Bangalore: Diwakar Kaushik, 25, is an active tweeter, putting out short messages on everything from the weather in Gurgaon, where he resides, to cricket on the microblogging site Twitter.
Last Thursday, the management student tweeted, “Trying to decide between a Lenovo or an Acer laptop.”
Soon, and much to his surprise, he had a reply from the Chinese computer maker’s India arm, Lenovo India Pvt. Ltd. “I only expected some users to respond,” he said.
Lenovo got in touch with Kaushik, asked him for his specifications, gave him suggestions on various computer models and a list of authorized dealers from whom he could purchase the laptop. “Lenovo helped with the (purchase) decision,” said Kaushik who bought a Lenovo G450 laptop two days after the company reached out to him.
Lenovo India went on social media’s newest and least understood avatar, Twitter, in end-July.
Members on the networking site communicate through messages shorter than 140 characters—a concept that has become a rage globally and continues to grow as users find new applications for it.
“Our expectation was only to listen to customers,” said K. Ramakrishnan, country manager, marketing, at Lenovo India.
In less than two months, the company has generated enquiries and translated some of them into sales, for both individuals and bulk buyers.
Several Indian companies are advertising and closely tracking themselves on social media on the Internet—all the content generated on a gamut of blogs, online video and photo sharing sites, social networking sites and even on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. Few have been effective.
Unlike Lenovo, whose social media strategy is to listen to potential customers, many companies treat the Internet as yet another channel to plug their products. Often, they launch television or print advertising campaigns and blare them via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
“They have failure written all over,” says Gaurav Mishra, chief executive of Delhi-based social media research and strategy company Twenty Twenty WebTech Pvt. Ltd. “There’s no conversation. It’s an advertising campaign.”
Mishra thinks such approaches fail because social media users are not looking for advertising and see through the sloganeering.
“Social media is not a one-way traffic,” said Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, marketing, at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.
India’s largest car maker was one of the early adopters of social media two years back, riding blogs, YouTube and Flickr, but is still evolving its strategy to start having conversations rather than just send advertising messages.
“I’m not satisfied at all,” says Srivastava. He thinks Indian companies on social media are far behind global peers such as Virgin Group LtdVirgin Radio or German car maker Audi AG.
Driving an engaging conversation is far from easy.
The Indian arm of microchip maker Freescale Semiconductor Inc. went on Twitter last month to promote its technology forum held earlier in September in Bangalore. Now that the event is over, “We are figuring out how to keep the conversation alive,” said a spokeswoman for Freescale, who cannot be named because of the company’s policy.
“Presence on social media has become a hygiene factor,” said Unny Radhakrishnan, national director digital at Maxus, a media agency of British advertising and media firm WPP Plc.
He sees more brands embracing social media than there were 6-12 months back. “Everyone wants to see what to do with this animal.”
And those that are already there are changing tack.
Fastrack, a brand of watches and sunglasses from Titan Industries Ltd, started communities on Facebook and Twitter in October 2007. Managing those communities was ousourced till April but the brand decided to bring the job in-house so it could respond in real time, improve efficiency and reduce cost.
“If somebody writes: my watch stopped working in two days. You need to be real time,” said Anshul Nanda, assistant brand manager, Fastrack.
Travel portal Cleartrip sees great value in dealing with customer requests and complaints over social media.
“Servicing a customer over social media is cheaper than over phone,” said Hrush Bhatt, founder and director (product and strategy), Cleartrip.
And surely instantaneous, customer-oriented tweeting does make a difference to brand perception.
“From the kind of replies I got I can tell it is not a robot,” said Kaushik who bought the Lenovo laptop. “They were human replies. That gives me faith in the company.”