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16 July 2008

Business and Social Media

Unless you count the young crowd who use the social networking sites like Orkut, Ibibo, Facebook and others and the IT crowd, Social Media really has little or no presence yet in India. Even in that, certain tragic incidents (such as the Adnan Patrawala murder) have made it something parents view with suspicion and even ask for bans, restrictions, monitoring etc.

Some schools and colleges are even considering or already have banned even the use of mobile phones- the one tool most used tool in social networking in India. A few PR and media firms have embraced the digital and social media in some prelimnary steps, and of course blogging is reasonably 'in the news' now due to, “the film stars do it’.

So when I say that SM has no presence what I mean it is, not numbers of registered users, but maturity - it is still first generation. Which is what makes it also encouraging and exciting!

If there was a term like Web 0.5 - I'd use that to describe how little or badly we harness the tools as a country. I could write an entire book or draft an university syllabus on this topic. While elsewhere in the world, libraries, hospitals, governments, disaster management, moms, educators, disabled or differently abled, poor in Kenya, brand managers are all using SM tools. But for now, I'll stick to SM for business.

Even as in the external world it is gathering traction, with companies it is a different issue. And in few instances is at all they are used, then only behind the firewall. Or in disparate random efforts. Normally one is engaged in questions of ‘persuading’ and enabling companies to embrace SM tools. But recently someone asked when should companies not do social media- which got me thinking to write this post. Organisations - which have the capabilities, even large ones and for employees who need it for the work they do- restrict access to employees to the internet and anything else remotely SM-like. Blogs, Wikis, Streaming media and other Social Networking tools etc. I could immediately identify with the query. Social Media is an extension of the endeavor of listening and engaging with employees & customers- both existing and potential.

When the company already has a good product or service and wants to engage with customers in making the experience a better one then it makes sense. Engaging in social media simply as a PR exercise to cover up or even gloss over inherently poor practices or products and services is futile. If the company is treating its employees, customers and vendors in a fair and good manner then social media makes sense. Because what they then do is really harness the existing good will. If the perception of the organisation is one of an unfair employer, aggressive market participant with no concern for customer but only on profits, or doing it to deliver profits to the company and not demonstrated value to the customer, then the SM exercise may run the risk of being a mere exercise and not deliver any real returns. For instance, if all that a blog will do is provide a place for the company representative to post a reply to a very annoyed customer comment with a "Please contact our Customer Service Dept. for quick resolution of your issue" it is laughable. And yet, quite likely this will be proudly presented by the company as it's commitment to embracing new technologies.

Another example, is when a tool is used or simply works as more of a 'one way' - monitor and report mechanism and broadcast mechanism. If there is a genuine commitment to deliver something superior (product, process, experience, expertise) then the organisation should go in for social media and deliver what it set out to do in the first place. Or it may run the risk of being seen as doing it simply because someone is sold on the latest shiny, bright toy. Then it is better the organisation does not engage in social media because the people - in this case customers, may well get even alienated in the process. In short, like the old Hindi film song that went, 'Yeh Public Hain. Yeh sab jaante hain'. The Indian one is more canny and value-conscious than his counterparts.

Not to mention the huge expenses incurred by the organisation in using social media for communities as mentioned here in this Wall St. Journal blogpost.

4 comments:

Abhishek Baxi said...

Right to the T...

"Engaging in social media simply as a PR exercise to cover up or even gloss over inherently poor practices or products and services is futile. If the company is treating its employees, customers and vendors in a fair and good manner then social media makes sense."

Nice thoughts...

gregory said...

i like the web 0.5 line ... not as a putdown, simply as an artful expression

Deepa said...

@baxiahishek About 15% of Fortune 500 companies invest in SM. More often it is brands using SM more and I guess it is only slated to grow. Hence I thought it is a good time to discuss these aspects. Thanks for stopping by and the heads up. Sorry for the late reply from my end- blame it on the rains :)

Deepa said...

@gregory What an unusual observation- thank you for making it.

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