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Interview with Karan Rajpal, HCL Technologies – Head of Social Media

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Karan Rajpal is the Global Head, Social Media for HCL Technologies, a $7bn IT services major. He works with business marketing, brand and PR teams to create the right narrative for the brand across social media channels and audience personas. His career has been spent building digital marketing teams from the ground up, and running global campaigns for engagement, awareness and demand generation.
A fierce advocate for using social media and digital channels as part of a marketing mix that delivers results, he has focussed his energies on effectively he has focused his energies on effectively marketing services to Fortune 500 CXOs around the world. He says he’s been lucky to be at the forefront of digital marketing as both global behemoths and upstarts started competing on digital- he has had, both a ringside view and a chance to get down in the ring every single day. 
Never having had the same day in office ever, he enjoys working with coders, designers and copywriters, who teach him something new each day. He hates the terms evangelist and guru when it comes to digital marketing. 

Social Media marketing is all he does, all day long. Increasingly, for many major B2B brands, social media is becoming the most targeted way to reach customers, and he helps the team at HCL do it every single day.

How did you get into Social Media Marketing? What interested you in learning Social Media Marketing?

Karan Rajpal: I entered the marketing in 2009- All major social media channels were just coming of age, the smartphone revolution was just beginning. As an early adopter of everything tech and an outspoken advocate for investing in social media, the marketing team at Aviva entrusted me to start our social media journey. Since then, I’ve either helped build or run social media communities with ~1mn plus followers and ad campaigns globally. For me, social media wasn’t a rite of passage, it was what I started my career with. And I’ve been lucky to work with some very smart people, who’ve allowed me to indulge in telling stories, which resonate on social media and elsewhere.

Share your 3 favourite Social Media Marketing case studies. What did you like most about them?

Karan Rajpal: Rather than talking about case studies, I will share three stories, or narratives brands have delivered that I really liked over the years. Some of them may be a little old, but I keep going back to them over time.

  1. Google Search Reunion: The Google ads with elderly friends now based in India and Pakistan- it was a fully realized narrative, which needed to be told over 3-4 minutes. That film would have never existed if digital hadn’t come in (no brand would spend on 5 minute TV spots), and a story about an online brand, told in an offline context, added to its life. Rather than focusing on how many likes it generated, I felt the visceral reaction it aroused in everyone who saw it.
  2. I will what I want, Gisele Bundchen, Under Armour: Using social media generated negative comments about Gisele, the brand created a story which showed, rather than tell what Gisele can do about what people think about her. It moved deep into Under Armour’s brand narrative and allowed them to mix social commentary, athletic prowess and high fashion/beauty. If you were a man, you loved the narrative. But if you were a woman, it spoke to you with a mix of body image/body positivity angle, which isn’t something a lot of brands have done successfully.
  3. All of Zomato’s social media content: Zomato has placed itself in the Zeitgeist of youth, food and popular culture like no other brand truly has. They are age-old in their witty takes (or takedowns) of popular things, and new age in how their graphics show on screen. I’m a fan of Akshar Pathak and Shakti Shetty, and how they’ve managed to work on all that they have. Kudos to the Zomato management on letting people do well what they’re good at. Many a brave campaign dies in meetings and reviews.

According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Social Media Marketing?  

Karan Rajpal:

  • Not investing enough in media budgets: Many brands spend millions on people costs, agency retainers and production costs, and then tighten their purse strings when it comes to spending on media on social- imagine buying the world’s best racecar and then not driving it because its mileage is poor.
  • Investing in the flavor of the season: I can imagine every single brand manager today thinking how they can create Instagram stories, and may be show results. No one pays enough attention to telling the right story. The bells and whistles have become the main conversation when it comes to social.
  • Under investment in CXO brand building: Especially for B2B firms, it’s the PR teams managing the CXO media outreach the same way they did a decade ago, ignoring, or underinvesting in how these CXOs can become thought leaders in their own right by using social media correctly. When people are looking for signals to buy, would they trust a company’s whose CXO is everywhere (print and online) telling a story about his industry in an effective way, or just another suit?

Between Agency and In-house, which approach would you recommend for the maximum value of Social Media Marketing? Why?

Karan Rajpal: You need a combination of both, with the brand team holding the narrative taut, just like the director a film would. If I’d hire today, I’d look for people who know how to use the tools, and who can tell a good story. Because social media has been so hot, there are many fly by night operators today who run agencies selling you one scam after another. So the choice between in-house, specialist agency or mainline agency is not one to have- who’s telling the better story, using the features of the channel well, and allowing you to build your narrative- that’s more important.

What are your top recommendations for B2B marketers using SoMe channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.?

Karan Rajpal:

  • For reach at a reasonable cost: Remarketing through Facebook and Twitter.
  • For a very expensive but highly targeted demand generation campaign: LinkedIn.
  • For all around coverage: Search and Display.

I don’t believe using social in isolation can deliver results- social is the easiest, yes, but it is not where your audience spends all their time. You have to be present where they are- and that’s online, not just on social media.

Is there really an optimal time for social media posting, or should brands post around the clock?

Karan Rajpal: I’ve read different case studies over the years, which state posting mid-morning or early afternoon is best, when people are bored at work, and browsing social media, or during evening commuting hours. My experience at different global firms has been to post during the best hours in each time zone (most content I’ve produced was for global audiences)

But, with ~1-2% organic reach on Facebook, and algorithmic timelines on Twitter, Instagram (and LinkedIn will join soon), this is going to become a moot question.

That said, this time of posting narrative is getting outdated very fast. Brands have to start preparing for a pay-to-play scenario on social media, where all reach is paid for.

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How do you ensure increasing Social Media Marketing’s relevance and influence in the organization?

Karan Rajpal: My argument is simple- the brand has to be present where the audience is spending more time. I work in a B2B company- advertising in mainstream media, whether print, TV or OOH will lead to a lot of leakages. With social, if I use the right audience sets and have enough money, I can reach a much larger portion of our TG. Across different organisations, this argument has worked, but with different efficacy.

Which are your 3 favourite Social Media Marketing Tools?

Karan Rajpal: True Social metrics for measurement, Sprinklr for full suite content lifecycle management, and Buffer for managing my personal profiles.

Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and students to learn Social Media Marketing today?

Karan Rajpal:

    • For Entrepreneurs: you can build an entire brand just by telling the right narrative on social media. There are enough brands in India (and abroad) across sectors which are just made from how they told their story on social media. No offline presence, no mainline spends before a certain revenue run rate. If you’re waiting to start a business because the giants in your sector have a large distribution and brand moat, don’t. Start telling your story today.
    • For Professionals: Invest time in building your own profile. If a CXO in any business is thinking about the job you do, they should be thinking about you. And you don’t need to know them or be ‘connected’ to them. As long as you are considered the most knowledgeable in the field and spend time on writing and sharing things about it, you’ll be top of mind recall. And if you are a professional marketer, just stop writing ‘proficient in digital marketing’ on your LinkedIn profile, and do something about it.
    • For Students: You already spend most of your time on it. Think about how you can build a career in it. Or chuck social media altogether, and become very good at something else, so you can people on social media about that.

What are the top 3-5 skills you look for when hiring a candidate for Social Media Marketing profile?

Karan Rajpal: An understanding of marketing as a discipline, how they understand social media as a marketer, and not just a user, and a convergence of skills- can this person write a post for my copy, cobble together a simple creative and sponsor it using Facebook audience manager at thirty minutes notice at 12 am (things get a little crazy sometimes).

What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at building a career in Social Media Marketing industry?

Karan Rajpal: Read widely and deeply about everything. Keep up with things on a day-to-day basis, and over time. Don’t let people sell you keywords and hot topics and bells and whistles. Prepare to be in an always-on mode. Sometimes, take a holiday from social media.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in Social Media Marketing? Which are the Social Media Marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) you visit regularly? 

Karan Rajpal: I maintain a long list of sites I read on a tool called Feedly. It lets me scan headlines quickly and read at leisure when I want to. Among sites- Digiday, We are Social, an agency in Singapore runs a good blog. For measurement and analytics- Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik. Tech Culture sites like The Verge cover a lot of ground. Ironically, not even a single digital agency runs a good blog of their own in India, which tells you a lot.

Share the names of 3 people you respect when it comes to Social Media Marketing.

Karan Rajpal:

  1. Whoever manages Zomato’s marketing- and the team who make their content
  2. A Youtuber called Gaurav Taneja, who’s built a fitness/lifestyle content platform called FitMuscle TV from scratch in the past two years
  3. The founding team of Vice, who chose and told stories that mattered, to their audience in a way that mattered- they were at the forefront of upending mainstream media using social as distribution

How do you see Social Media evolving in future? What are the top 3 trends do you foresee for 2018?

Karan Rajpal: Pay-for-play- brands have to spend money each time they want to seen on social media- it will become a much larger media play than a content play

AR/VR integrations: As consumers start spending time on DayDream/ARKit/ARCore powered VR experiences, how will brands integrate with them (again, this is not a bells and whistle thing, but about brands presence where consumers spend time)

B2B brands finally getting their act together for using digital marketing for real results- the era of getting page followers, impressions and scam campaigns will slow down, as funnels start showing real results

Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?

Karan Rajpal: For everyone who doesn’t work on social media and digital marketing on a day to day basis, Digital Vidya’s introductory programs are very helpful.

For colleagues who work in adjacent marketing teams, there is a high interest in digital marketing, and platforms such as yours are a good bridge for them. I’m hopeful you will continue to spark conversations in the coming years and more people will spend time with you as an investment in their professional future.

To know more about Karan Rajpal, you can check out his Twitter & LinkedIn. 

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Mir is a Marketing Communications professional with a British Master’s Degree in the field of International Business and Management, and around five years of work experience in conducting 360-degree Promotional Campaigns.

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