Social Applications have been riding the marketing hype cycle in 2009, with many Internet-savvy brand managers in India considering a Facebook App, for their digital campaigns. From cosmetics to cars, beverages, chocolates and movies, every marketer has a one-line brief for their media agencies. “Need a compelling presence on Facebook and Twitter – go build a page, create an application, get fans/users”.
For the uninitiated, “social apps” are programs in different genres like virtual gifts, games, gambling, trivia, quiz and utilities that are installed on an “opt-in” basis by users of social networks, often based on recommendation from friends. They are designed for long term user engagement, and are different from ‘pages’ - the place within a social net (kind of like a micro-site) where they reside in. Users install and use these applications for entertainment, interpersonal communication or utilities. There are the popular ‘unbranded’ applications that many of us recall using on Facebook and Orkut on a daily basis such as Farmville, Poker, Ask Friends, SuperScrap, Wordscraper, Mafia Wars etc. These applications on an average have over hundred thousand active users and much larger installed base. Brands have naturally been curious to occupy the engagement space among social network users and attempted to create branded social apps, many of which became runaway successes in the evolved Internet markets of USA and Europe.
What we are seeing in the Indian Internet space, is a growing clutter of brand supported apps (and pages) on the social network library, many of which never touch the critical mass of adoption. Without a well thought out social media marketing plan that dovetails into a larger digital marketing strategy, most social applications live and die in isolation, and often just turn out to be a waste of money. Copycat ideas, poor interface design and buggy operations are the root causes of failure but even for the occasional winning candidate, any chance of success is stymied due to the lack of promotional media budgets.
Media publishers are partly responsible for fuelling the hype and resulting failures, often throwing in a social app in their media mix, to differentiate their offer and clinch a deal. Since the ideation / creation / development pieces are usually outsourced, vendors try and starve the application development (producer costs) to retain a larger piece of the media pie.
Marketers remain convinced from their daily dose on media blogs that social apps are meant to grow virally and remain unwilling to commit even a tiny pie of media budget to bootstrap the first few hundred users. Agencies for lack of better understanding tow the party line and regurgitate cliched ideas. Freelancers drive the final nail in the coffin commoditizing application costs (sacrificing creative and production quality) and creating spurious accounts to add hundreds of fans on Facebook pages. While everyone is happy to get a piece of the social media action, the brand loses at the end.
Before we start recommending what works now, it is important to get a sense of the latest numbers. The Indian Internet Audience on social networks continues to swell (based on latest comScore data); traffic on Facebook alone doubled in the summer of 2009, while others like Twitter, LinkedIn etc continue to gain rapid ground. They are still a drop in the bucket however, compare to the volume of users on Orkut (from Google).
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 things you should consider before you start planning your social app strategy in 2010.
1) The social network community in India is not limited to Facebook. Try and gauge where your audience is, based on published social demographics. A social app strategy can be built on multiple networks.
2) Applications with a relatively long shelf life are expensive to ideate, design, develop and market. If you do not have adequate budgets for development, it may be wise to not venture down the path.
3) If you believe your agency has given you a powerful idea for a social app, and you are willing to bet on it, be prepared to invest on marketing the idea, so you can achieve critical mass. Do not be misled by the notion that since the idea is so powerful, it will go viral on its own; revisit the probabilities of your success.
4) Brand supported social applications, need to make their presence felt subtly and “support” an idea - not overwhelm and kill the idea, by lavish product, logo and messaging placement.
5) Social Apps in India often miss the Indian angle, during the ideation phase. DESI’fy your app - add local flavour.
6) Social Apps may be re-purposed to exist across multiple digital assets such as micro-sites and branded destinations, in addition to their presence on social nets.
7) Social Apps need not reside only within Facebook or Orkut. Using powerful utilities such as Facebook connect or Google friends (open social), a social application can also take the format of a engagement driven destination that is accessible using Facebook or Google login.
8) It is important to measure engagement metrics within your social app. If the analytic capabilities are planned properly by your production agency, you can get powerful insights which provide more value to brand manager than just a measure of number of users. Demand app-level analytics.
9) The ROI measurement on social applications needs to factor in engagement metrics and the number of engaged audience acquired. The economics are very well researched and described on a paper on social media appvertising by Buddy Media. You can down load it here (http://tinyurl.com/ygu9jn8)
10) A social media strategy can best be crafted by a full-service digital agency that has the ability to generate fresh ideas and execute upon the same in-house. Pick someone with a proven track record. Stay away from freelancers and fly-by-night social media marketers who spam communities, deliver ‘paid’ fans, and in the process tarnish the brands reputation.
Sandip Maiti is CEO, experiencecommerce.com, a full-service digital agency