Helping Brands Take the Social Media Plunge

Posted in Digital Marketing on April 16th, 2014

By: Diksha Sethi

Social Media Week, across the world, strums up issues and topics that are of most interest to the only other social entity after us humans – the brands.

Getting brands on to the social media bandwagon takes some effort. At the Social Media Week, I chose to speak about this initiation process—to help brands understand how to make their brands more ‘human’ and ‘sociable’ and then take the plunge confidently. In our daily interactions with clients, we observe many pain points that they deal with. It can sometimes be a struggle for social media strategists to educate and sensitise clients about the benefits of the medium, while forced to work within shoestring budgets, and convince the clients enough as to why the metrics of engagement matter.

Based on these interactions, we have identified the challenges that each party faces and how they can be overcome.

First up, it is important to understand the client’s need and for that, it is most important to understand their mind. To my mind, there are broadly three kinds of marketers, and each with a distinct business need.

1) Old School Marketer:

2) The Number Cruncher:

3) The Go Getter:

Apart from getting into the minds of the client, there are some major challenges that stop an organisation from realising the importance of the medium and adopting it as an essential tool of internal and external communications:

1) Lack of understanding among leadership
2) Mismatch of expectations
3) Unreasonable goal setting
4) Lack of internal stakeholder engagement
5) Social media as a stand-alone program
6) Undefined success

Where do you begin?

  • Start by dipping your foot into the water before taking the leap. Start with a pilot programme with a minimum investment
  • Have a clear goal that you want to achieve with this pilot and see if you are getting any value
  • Set a realistic expectation. Social media is no magic wand and results may not be instantaneous
  • Get comfortable with the risks. The sooner you make peace with them, the better. A risk mitigation strategy before you invest your time and money into a social media program always helps
  • A quick scan at what the competitors are doing in the social media space to boost their presence and what is working or not working for them can help set the house in order

What next?

Okay, you’ve run a pilot and you’ve seen the results. You’re ready to set aside the budget and resources but it is very important to do a reality check and analyse the social media maturity level of your organisation before you decide to take the plunge.


  • How much is it going to cost you?
  • What is the size of the team that you need?
  • Would the social media team be a part of the communications vertical or the marketing vertical or would function across departments?
  • Which social media platforms would be ideal for your business? Facebook? Twitter? Not necessarily. It is important to understand your target audience and your end goal
  • Bring your senior management and decision-makers to comfortable terms with the medium. Sensitise them about the pros and cons, the measurable outcomes, any risks involved and a strategy to combat the same
  • Have an internal social media policy in place
  • Train your employees. A social media employee training programme is a great way to embed the medium into the communications culture of your company. Only 14% organisations admit that their employees have a good knowledge of social media policies

Source: Altimeter

Social media has changed the dynamics by taking the remote control from the hands of the marketer and handing it to the consumer – making her the ultimate decision-maker. Like it or not, people are talking about your brand on the web – good, bad or ugly – and you can’t stop them. The point is, are you listening? If you are, then it is time to take the bull by the horn and face the change – start talking to your consumers, pay attention to their feedback/suggestions/criticism and engage with them actively so that they become the advocates of your brand identity.

Are you ready to take the social media plunge?


Let Better Sense Prevail

Posted in Public relations on May 3rd, 2013

India and China aim to raise their bilateral trade to $100 bn. If they want to take the relationship forward, they need to bury the ghosts of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai

Rahul Sharma

Few tents and some temporary structures in the wilderness of a cold desert shouldn’t usually bring two large neighbours to a brink of a diplomatic fracas, but the India-China story is different. So when Chinese soldiers crossed over the actual line of control in northern Ladakh and decided to peg their tents on the Indian side, alarm bells began ringing in New Delhi.

There are enough reasons for India to not trust China. History has taught her tough lessons. However, the latest testy border spat needs to be handled with the future in mind, not the past.

Indeed, China’s military adventurism should be a cause of concern and should be questioned, not with the usual fear so deeply ingrained in the Indian establishment after the humiliating defeat in the 1962 border war but with a confidence of a rising economic and military power.

Fifty years ago, ill-equipped Indian soldiers and a scrappy political leadership saw Chinese troops get a quick upper hand. But 2013 is different. Not only is the Indian military better equipped, it is also better prepared. Also, there are enough nations who would quickly side with India.

What is necessary is that short-term gains should not dictate the long-term agenda on both sides. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Beijing next week should be used to ask Chinese tough questions and find suitable responses.

While it is highly unlikely that a full-fledged war will break out — it should not — it is necessary to understand the potential reasons behind China’s aggressive behaviour not only towards India, but also its other Asian neighbours with whom Beijing has scrapped over islands and ocean beds in recent months.

One, let us not forget that China’s new leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who have taken over at a time when the country once-booming economy is slowing down, are trying to consolidate their power. Xi is not only the secretary general of the Communist Party, but also chairman of the Central Military Commission. While he tries to find and place his own men in the country’s elaborate political and military system, a show of strength always works well with all stakeholders.

Second, the new leaders could be looking at raising nationalistic heat to deflect people’s attention from a sluggish economy. At least two generations of Chinese have only seen high economic growth rates that have fuelled prosperity. Xi has arrived on the scene after a decade of high growth led by his predecessor Hu Jintao, who unfortunately left behind an economy desperately in need to structural reforms and high levels of corruption unheard of in the Chinese system earlier. China’s GDP is expected to grow by 7.5 per cent this year against high double-digit growth for most of the past 30 odd years. Domestic insecurities usually prompt leaders to go beat the war drums, and the military aggression can be a result of shifting sands at home.

Third, the incursion could be connected with Li’s forthcoming visit to India later this month. Given the unresolved border dispute, China might be flexing muscle ahead of his visit to ensure that Indians do not raise embarrassing issues during what will be his first official foreign visit since becoming premier. China likes to approach issues from a position of strength, so while Xi has conceded that the border dispute will take time to resolve Li might want to put pressure on India to give up a few miles ahead of his visit. China already has India surrounded, with large political, economic and diplomatic interests in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Fourth, there is also a view that China is unhappy about India getting closer to Japan and the United States, which is refocusing on Asia after a decade of involvement in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Limited aggression against its neighbour could be seen to be a sign of irritation on China’s part and a signal that there is only that much leeway India can have if it wants to have friendly relations with Beijing.

Whatever be the reason, better sense needs to prevail on both sides as a war will do no good to either. There is obviously a huge economic cost involved if relations worsen. It happened with Japan – Beijing’s biggest trading partner — last year when a dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea prompted Chinese people to start attacking Japanese factories and products. The business loss was immense.

India and China are aiming to raise their bilateral trade to $100 billion soon. If they want to take their relationship forward, they need to bury the ghosts of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai – the Chinese leaders who launched the war on India — and look to the future. There is enough room in the world for both India and China to play without coming into each other’s way. But before that they definitely need to get out of each other’s way in Ladakh.

2nd May 2013 Business World edition


Dead Pigs, Flu, And The Price Of Growth

Posted in Public relations on April 15th, 2013

People in China are worried if there is a link between the dead pigs, ducks and fish and the flu given that most of the cases of the latest disease have been reported from Shanghai

Rahul Sharma

Thousands of bloated, dead pigs floating down a river don’t make for a good sight. Nor do dead ducks and fish. In the past month all of these have been seen in a China’s vast commercial hub Shanghai, raising fears of contaminated drinking water and potential pandemics that could hit the world thanks to the Chinese.

There are good reasons to worry. Most of us would have probably forgotten, but empty flights, face masks, heat cameras at airports and a shortage of anti-flu drugs was common a decade ago when a mysterious disease that first erupted in China began killing people across the world.

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) swamped the world as worried health officials scurried around trying to find a cure for the super bug that kept people indoors and hit economies hard. Thousands of patients were quarantined across countries. Eight hundred died.

The disease, which originated in China’s southern Guangdong province and quickly travelled across the world after reaching neighbouring Hong Kong, disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The last case was reported in 2004.

Now another strain of the avian flu has jumped to humans and is causing a similar scare; and rightly so, as it comes days after the unpleasant visual experience of dead animal floating in the river was unleashed on people. People in China are worried if there is a link between the dead pigs, ducks and fish and the flu given that most of the cases of the latest disease have been reported from Shanghai. The first case in Beijing was reported last week.

There is concern over the possibility of the virus spreading as fast as SARS did, but there is also a difference that indicates how China has matured as a global citizen in the past 10 years. When SARS hit, there was confusion and a large degree of secrecy around it. The Chinese government then struggled to share information even as a suspicious world wondered and tried to find ways to control the spread of the strange disease.

This time around it seems are different: there is openness and transparency about the spread of the disease, the government is sharing information with global agencies, and it is even using social media to talk about it in its attempt to educate the masses. It’s a shift that is pleasant to the rest of the world, which at least knows what is happening and, therefore, what could be expected. However, it raises larger questions about China that has grown at a clipped pace but at a huge cost of its environment.

Air pollution is killing people and it is believed that at least 20 per cent of all rivers in China are just too toxic for human contact, so filled are they with chemicals and other rubbish that the industry dumps into them. The risk to public health is high as drinking water sources become unusable. Dead pigs, ducks and fish are only one of the pollutants.

The problem in a flat world is that it is not only money and information that travels fast; illness and infections do too. The worry is whether the dead pigs floating in the Huangpu River could trigger another pandemic despite China’s new openness. While no link has yet been found between the pork and the flu, the chances of the disease spreading is still high – probably higher than the SARS back in 2003.

At that time fewer Chinese travelled abroad, and fewer foreigners travelled to China. The economic boom of the past decade has seen a sharp rise in travel to and from that country. Therefore, despite better awareness and better medical practices and drugs, there is no way to stop the disease from travelling across borders.

The economic cost of an economic boom is massive. If we believe the numbers put out by the Chinese government, the cost of environmental degradation – pollution and damage to ecosystem – was $230 billion in 2010. In economic terms that amounts to 3.5 pe rcent of the gross domestic product.

The last thing China, which is continuously questioned over its environmental practices, wants to be known as is an exporter of diseases that could have been potentially triggered by damage to its domestic ecosystem. It will be detrimental to the country’s aspirations to become a global power.

China, therefore, needs to clean up its act, introduce stringent laws protect its environment, continue to be transparent with information, and take quick steps to curb the spread of diseases that could negatively impact its economy and the world at large. It needs to prioritise. Growth cannot come at the cost of sustained damage to the environment, as that would only bring social and economic problems in the long run.

For others, such as India, there are hard lessons in here. They need to clean up their rivers too and create a better health system in rural areas to avoid the emergence of diseases that would fox and kill people. In the inter-connected world that we live in, it’s best to learn from each other.

14th April 2013 Business World edition


The Chinese Dream

Posted in Public relations on March 18th, 2013

China is on the brink of becoming the world’s biggest economy and it will happen under Xi’s watch. China also faces the danger of a social and political implosion…

Rahul Sharma

In his first speech after being anointed as president of his country last week, Xi Jinping’s message was clear: China will grow the way China knows best and the world needs to accept the Chinese way, as much as the Chinese themselves need to.

“We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. To realise the “Chinese dream,” China must take the Chinese way, he said.

Xi’s formal anointment as China’s new supreme leader – he’s head of the Communist Party, the government as well as the military – comes at a crucial time in world history. In the past decade, as China has grown, the United States has seen it power wane; the global economic turbulence has impacted the West severely and the view that power is shifting to Asia has gained currency.

China is on the brink of becoming the world’s biggest economy and it will be an event that will unfold under Xi’s watch. China also faces the danger of a social and political implosion as growing aspirations and wider connections with the world is prompting people to question the supremacy of the Communist Party.

The Chinese dream, put forth by Xi, Xinhua said in a separate commentary, was “to build a moderately prosperous society and realise national rejuvenation by sustaining growth through deepening reforms and transforming growth pattern. It is a dream of national strength and prosperity, and happiness of the people.”

Stability is the key word here. And Xi, who will rule for a decade, has his task cut out.

While externally China has the financial muscle and the economic might to dictate its terms, internally, the man who replaced Hu Jintao, has a bigger problem to tackle at home: he has to ensure the supremacy of the Communist Party and savagely attack corruption that has prompted people to question its political power.

More importantly, Xi also has to ensure continued economic growth, generation of enough jobs and balancing of an export-led economy that has been hit hard by the global slowdown. At least three generations of Chinese have seen nothing but economic growth and their expectations from the government and the party that rules their country is huge.

In short, what Xi is saying is that all those who expect China’s political system to change will have to wait longer. He and his team are not going to rock the boat too much. Yes, they will clean up the party and the government of corruption so that the party’s power is not eroded, but will they opt for a different political system? No, they won’t. As long as China continues to grow and people can be kept happy, there is little need for big changes anyway. Any unreasonable turn could only bring about a collapse of a nation of 1.3 billion people. It’s best to keep the large ship moving in the direction it is moving than force it to make a quick U-turn.

Following cases involving high-profile party officials that rattled the Communist Party leadership last year, tackling corruption seems to be high on Xi’s list of things to do. Given that the government and the party are deeply intertwined, Xi’s concerns are valid. If political corruption begins to erode the party’s power, the government itself will be in danger in a country where the leadership is keen to “preserve the political integrity of Communists.”

Can one imagine China without its Communist Party? Some would want to, but the Chinese themselves can’t. And that’s the reason why Xi is pushing the “Chinese dream” – a sense of deep nationalism and patriotism that he hopes will bind the Chinese people together in facing external threats and internal instability that the Communist Party is best placed to battle.

“We are shouldering the heavy task bestowed by the history and going through the test of the times. We must uphold the principle that the Party was founded for the public good and that it exercises state power for the people, supervise our own conduct and run the Party with strict discipline, enhance the Party’s art of leadership and governance, and strengthen the ability to resist corruption, prevent degeneration and ward off risks,” Xi was quoted as saying.

The party, for Xi, is paramount. It should not only lead and unite the people, but also build socialism with Chinese characteristics. In there is a message for the Chinese people: The party is the only organisation that can look after you and ensure your well-being; it will continue to do so even it has to change. Believe in it, trust it and don’t give up on it because giving up would only mean trouble for you and the country.

At another level, Xi and his team are sending out realistic messages on the economy. There is now a realisation that the fast-paced, double-digit growth that powered China’s ascension as a global power is a thing of the past. A more manageable 7-7.5 per cent growth until 2020, backed by deeper reforms and a new growth paradigm – shift from investment to consumption — will help build a moderately prosperous society, which will be good for both economic and political stability.

Xi has 10 years to change China. It seems he has time, but a decade in a nation’s life is but a small window. His will be, therefore, an exciting journey as China seeks its place in the sun in a world that is changing fast.

(The columnist is President, Public Affairs, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, and a former newspaper editor. He has a keen interest in matters involving China and Southeast Asia. Views expressed here are personal)

18th March 2013 Business World edition


Is China ready to take the top slot and take on US across several frontiers – from the Taiwan Strait to the Pacific and across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans?

Posted in Public relations on March 5th, 2013

Rahul Sharma

When Deng Xiaoping opened China’s doors to the world, he was quite clear in his message to his people: Do not challenge the American supremacy in any sphere. He needed Washington’s help for China’s journey to prosperity and recognition as a large power; to return the nation to what the Chinese considered to be their rightful place in the world.

In the last three decades, China has mostly kept its head down as it deepened and expanded its economy, surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-biggest economy, and used it huge financial muscle to slowly influence countries and events across the world. Its focus largely has been on ensuring its energy security and raw material supplies. Beijing has challenged Japan mostly because of historical problems, but it hasn’t openly taken the United States on despite widening differences over trade and foreign policy issues.

But as the United States weakens economically and a new generation of post-Deng leaders take power in China, there are chances that the equation might begin to change. China’s eventual ascendency to the top of the global economic heap opens possibilities of tensions between the world’s two biggest economies as they battle for supremacy.

Academics have often wondered whether the United States is willing to play second fiddle in a world it has dominated for most of the past century. The view is that many in America have not, and probably can’t, come to terms with the new reality that China’s economy will overtake theirs in the not too distant future – in fact in the next five years if projections by the International Monetary Fund are to be believed.

Not many seem to be asking the other pertinent question: Is China ready to take the top slot and begin to openly challenge the United States across several frontiers – from the Taiwan Strait to the Pacific and then across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans? Given that China is on a slow race to the top, it might not be in too much of a hurry to displace the United States and declare itself to the supreme hegemon. China knows how to play the long-term game and it might not be in their immediate interest to create deep geopolitical rifts with a nation with which it is so intrinsically tied otherwise.

The United States is still the world’s biggest economy (China’s is currently half of the American GDP) and the strongest military power. That will not change quickly even though the slow burn is already beginning to take place thanks to spending cuts being put into place by the administration of President Barack Obama.

Geo-politically, it is in the interest of the Chinese leaders to give Washington enough time and space to let the hangman’s noose tighten. China has enough internal social, economic and political issues to resolve before it invites the world to a big coming-out party. However, what needs to be understood is that eventually China would want to do what it set out to under Deng: claim its rightful place in the sun. It would, however, want to reach there without rocking the boat – both internally and externally.

The next decade is hugely important not only for China, but also for the world that is and will continue to witness major economic and geopolitical shifts as power slips away from the West to Asia and even Africa, which will emerge as the new economic powerhouses.

So when Xi Jinping officially takes over as China’s president during this month’s session of the national parliament in Beijing, China watchers will be looking for signs that may indicate how quickly, or how late, would Beijing want to start telling the world that it now wants to run that last mile with a degree of seriousness not seen earlier.

Xi – who not only heads the Communist Party but also the Chinese military – has his plate full for the moment as the party and the government battle charges of official corruption at a time of an economic slowdown that is not sitting well with a generation that has seen nothing but growth. In the past decade when Hu Jintao was president, the rich-poor divide in China increased dramatically and official corruption became a scourge that the Communist Party has been forced to clean up.

March 13 Business World edition


Learn the Lesson Before your Account is Hacked: A Strong Password Is No Longer Enough

Posted in Digital Marketing on February 25th, 2013
Yu Yu Din

Yu Yu Din

It’s hard to imagine companies like Burger King and Jeep could have their well established brand identities altered in 140 characters or less. But that almost came to bear in recent weeks as we saw hackers have their way with both Twitter accounts, confusing followers and reminding all of us that when it comes to social media, security measures are now more important than ever.

We can all agree that Twitter helps leverage a brand’s assets, but brands have a lot to lose if their account gets hacked, including brand equity. In the wake of the recent high profile hacking, Twitter posted an official blog on passwords, outlining best practices and safety measures individuals and corporations should take. But the story doesn’t end there. If an organisation or brand relies on a third party to manage its social media, extra steps must be taken to ensure security.

A good example is TweetDeck – an essential tool used to manage several Twitter accounts at the same time. This involves the use of Application Programming Interface (API) Keys which are software-to-software passwords. These passwords help users post across multiple platforms with just one validation. Staying on top of these passwords is critical, and companies must always have an accurate reading on who has access. This is particularly critical – and challenging – if an outside company is used to manage a company’s social channels.

Twitter’s recommendations are useful and should be followed, but are they enough? We encourage you to take consider these few extra steps to ensure their accounts are safe, because why take any chances.

Have Specific Owners for Specific Social Assets
Make people accountable for your social media assets. Just because they’re on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean security should be treated lightly. There are real tangible assets behind communications to fans and followers – they’re your current and potential customers.

Don’t Just Change Passwords – Update API Keys
Keep a checklist of all the attached tools and accounts – do you use TweetDeck, or Visible Technologies’s Cymphony, or Hootsuite ? What does your agency use and how are your accounts linked? Change passwords on a monthly or quarterly basis (depending on how often you change your agencies). Change your API keys, too. You can also check your account settings here: after you’ve logged in to see which apps have access to your account and you can revoke access from that page.

Keep Your Team and Yourself Updated
Apps and tools are getting additional features on a regular basis. Companies that produce those apps also come and go whether by shutting down or by acquisition. Keep yourself updated on the industry news, best tools to use, and best practices and implement them whenever you can. The best teams are the ones who can adapt to changes right away, no matter which side of the client/agency relationship they sit on.

Do you have more security concerns? Let us know and we’d be happy to address them.

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