Anderson opens up to Campaign India on the company’s approach to social media in the country, how social is more creative a function than advertising, Facebook’s increasing focus on brands and its implications, and more. Edited excerpts.
What’s the Fleishman-Hillard approach for the Indian market?
India is a very important market for us. We’ve been around in the market for five years or so. The progress we have made is this market is satisfying. The relationships with clients that we’ve developed have enabled us to grow our business here.
As far as our approach is concerned, we really think strategy first. We believe in developing a framework around social and that becomes our guiding principle in terms of what we do. We have a social media blueprint, which we discuss with clients and review it internally on how, via social media, we can deliver solutions for clients. How we can deliver solutions that are relevant and how social media can help achieve clients’ communication goals. We ensure that our executions are relevant to the communication strategy. The thing with social media is everybody has a different point of view, so there is scope for a lot of discussion. We try to distill various viewpoints down and come to one sense of direction, or one idea as to how it could be applied to the business. And then, it ultimately comes down to content.
We also look at what we call the 'social media lifecycle', where you begin with a strategy, define the approach, bring it down to an idea and how it can be applied, followed by content, listening and monitoring the web and constantly adjusting, changing or evolving your communication as you move forward.
What do clients typically expect from you in a market like India?
With clients who are further up in the curve in terms of social media, it is most likely that they have a certain degree of strategy in place. They may want social media guidelines internally; they may not have any presence and may want us to start from ground zero. They may have tried to create a Facebook page and then want us to get a million fans or they may just want to use social media as a tool to monitor the web to understand what kind of products to produce to service customers. So, it really does vary.
Social media is still something which is growing and developing. Facebook started in 2004; it got a lot of traction in the latter part of the decade. The social media agency hasn’t really arrived as yet. I think we’re still grappling with it, trying to understand it.
As a company, are you looking at social commerce as a tool to try and help clients sell products off the shelf?
We’re still in the early days of that. But, more and more brands want to connect their conversations directly to the e-commerce platforms. We’re certainly seeing that in other markets in Asia. This is a conversation I’m having with brands almost daily. So we’re looking towards e-commerce, either e-commerce or retail – how can we drive footfalls and conversions using online media? There are means to do that via the experiential approach to demonstrate the product in the online world. The power of YouTube is tremendous in this regard. That’s what we do with ‘advocacy groups'. You can make that go viral, and that’ll help people take purchase decisions. So in social, for a lot of businesses, it is critical to look at the consumer journey and that should actually be the starting point in the framework.
It’s been more than five years for social media as you pointed out. Do you think the industry has got complacent with the medium? Are we seeing enough innovations? Has the industry stopped experimenting?
This is a very relevant question. And I hope that the industry has not stopped experimenting. Brands have to experiment. And I think there are a few brands that are coming up with innovative ways to engage with consumers. The key is to use common sense in this business. When you’re doing content or putting out information for your target audience, you really got to make sense of what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, how they’re reacting, what are they liking, and then tweak your engagement strategies as you go. The challenge for brands in the Facebook environment is how you maintain continuous engagement. We follow a strategy called the ‘drumbeat strategy’ where you have drumbeat content – continuous conversational content that runs over a longer period of time. And you have campaigns to support that.
Do you mean primarily offline campaigns that support your social media initiatives online?
It can be a mix of both. It shouldn’t be just narrow focused. Social is everything, not just online, it is also what happens offline. We work with Philips in South East Asia and what we do with them is produce events that support the social media campaign. And it’s a very good initiative by the company to engage the consumers in a different way.
There is a perception in the industry that social media is not as creative a function as advertising. Would you agree?
I wouldn’t agree with that. I think it’s actually more creative. With advertising, it’s one way. I push it out, you guys watch my TVC, great. And a bunch of guys in a room think it’s the coolest idea. That’s wonderful, but it’s not a conversation. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m involved. It might entertain me, but it’s a one-off piece of communication. You look at organisations like Tata, Nokia, Samsung – they’re taking a different approach. They’re getting people involved. They’re entertaining but they’re also creating conversations.
Are we in India seeing enough social media campaigns go offline or traditional (on TV, print etc.), rather than the usual approach - first traditional, then social as an add on?
It’s a combination of both. I have an interesting case study to share on this. What we did with Nokia in Malaysia was, we created a playground for Angry Birds (game) and managed to get about 2,000 people participate in a day-long event. It got into the Guinness Book of World Record for maximum number of people playing a game at a venue on a single day. We did this in Kuala Lampur, and obviously took it online with social media. We used our Nokia advocacy group, which is basically a very ardent group of tech savvy Nokia fans, and they all came together at the event and they played the game for over 10 hours non-stop. A lot of consumers then joined and participated in the event. Content from that was channelised online, in real-time. I don’t see a lot of advertising having capability of doing that.
Facebook is increasingly moving towards brands. Is it a big risk as it may turn off consumers?
People have been talking about this. Analysts are saying that it’s going to give brands much more visibility. Facebook is a public company. So they have to ensure that they’re growing their revenues, proving to their shareholders that they’re adding value.
Its (paid brand messages and pages) impact on consumers is not known yet. Will it be perceived as intrusive? I think there are a lot of varying viewpoints. It could be a great opportunity for brands, but if you are too intrusive, it could turn people off. It could be negative. So yes, it’s a risk Facebook is taking. They’re taking it because they have to. They have people to answer to.
Talking of spends on social media, it’s still very minuscule or negligible if one looks at the overall pie. Is it the case with other markets in the region too?
Digital advertising itself is very nascent in many markets. In India, it was a just a few years ago, 0.5 per cent or 1 per cent of total advertising spends. You’re right. I don’t understand why we haven’t seen a big rise in the spends on social media. Part of that comes down to what people are comfortable with and people making decisions. But, the communities are there. We’re drawn to technology. In India, a huge amount of people go online everyday and log on to social media sites.
India is still going very strong on traditional media. The Times of India is still a dominant media brand in the country. It’s a matter of education more than anything else. As for your question on other markets, it’s the same across the region. It’s about the willingness to invest. I think brands that go first will demonstrate to others – the likes of Nokia, Tata and Samsung are a few examples of brands that are investing long term in the medium. China is up significantly with the advancement in technology. Data is becoming a much more of a focus point there. Indonesia is well advanced in terms of mobile, but they all use different platforms. The ones to watch out for are China, India and Indonesia. Thailand is coming up as well. Singapore is a smaller market. If you look at the startups in India, India is undoubtedly the leader in social media. And that’s precisely the reason why India is a priority market for us.
Since you’re a part of the Omnicom Group, how often do you draw upon resources and capabilities of the network?
That is need-based. If we feel we do not have a particular capability in-house, then we try and look for it within the network. It’s a good way to ensure that the client’s business does not suffer. We have three offices in India and since DDB Mudra Group is a sister company here, it gives us the flexibility to draw upon their resources as and when required.