Top media conglomerates, automobile manufacturers, consumer good companies, IPL cricket club teams, and online stores are increasingly turning to new media platforms to highlight their services, promote brands, respond to customer grievances, and ‘build a community’ of loyal users.

However, companies still devote the maximum share of their marketing budgets to traditional media platforms, indicating that social media remains at a nascent stage, but will grow in ‘scale and sophistication’.

These are the findings of a study by Ernst and Young (E&Y), based on inputs of 40 big organisations, which have ‘comparatively invested more in terms of money, resources and initiatives’ in social media platforms. These include Pepsi India, Bharti Airtel, Maruti Suzuki, BMW India, Ford India, Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Network 18, MTV India as well as exclusively online brands like Flipkart and Yatra.com and others.

Companies said that the key goal of social media engagement was to ‘build communities and advocates to directly or indirectly help in creating positive word of mouth’. The study says this helps ‘customers bond, bolsters brand experience stories…creating increased customer loyalty, better and speedier resolution of customer queries, lowering of marketing and service costs and flow of innovative ideas’.

With 62 million users, Facebook remains the preferred medium for close to 90 per cent of the companies surveyed, with Twitter, You Tube, and blogs following in that order as other media outlets. Over 80 per cent of the organisations said their print and TV campaigns include information about their social media campaigns, pointing to increasing levels of ‘integration’. But the study mentions that the ‘quality of integration’ is the key issue. In some cases, insertion of a Facebook contest in a print ad is only an add-on or an after-thought, while in other cases, social media experts are engaged from the inception stage.

The other factor is the manner in which the medium is leveraged. Almost 65 per cent of the organisations say they have ‘exclusive deals’ for online fans. Over 40 per cent say a majority of their posts are generic updates rather than specific brand information in order to attract a wider audience. Pictures represent the most popular of the updates, and picture contests draw the maximum appeal, on social media. According to a research organisation quoted in the study, 33,928 out of 34, 991 tweets of Airtel in the first five months of 2012 were replies; so were 1013 out of 1015 of Vodafone’s tweets in the same period, indicating a high level of interactivity with customers. Around 83 per cent of companies have used Facebook advertising/sponsored tweets with the objective of promoting an online contest or campaign or creating brand awareness.

But despite the increased engagement, most companies have either not measured, or are not certain if these efforts have yielded revenue gains yet. There is also, till now, a relatively limited share allotted to social media in the overall matrix of marketing and advertising. Over three-fourths of the companies spend less than Rs 10 million on social media, and half of them said that only 1-5 per cent of their budgets are spent on such initiatives. But companies expect an increase in scale in terms of more functions and more departments using social media and increased budgets and more sophisticated techniques in terms of greater integration with marketing programmes, more research and more specialisation. (P.J.)

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