Arati Rao
May 07, 2012

Q&A: Rishad Tobaccowala, VivaKi

A chat with VivaKi’s chief strategy and innovation officer, about the network and what’s hot and happening in the social space

Q&A: Rishad Tobaccowala, VivaKi

We met Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategy and innovation officer at VivaKi, on the sidelines of Goafest 2012, for a quick catchup.

CI: What’s new at VivaKi  globally and here in India?

Rishad Tobaccowala (RT): Globally we continue to expand. We had a good last year and we now have over 22,000 people around the world. Some of the arenas that we have dealt additional capabilities and tools are in social, where we purchased the largest free standing social agency called Big Fuel, which is part of our group. Plus each of our units enhanced their social capabilities. We have increased our mobile capabilities. Companies like Razorfish have been highly rated for their e-commerce capabilities. All of our media businesses are strong in digital but are becoming stronger now in social and content. Across the board, they have won a lot of businesses from big ones like Microsoft, Burger King, and Pizza Hut and quite a few. Our only big loss last year was General Motors but otherwise we won a lot. So that’s on the global scale. In India, we continue to do well and we continue to grow. The big challenge in this market is unlike a lot of parts in the world, we are smaller relative to the big guys, and in many parts, we are the big guys. So you have to play with a different set of cards.

CI: Are there any new offices you started last year?

RT: Not really, because overall we are focusing our efforts as VivaKi. While every country is important as we operate in 76 markets, there is an emphasis on 15 markets and there is super emphasis on eight, and ‘super super’ emphasis on three and India is one of the three along with (not surprisingly) China. We also continue to emphasise on The United States for both its sheer size as well as the degree of innovation that’s coming out because of technology.

CI: What’s the wave of 2012? What do you think is going to go forward on the tech front from the tech companies this year?

RT: One of the things with technology is that you never know what is going to happen because things are so fast. So if you think how fast Instagram came from nowhere and built scale, a 12% company worth a billion dollars, or Pinterest which is another company which is extensively valued at seven billion dollars and rumored to potentially be purchased by someone like Google (but nothing substantiated), it’s a little hard to predict. But the general hot point is where the mobile phones, social sharing and visual assets are intersecting. Now with mobile phones, everybody understands  that if you can share it, it scales fast and that allows a company with few people to have network effect. But what seems to be the other important thing is visual asset. Instagram is about pictures, Pinterest is about pictures, and people are watching Netflix (which still hasn’t got the social element of it because you aren’t allowed to reveal other people’s movie preferences yet, they are trying to change that). YouTube is visual. So there is this idea of visual, mobile and social. So as Lucas Watson said, about 25% of their YouTube videos are now watched on mobile devices; I think he included the iPad as a mobile device but that whole idea of mobile, social and visual is where a lot is happening.

CI: Which social networks do you see as going the distance – there are so many coming up.

RT: I divide social into two parts- the first part is that lot of people confuse social with social networks and today obviously there is a dominant one in Facebook, and semi- dominant one on Twitter. If you are sort of into work then there is LinkedIn (these are non- China brands) and then there are new ones that are coming like Instagram and Pinterest that are coming in. The underlying belief of people wanting to share, like on Google Plus, that is for real. Their wanting to share may switch from one social platform to the other, but that part is real. So therefore I don’t call it a social network, I’ve started calling it the ‘People’s network’. It is really a fact that you and I have a conversation and now we can have a conversation or we can share things across the board. That is really powerful. I also believe over time, Facebook will be an ongoing player just like Google and Microsoft. I believe some variation of Twitter will be an ongoing player because Twitter and Facebook are very different. People look at Google Plus - what Google Plus really is to make all Google connected to people’s network. Its success or failure isn’t dependent on how many people will use Google Plus, but how many will sign up for Google Plus and therefore they add social elements to everything else they do on Google.

CI: So how are brands seeing it? Which social network is getting their money?

RT: Money is moving in a rather large form into social media. About 50% of all the digital spend is search, then there is the next one which is display advertising which is about 25% of it, and then there is a lot of other stuff like rich media and email marketing, but search is 50 and display is 25. A lot of money is moving from display into things like Facebook. They are experimenting with Twitter. Very few have started experimenting with Pinterest. What they like about Facebook is that it seems to be to be scaled and seems to be something that is going to be around. The other is there is the ability to target and analyse data. They have some more interesting things to target but they might not have the right mindset. So when you are searching on search, your mindset is to find something. When you are on Facebook, your mindset is to look at people’s photographs but they do have a lot data. So for a lot of marketers, social media is Facebook. Now in India, Facebook already reaches about 50 million people which is quite large, not as part of the population but as part of the people online and because of its mobile nature. Right now there are about 30 million smart phones in India -  all of those can also be on Facebook. So I think that is where a lot of marketers are going to go to in social.

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