It happened to me the first time I landed in Hyderabad. I had to have the customary Biryani as my ritual of baptisation. And google suggested over a 100 places to get this delicacy from. All dressed up and confused where to go, I heard someone waxing eloquent about a certain place. I checked it out. Got bowled over. Came back to post and tweet about my experience. And last I heard, at least a hundred odd customers went to that joint following my recommendations. Of course, I never earned a single penny of referral bonus!
That, ladies and gentleman, is social influence. And Indian brands are doing their best on social media to make use of this phenomenon.
This social influence also works in case of people we don’t know personally. Say a new software has come up and I don’t really know a thing about it. But then in my Google+ thread I see someone has +1 ed it and written a favorable snippet about it. In all likelihood I will be checking it out.
Social influence thus works in two ways:
a) It can come from people whom we know personally, which includes our friends and peers and
(b) It can come as recommendations, from people whom we don’t know personally, but who influence our decisions (SMEs do have a new role in the social web!). In both cases recommendations from people are likely to influence our purchasing decisions.
In a nutshell then, social influence is about building trust and authority through engagement.
“Engage or Die.”
That was the title of Brian Solis’ seminal webinar on social media marketing. The most successful brands in today’s social web are those that have figured out the ‘sweet spot’ – customer engagement. These brands are turning the traditional ‘one to many’ mode of conveying a message on its head by initiating the new mantra of bi- directional, many-to-many mode of communication. This new mode is informal, conversational, and fluid.
Catching them young, the Indian social web.
The Indian social media audience is predominantly an urban (neo-urban), male, and young audience aged between 25 to 35( Source). This might soon change (as you might have already experienced when you get those serendipitous “friend” requests on Facebook from your uncle, or even worse, your father-in-law!), but as of now this is the audience and therefore, the most successful social media campaigns in India thus far have been those that have felt the pulse of this audience and have come up with casual, quirky, conversational, and lively approaches. Notably, almost all these brands are new entrants to their respective fields and had to pit themselves against giants. They successfully did so via their social media campaigns and in the process, established themselves in their respective verticals.
Three Brands who optimized the potential of Social Influence
1] Growing like wild fire
The Bangalore based adventure and outdoor gears manufacturers Wildcraft entered a market space that was already crowded by the likes of Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. Quite obviously, it was impossible for an Indian start-up to pump in the amount of cash that was needed to compete with the marketing muscles of these giants. Instead, the little known outdoor gears shop took to the social media, more precisely, Facebook, and since then, has grown into one of the biggest success stories in social media branding in India.
As of 03/25/2012 Wildcraft’s Facebook page had 735,264 members, many of whom actively participate and contribute in Wildcraft’s social media campaigns. The Facebook outlet is also one of their prime sources that leads to direct sales (I am one such customer!).
How did they do that?
1. Crowd-sourcing: The company, via their Facebook page, encourages their members to contribute content to its page. This has worked to a great degree with members sharing photos of the places they have visited with Wildcraft gear.
2. An active page: Wildcraft regularly updates its page with a myriad array of contents that can include news about its latest products, upcoming events, as well as short movie reviews.
3. Type of content: In Wildcraft’s Facebook page you are quite likely to find a short review of the movie 127 Hours, or some other events related to adventures and outdoors. It’s not necessary that you will always be bombarded with product updates.
4. Focused approach: Wildcraft’s social media endeavors are almost solely focused on Facebook. Yes, they do have a Twitter account, and a RSS feed feature. But they rarely use it. The Twitter account is largely inactive and it’s anybody’s guess how many people follow a company’s RSS feed. Makes sense since the company’s content, by nature, is something that is more suitable for engagement over longer periods of time than the ephemeral nature of a Tweet allows.
Word of mouth as social influence
It is evident from the content dynamics on its Facebook Page, that Wildcarft has masterfully crafted its brand niche by leveraging the power of the word of mouth in the digital space. The engaging content has led to crowdsourcing, which in its turn has created a network ripple effect where friends have started spreading the word about the company to other friends on Facebook, who in turn spread the words to their friends, and so on. People participating in Wildcraft’s Facebook Page started sending the link to their Facebook friends. Or people with Facebook accounts started seeing lots of their outdoor loving friends joining this particular group en masse. Naturally, the first question that popped up in their minds was, what the heck was this? Curiosity then led them to join the page. This trend continued, the network of goodwill started to spread, and the social audience on Facebook took up the baton to create Wildcraft’s brand niche, a smart and savvy brand dedicated to produce high quality outdoor gear in India.
2] The Secret Social Sauce
Delhi based niche eatery Gunpowder has optimized their social media presence to the point where one can order some food or book a table for two on a Saturday night on their Facebook page. As a result, the Gunpowder face book page has grown to become a space to watch out for:
1. Yummy content: Looking for some delicious dish-of-the-day? Sure, you can find some mouthwatering photos of that special menu on Gunpowder’s Facebook page.
2. Adding quirky to the mix: Did you know that quirky stuff about the head chef over there? Aha, be sure to follow their Facebook account!
3. It’s your space: Gunpowder’s Facebook Page lets you do more than just “like”ing their stuff and commenting. You can place an order for something here, or even book a table for two for your romantic Saturday night out.
Perfect recipe for a great hangout
Consumer chatter as social influence: For Gunpowder, their Facebook page is more than just another page with loads of comments and likes. It is more like a living entity. Everything that Gunpowder does off-line is reflected here, from their menus, to taking orders, to letting the customers know when they would remain open, or on which days the shop would remain closed.
Plus, the page is host to a gazillion user reviews about everything Gunpowder does, from their food, to the service, to the ambience. This is the real USP that Gunpowder uses. Once someone visits this page they will get to know about Gunpowder the brand, not from them pushing their content at you, but from the gamut of satisfied customers taking up the baton.
3] Chiming in the youth
Let’s wind the clock few years back. Remember those oddly jingly tones with nonsense word Do Co Mo? They didn’t mean anything, but for sure the tune hooked in gazillions of young Indians. Naturally the service also took off. At that time Tata Docomo was entering into one of the most fiercely contested spaces of consumer service -the mobile networking service. Vodafone, Airtel, and VSNL were the obvious giants and every other day you could hear about some other players joining in the gold rush. To carve out their niche in such a crowded space Tata Docomo resorted to social media and the rest, as they say, is history.
1. Optimizing YouTube: They optimized YouTube with their viral videos with non-sense rhymes, but a catchy tune.
2. We are different: Their face book page was distinctly different from the likes of the serious guys like Vodafone, or Airtel. Tata Docomo was not just dishing out boring details like new plans and network updates. They were much more. The Tata Docomo page carved out its niche by being a place for fun, by wearing their personality on their sleeves.
3. It’s not just a network: Through this approach they ensured that the young Turks using a Docomo number were not just using another mobile networking service, but were also wearing an attitude.
Using attitude as social influence:
The Tata Docomo case was a success story of leveraging the attitude of the neo-urban. The mobile, neo-urban Indian youth at that time were seemingly looking for something more than just the ability to make calls via their networks. Tata Docomo filled this search for identity and after that the youth population took up the baton there and Tata Docomo’s brand niche was created.
And off course, who can forget the wildly viral success of Kolaveri!
Social media has certainly come of age for Indian brands with nearly every brand having accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere. However, that said, it is not really the case of every Indian brand “getting” the social. The traditional, old school giants who had thrived in the era of one way communication are finding the going tough in this age of the neo-social and are being replaced by the new age franchises that have embraced the social and have found a way to strike up a conversation with the consumer. Whether it is the Mumbai Indian’s IPL motto for humanizing their God, Tendulkar , or the yummy content provided by Gunpowder, or Wildcraft’s mantra of crowdsourcing -the success recipe for Indian brands in social media is the same-it’s about engaging you in the mix.
Featured Image Courtesy: Mukumbura