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Interview With Anandan Pillai, Senior Manager, Social Media

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052530dAnandan Pillai is a Senior Manager (Social Media) at ZenithOptimediaIndia (Publicis Groupe). He is a social media enthusiast and loves interacting on social media strategy, content strategy, building brand community etc. Best way to interact with him is to buzz him on Twitter – @anandan22.

Digital Vidya: Does the advent of Social Media change the hierarchies in organizations that contribute to old-fashioned top-down change management?

Anandan: It definitely does. One of the classic dilemma in organizations is ‘which department should take care of social media?’ You won’t be surprised that social media efforts for a brand are handled in some organizations by the marketing department, while by PR department in another or by customer grievances or customer service in some places. In such cases, it becomes extremely lagged process to get clarifications and responses from top-down organization structure. Hence, the need of hour is to have a matrix type of organization structure.

First and foremost, its high time that organizations now accept the fact that social media is not ‘just’ marketing department’s cup of tea. Social media is as influential to intra-organization stakeholders (employees, leaders) as it is to inter-organization stakeholders (suppliers, customers, analysts, stockholders, media etc.). Hence, the need of the hour is to create a separate social media department and you would have noticed few designations in industry such as Chief Interaction Officer. Subsequently, every department within the organization (marketing, finance, HR, production, customer service, strategy, PR etc.) should have one representative who knows every aspect of the department and has sufficient data about the department. The execution person from social media should be well-connected with respective department representatives and should be able to retrieve any needed information in ‘no time’ without any bureaucracy involved. Hence, it is very essential for organization to choose the department representatives in a careful manner and also empower them to take effective decisions in the interest of the organization. The basic premise that every department representative should understand and respect that social media is a very dynamic in nature  and every second counts!

So embarking on a social media journey is easier said than done. But, if it is well planned and executed, an organization could make the most of it.

Digital Vidya: As companies try to get employees to participate in social media, what lessons should they learn as to how to go about that organizational change?

Anandan: The organizational change issue rests with not only new-age but also with traditional organizations. Though the challenges both these type of organizations face are different:

New-age organizations:

The employees of these organizations are young, energetic, go-getter and very extrovert. Due to high energy levels, sometimes these youngsters might get carried away and commit an ‘unintentional’ mistake (might be due to intense work pressure) which might become detrimental for an organization. Such organizations need to educate and train their employees about the nuances of this domain and ensure they don’t lose their patience and act responsibly. While handling a brand, it happens most of the time that youngsters start feeling that it’s their baby, and often when they receive a negative comment from the brand’s fan/follower, these young employees take it personally and reply the complaint in a personal manner, which might sound rude to the fan/follower. Creativity, thinking out-of-box, agility are much need traits of this domain, however maintaining one’s patience and temperament is equally important for these young employees of new-age organizations.

Traditional organizations:

The traditional organizations might have operated in a top-down approach for majority of their existence. Now, when these organizations decide to be present on social media, they are very sceptical about its future. The most common fear that top management of these organizations grapple with is that, their social media presence would attract negative comments / complaints from the customers. The approach most of them follow (either directly or instruct agencies) is to delete / ignore these negative comments. Also, these organizations are afraid to relax their bureaucracy. Now, social media, unlike traditional media needs quick response from the brand and sometimes a delay of even an hour would make it ‘too-late’ to control the damage done. Hence, these organizations should follow a fluid system where respective responsible employees in each department have the authority to take decision as and when needed based on the situation’s merit.

Digital Vidya: What do you see coming next for this whole space in the industry in the long run?

Anandan: It is very sad that even after almost five years of full-fledged entry of social media in this country, brands still have broadcast oriented objectives in mind and are mostly bothered about the community size. This misunderstanding of the social media domain is about to reach an inflection point where brands will realize (while many have already realized) that this industry is not about mass around the brand, but about the engagement levels and the share of voice in the industry. Once, the brands realize this basic premise of social media couple of things that would fall in place are:

  • Application of social media not just for marketing purposes, but for other organizational purposes too
  • Use of Social media not just for interaction with customers but with every other stakeholder of the brand / organization
  • Selection of relevant channels and stakeholder-centric content strategy
  • Contests / Applications and other tactics would be weaved in much better manner with the organizational goals and objectives unlike present festive & occasion oriented gimmicks
  • ROI is much more than just expecting a few number of community members on the money invested. It is about the share of mind and heart that brand gains, which would be reflected in the share of voice measured by the number of mentions that a brand gains viz-a-viz its competitors on social media.
  • The restructuring/reshaping of industry with disappearance of agencies flourishing on ignorance of brands and selling them high fan count with no effective engagement and benefit
Digital Vidya: What is the most important piece of advice that you would like to give to all the marketers?

Anandan: I have seen even large and respectable brands’ marketers hungry for a million fans milestone on Facebook, or a few thousand followers on Twitter and few million views on YouTube channel. The only piece of advice I have for such marketers is to think on the lines of ‘Now what?’ once they achieve those milestones. Do you have an engagement plan in place that would entertain and keep these million folks hooked to your brand? If not, then dear brand managers, I bet these millions of fans aren’t fool to stick around a stadium where no play is planned, they will just walk off (it just needs a click!).

I have specific advices for a well-known brand and startup brands.

Well-known: Building a community around a well-known brand is much easy. However, the marketers should not be complacent with the numbers but should focus on others aspects like level of engagement, sentiment of community members on board, value addition opportunities etc. Brands should continuously strive to improve their internal processes, product development, service enrichment, customer service, employee engagement etc. (You may also use established brand in place of well known)

Startup brands: I have interacted with many entrepreneurs and they have a misconception that just by creating a profile on social media channel will get them, lakhs of fans / followers. Brand can’t be built just by creating a Facebook page or a Twitter handle. The brand needs to equally focus on offline activities, be it product delivery, packaging, on-ground activation efforts or customer interaction and service. The most important thing that entrepreneurs need to understand and ‘accept’ that ‘it does take time to build a brand’. So wait and strive continuously!

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