Understanding Flipkart’s Social Media Strategy [Interview]

 

I just got done with Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness. It’s the story of Zappos.com and Tony’s vision about a company that delivers ‘awesomeness’ to customers. Tony started out with many different entities and finally created an online shoe and apparel store-Zappos.com. The company is famous for its customer service and its company culture. In 2009, Zappos was acquired by Amazon.com in an all-stock deal worth $1.2 billion.

Closer to home, I see Flipkart delivery boys on their bikes every other day in my lane. It’s being talked about across timelines and feeds. There isn’t a day in the online world when Flipkart’s customer service isn’t being mentioned.

Every single day there is a tweet, a comment, a conversation revolving around the brand. A mention about a book that was delivered on time. A rant about pricing across the websites. Queries regarding a book’s availability. Some cheery banter with a loyal customer.

Almost every tweet that is addressed to Flipkart has a relevant reply. If they are not able to add value to the customer, they make sure they engage in a conversation with them. There have been times when you read their tweets and comments and feel like you know the person who is talking.

When Samit Basu pointed out that his information on their website had a typo, the response time for that tweet was less than a minute. I noticed all this and more and decided to explore the brand’s online approach and strategy for social media.

I spoke to Mr. Tapas Rudrapatna, Product and Marketing Strategist at Flipkart and Mr. Ravi Vora-VP, Marketing at Flipkart and they gave me a view on how social media works in their organization.

But first some numbers:

Backgrounder – Flipkart.com:

Flipkart.com, India’s largest e-commerce player for physical goods started with books in 2007 and entered the consumer electronics category with the launch of mobile phones, in September 2010. Since then, it has grown rapidly with the introduction of innovative features like Cash on Delivery (CoD), 30 day replacement guarantee and its own delivery network. Today, their portfolio is spread across 12 categories – from books to music, mobiles, computers, cameras, home & kitchen appliances, TV & home theatre systems, personal and healthcare products and the newly launched stationery items. In addition to these, Flipkart has also made a foray into the emerging digital content market with the recent launch of Flyte, the digital music store.

Facts Sheet – Flipkart.com:

  • Ships around 30,000 items daily
  • Portfolio spread across 12 categories and has recently forayed into the digital content market with the launch of Flyte, the digital music store.
  • Revenue of Rs. 2.5 crore per day
  • Titles available on Flipkart (Books) – 11.5 million
  • Registered users on Flipkart – 2.6 million
  • No. of employees – 4500
  • Cumulative funding raised – $31 million

Milestones:

  • 5th September 2007 – Flipkart was born
  • 15th October 2007 – Website goes live
  • 22nd October, 2007, 10.28 pm – First “official” sale
  • 7th June, 2010 – Ventured into first new category
  • 14th April, 2010 – Started ‘Cash on Delivery’

What is Flipkart’s approach to Social Media?

With over 1,000,000+ fans on Facebook and 22,500+ followers on Twitter, social media must be a task in itself. I wanted to know if there a team that looks after the different platforms.  Is there some kind of protocol that Flipkart follows?

We don’t really have an approach to Social Media. For us all of this is a way to serve our customers better. Which is why we don’t really have a team. There are times when the account on Twitter is being used by Sachin Bansal himself. Our followers are so used to the interaction that they can spot when someone new is tweeting or using the account.

Social Media for Flipkart, is personal.

Do you use any metrics for Social Media?

We don’t look at social media in terms of metrics. There is no target or ideal number for us (so many fans, ‘x’ number of retweets etc.).  It is something that we have to look after considering that our customers are online and are probably talking about us all the time. We are an e-commerce company and a lot of what we do is related to customers spending time on the Internet. Social Media is one way to ‘listen’ to the customers and respond accordingly

So we use social media to talk to customers and not as a tool which can yield sales. And no we don’t really have a tool for monitoring what is happening. But we are on the lookout for a tool to monitor sentiment, now

How do you interact online?

Flipkart doesn’t look at social media as other people do. We keep our interactions on Twitter, Facebook the way we would take care of our personal interactions online.

It’s simple. The way I would talk to a friend online, I’d talk to a customer through my social media channels. Says Mr.Tapas.

Do you have bloggers who write for you?

We monitor close to 35-40 different channels, blog forums and constant feedback. However, we have never paid bloggers to write paid reviews. All our social media work is handled inhouse. Individual teams respond and at times developers respond. Yes, we do have our PR team which oversees the press releases.

How do you take all the funny tweets addressed to you because of your awesome service?

We see positive tweets as an indication of the fact that we are doing some things right. Our attempt is to bring a personal tone to all our interactions. The fact that our followers address us in a humorous, light manner proves that they see us as not just a brand, but a personality that they can connect with, says, Mr. Ravi Vora , VP, Marketing Flipkart.

One of the top Indian brands on social media in a very short duration, how has the response been?

We have had very positive response till date. Engaging with our customers through social media has been a conscious move and we were convinced about this since the start. In the first 3.5 years of existence we relied only on viral and social marketing to spread the word about our services. It has played a big role in helping us keep in touch with our customers and also serve them better. In other words, it has strengthened our relationship with them and assisted in winning their trust. The resulting word of mouth (along with the marketing push) has helped grow the customer base five-fold this year alone.

(This question was answered by Mr. Ravi Vora)

How would you deal with a customer who is angry with you?

Internally, we all have an understanding of the basic hygiene of how each platform works. When someone is pissed we are formal. We don’t think it’s fair to indulge in conversation when there is something the customer is genuinely upset about. At those times, it’s best to keep things to the point and solve the problem quickly.

Language on Facebook and Twitter

Facebook has more mass appeal while Twitter is more exclusive (perhaps unintentionally so), from what we have observed. This needs to be taken into account when we work on the language of our posts – the tone and content etc.

On Trolls

Trolls induce laughter. They are interesting entertainment. So when they are ranting, we let them be.

Are the delivery boys / different people in the organization aware of what’s being told about the company online?

We like to ensure that each and every one of our employees, across all levels, are aware of the developments within the company. Being transparent in our processes inspires a greater sense of belonging amongst employees – thus creating better brand ambassadors.

(This question was answered by Mr.Ravi Vora)

On Homeshop18 and the Flipkart incident -

 Reference Article 

We’d like to know more about this incident. Does Flipkart have a code of conduct for employees and their social media activities?

Our code of conduct is based on common sense rather than something sold top-down within the organization. This incident was an exception and we wanted to be graceful and work things out amicably.

(This question was answered by Mr.Ravi Vora) 

Wow-worthy customer service = Boyfriend material?

I don’t know many brands that have been likened to a lover. Of course, there are those that play hard to get, those that need Chief Spelling Officers and then there is the perfect boyfriend material.

I decided to ask Mr.Tapas about this incident.

Yes, we have read and discussed Mansi’s post where we were likened to a boyfriend who’d ‘split the bill after a good meal and open the door for you’.

The story is that we have a monthly hack day at Flipkart. This is the time when developers do nothing for 24 hours and develop something from scratch and execute it on the website.

During one of these days, Mansi, tried to order a book and the payment gateway gave way on us. She tried many times to get through to us and we weren’t able to solve the problem.

Our approach, to this exceptional case, was that the customer repeatedly tried to place the order, but we weren’t up for it due to the reasons mentioned above.  So as a one off exercise, we thought she should get it for free.

 

 
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