From social commerce to social sales: Indian companies take up starting positions

Social media is transforming the way companies build profitable relationships with customers.

Bangalore | Published: April 13, 2013 2:04 pm

By Manish Panjwani

Social media is transforming the way companies build profitable relationships with customers. It’s a disruptive process,but Indian companies need to start rethinking how they go to market in the Digital Age.

Facebook’s IPO and subsequent stock market performance continues to be widely reported. What has attracted less coverage is that soon it will be dropping Facebook Credits in favour of local currency pricing — a vital step towards offering full-service payment functionality online.

As financial services on social sites become a reality,it is fitting to survey the global trends and assess the placement of Indian business on the adoption curve.

Beyond ‘brochure-ware’

Social media channels are already well established in India,making social sales a real opportunity for Indian business. According to one study commissioned by Norton,the average Indian with Internet connectivity spends 9.7 hours a week on social networking. And according to Internet World statistics,10.2 percent of Indians have access to the Internet–roughly 130 million people.

Notwithstanding this,most companies’ showing on social media is the equivalent of “brochure-ware on the Internet in the 1990s. And while their efforts are becoming more sophisticated,most social commerce experiments still have a long way to go.

All too often,for example,when shoppers on a retailer’s social pages are ready to buy,they’re sent elsewhere to complete the transaction,disrupting what should be a seamless experience. Plainly,commercial elements have to be integrated into a company’s social presences,to capitalise on this juggernaut of online consumer activity.

Integrated conversation

Conversely,the same principle holds true–as much as social media should not abdicate commercial responsibilities,the commercial success rate of other channels can also be bolstered with social elements.

Shopping has always been a social phenomenon; it amps up the experience,making the whole process of consideration,selection and purchase more interactive and fun.

The goal with driving social media sales must therefore be to enable and sustain integrated conversations with consumers across all channels–social and otherwise–thereby establishing the mutually rewarding relationships that drive sales on social as well as other channels. Getting it right and making it easy gives businesses a powerful new tool -the ability to enable impulse buys in a digital world.

How to get there?

Relinquish control

A successful social commerce venture requires an unusually strong commitment from business leaders. To embrace it wholeheartedly,business leaders must submit to the reality that they will lose control over many of the factors influencing product awareness and demand to the C2C space.

However,the buzz of social conversation,when harnessed properly and fearlessly,can be a great source of agility and competitive advantage.

American sandwich chain Au Bon Pain used Facebook to launch its first store in Bangalore,leveraging the predilection for social media of the young,middle-class Indian set it was targeting. The company created a Facebook page to build excitement prior to the launch,and a range of competitions to fuel office workers’ interest–Fan of the Week,Wow Wednesday (to counter the mid-week slump),Preview Lunch for Facebook Fans,and so on. Au Bon Pain also invited its audience to narrate their experiences,thus creating a story-telling brand site for Au Bon Pain in India. Within the first eight months,the page had built up a fan base of more than 20 000,and had experienced 75 000 impressions and 100 000 online interactions. The positive social media buzz reached beyond Bangalore,and has led to the company deciding to open more stores elsewhere.

In this example,it is clear that social also plays a key role in moving consumers from awareness to consideration. Ninety percent of consumers trust peer recommendations (just fourteen per cent trust advertisements) and businesses can realise value by participating in these peer-to-peer conversations.

The key objective of a social media journey should be to participate,thereby helping to create social capital and increase social connections between potential customers and those within their networks who are naturally inclined to recommend specific products.

Next,investigate how social can be used to compress the sales cycle so shoppers can move rapidly (and entirely digitally) from awareness to recommendation to purchase. Companies that can control that journey,creating easier and faster trips down the marketing funnel to the digital mall,will lower sales and marketing costs and boost sales volumes.

To weave social commerce into the way companies communicate and transact with consumers,they must first develop a coherent social strategy,acknowledging social media’s role at each stage of the marketing funnel and understanding where it intersects with e-commerce and physical environments.

In India,Fastrack successfully leveraged its success in the virtual world within the real world. Fastrack aims to be India’s pre-eminent youth lifestyle brand,with watches,bags,belts and wallets as well as India’s largest sunglasses brand in its line-up. This is a market sector that is active on social media,and the company amassed one million fans on its Facebook page in 2010. It celebrated that milestone by promoting a one-day sale at its recently launched stores,exclusively for Facebook fans. The sale was promoted exclusively on social media and the response was overwhelming. Most stores were sold out within hours,and in some instances traffic police had to be called in to help manage the crowds. At the end of the day,the company had turned digital buzz into Rs 2.75 crores real-world revenue.

What it takes

Social ecosystem–Social commerce needs to become an “and”,not an “or”. Marketers will benefit from not just mastering social media,but also managing a variety of social tools. It’s no longer about creating a single,central,industrialised e-commerce site to serve every possible function but about common tools and strategies deployed across multiple sites,apps,platforms and forums to give targeted customers specific and rich experiences.

Social tools–To respond effectively,companies will have to evolve to match consumers’ changing needs. Powerful analytic tools will play a vital role,helping marketers to understand what forms of marketing work best in particular social environments,as well as enabling them to analyse granular data and develop optimised solutions that sustain relevance to customers. It’s apparent that,as a country,India has some catching up to do. Indian business has taken bold steps to build the business intelligence and analytics capabilities it needs to analyse the flood of information that social media generates. According to Accenture research,Indian businesses are twice as likely to have taken this step,when compared with their global counterparts. However,Indian businesses have generally not used that capability to best effect,and not integrated business analytics into the way they do business. This means they are ill-equipped to identify market shifts on social media and react to them.

The future

Social sales are happening already,and they’ll soon become much more sophisticated and far-reaching.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia,for example,recently announced its plans to enable banking services through Facebook. Dell has made $6 million-plus in sales via links on one Twitter account,and public service delivery in the social space cannot be far behind.

Social consumers are still up for grabs,but not for long. Many leading businesses are starting to ‘get’ the rules of the game – with the frontrunners increasing their investments in social platforms and social design mechanics so they can manage consumer interactions across all communication channels. Indian businesses must act now if they are not to fall behind.

What the C-suite can do now

* Introduce a clear top-down stance that defines the priority of social initiatives.

* Launch a ‘consumer interaction’ inventory to capture how consumers interact with your organisation.

* Survey your company to understand how it uses social and compare this with best practices.

* Identify and assess tools and players in the social space.

* Study the best practices of social’s early adopters.

* Prepare for ‘social listening’. Find out what conversations your consumers are having about your company (and where). Start participating (no selling allowed!).

* Create better experiences for consumers by using social channels in combination with existing digital and physical commerce channels.

* Identify,foster and support advocates among your consumers.

* Identify meaningful metrics for tracking social’s success.

* Enable closer relationships between marketing and technology functions.

(Author is managing director,technology practice,Accenture India. Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not represent those of The Indian Express)

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