who are working with youth, is,

  • Are you on these ‘Online Spaces’?
  • If not, do you plan to get on to these ‘Online Spaces’?
  • Do these spaces really hold an opportunity for advocacy of social issues and long term empowerment?

Having spent 9 years working with NGOs and a year and a half with Social Media, I think Cyber space offers

  • A brilliant opportunity and platform for engaging youth,
  • For introducing youth to a pro-people, pro-community culture, and
  • For harnessing their time and potential for social change.

At the very onset let me assure you that I do not wish to glamorize the online social interaction spaces.

It comes with its own paradoxes of ‘virtual connect and physical disconnect’, but these spaces are growing in importance. They are the comfort zones and ‘hang outs’ of our youth today. It is where our youth interact, speak and be heard, listen and lobby, and the youth on the internet have the potential to leverage their time, intelligence and internet access for social good, to lobby for issues, to advocate for the disadvantaged.

While the real work may still be offline, in a physical space and in the generation of ‘opportunity’ for less privileged youth, the support group, your potential volunteer base, your lobbyers, spend hours in a ‘virtual world’, online and you need to meet them there.

Are Young Indians Really on Social Networking Sites

  • India – is the worlds 7th Largest Internet Market and growing at 11.2% a year.
  • An estimated 21 million Indians are active on Social Media Sites. This is 60.3% of the Active Indian Internet Audience.
  • More than 90% of Indian Online Users belong to the 18-45 age group.
  • On an average, an Indian spends 110.4 minutes a day on a Social Media site and makes 10.4 visits per month.
  • Social Media Websites in India are growing by almost 100% year on year.

What are some Social Networking Spaces Your Organization needs to be present on?

  • Facebook – Fan Page / Cause Page
  • Ibibo, Bharat Students Orkut – community
  • Twitter Page
  • Blogs
  • Photograph sites – like Flickr / Picassa
  • Video Sharing Sites – Youtube, Metacafe etc
  • Document Sharing Sites – Slideshare, Docstoc, Scribd
  • Forums
  • Question n Answer sites – like Yahoo Answers, Rediff Answers, etc

What are the Benefits of an Internet Presence to the YWCA?

As a Social Justice Organization,

  • Social Networking sites are a great place to create awareness on your social issue / campaigns
  • To attract volunteers
  • Excellent way to document your way
  • Get feedback on your work
  • Raise funds online

And all this comes at a very little cost and a lot of volunteer time!

Getting Started on Social Media

OK, now you’ve convinced that social media could hold some benefit for your organization and you want to get started. You sit before your computer and then realize, why? I don’t know a thing about how to use this. Well there is an easy way out, get one of the young people in your organization to start up a blog, a twitter page, a fan page on Facebook, create power point presentations on your programmes and campaigns and publish them on the internet. Get them to teach others in the group, so that they can hold out for each other.

There is also a PPT to go with this and it can be accessed

This article was written for the YWCA South India Pre Convention held at Bangalore on 7th-8th of Nov ’09

Astroturfing a big DON’T in Social Media


My experience with Social Media is pretty recent and so I spend as much time as I can reading. It helps me understand these hugely popular online spaces that are part of Social Media and how they can provide companies an opportunity to meet and sell to customers in a virtual world. As a budding content writer, it also helps me refine my writing skills.

Recently while browsing the net, I stumbled upon this word called ‘Astroturfing’. A company in the US offering a facelift was hauled up by the office of the Attorney General of NY for Astroturfing and in a first of its kind in US history was fined $ 300,000!, yes you can let out a low whistle like I did. Gosh, did the facelift company go bust? Apparently not, and quiet a few people felt that $ 300,000 was a small price for Astroturfing and the company had actually got off lightly!

What is Astroturfing

So what is Astroturfing, even my American English MS Word shows it up with a red line under it. No, its not synthetic grass, as most of us thought. According to Wikipedia Astroturfing is “formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior”. “The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research.”

Ah, now I understand. In Social Media, we work with a range of channels, like, Social Networking sites, Micro Blogs, Social Bookmarking sites, Video sites, Picture sharing sites, Blogs etc. The internet offers an excellent shroud of anonymity, and it is rather easy for marketers to participate in these channels under pseudo names.  Pseudo names give both the Social Media Company and their Client more leeway to promote their products or engage in Online Reputation Management, with much less responsibility, should they so desire.

The Absence of Legislation regarding Astroturfing in India

Since I work in India, I have had the opportunity to see Indian companies vying for clients in Europe and the US, with the pressure to outbid competitors the marketing managers may sometimes promise the client results that are not quiet possible to achieve within a short duration of time, and so the strong urge to Astroturf ones way to targets.

Secondly, Social Media is still a new concept in India; it is yet to be professionalized with a strong set of ethical guidelines. Here, the internet still has an ‘unrealism’ associated with it, such that it permits marketers to do activity with the feeling that they are not being watched, or that they cannot be tracked. Thus when an outsourcing company gets unreasonable with its requests, managers in a Social Media Company may not accurately understand the consequences of their commitment and thus may not lay out the right arguments against Astroturfing.

Yet, as the internet begins to penetrate through India and Social Media is making waves, it is time for social marketers, both in their corporate and individual capacity to come together and determine the parameters of their work. While I understand that Astroturfing is a fairly well defined concept in countries like the US, it is important to bring the debate around it to India so that as a practice and ethical concept it develops deep roots.

No to Astroturfing

Why Astroturfing is a Bad Idea

Astroturfing and ethical parameters need to be discussed and adopted in the Social Media sector in India for numerous reasons

  • Astroturfing harms the outsourcing company – I was reading an incident wherein a marketer was discovered as representing a company and that he was Astroturfing. The website immediately took down the article posted by the marketer and a discussion ensured online on the ethical lapse. Obviously this made for poor publicity, not just for the company written about but the Social Media Company too. Such negative content (like positive content) remains on the internet; it is accessed and referred to for years to come. Obviously the Social Marketing effort proved counterproductive and a huge waste of resources in this case.
  • Astroturfing harms the Social Media Company – Social Media companies are already known to engage in a certain amount of Astroturfing, and this shadow follows them.  Being singled out and discussed online for a lapse of ethics can only adds to their problem. Social Media companies in India are already facing stiff competition if not from other countries then definitely among themselves. Taking a stand against Astroturfing can give a company an edge over competitors.
  • Astroturfing reflects a poor understanding of the Social Media space –Social Media is a way to meet potential clients on their own turf. Companies are online because their customers are comfortable with the online space and spend a lot of time there. Companies are online also because it is becoming increasingly cheaper to advertise online than through traditional methods. The online space allows for dialogue and discussion. If a company produces quality products and is known for that, their clients will invariably be speaking positively about them online, if not they wont. So it may make sense to go back to basic, “focus on your core areas”.
  • It’s unethical – Astroturfing is misrepresentation and misleading and so the lack of ethics in this practice cannot be disputed.

What are we looking at by way of Solutions

OK, as mentioned in the beginning of this article I’m only just beginning to develop an understanding on Astroturfing and still have limited experience with Social Media and so, these are just my amateur ideas of possible solutions. Please feel free to correct me and add to the suggestions below

Some ways to avoid Astroturfing

  • Go as a Company Representative– instead of using pseudo names, it is best for Social Media companies to go in as Company representatives. This ensures that both, Social Media Companies and their client act responsibly. There is no scope for temptation to Astroturf here.
  • Set Realistic Expectations with the Client – Social Media Companies in India must set realistic expectations with their foreign clients. What is not achievable and ethical in the US or Europe is not achievable and unethical else where. The rule is as simple as that.

While some companies can come to India and engage in unethical practices like Astroturfing, it’s only a matter of time before laws are put in place and the system catches up with them. Till then, the best solution would be to PLAY FAIR.

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