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by Leslie D’Monte

The swine flu outbreak has not only reached beyond Mexican borders and into the US but also invaded cyberspace. General websites including wikipedia, social networking sites and blogs have put up useful data on the risks, symptoms, and other updates.

In some cases, though, misinformation is said to have caused online panic too. A simple real-time search on Swine Flu or #swineflu on twitter.com will reveal results such as: ‘time for people to stop eating pigs!’; and ‘This pigflu thing seems quite bad, you might even call it a hamdemic’.

Unofficial swine flu information on Twitter may lead people to unwise decisions, opines Evgeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute and a blogger on ForeignPolicy.com.

Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm, a digital advertising firm, and an avid user of twitter himself (he has over 1,000 followers), counters that the problem on twitter arose from a single site @breakingnews “which kept sending a tweet every 10 minutes on swine flu. I got around 100 updates — many of them clearly based on rumours. The problem is that @breakingnews is an automated site. I personally had to ‘unfollow’ the site and instead go to @CNN for authentic information.”

He explains that twitter is just like SMS which can also spread rumours. However, unlike an SMS (where you do not know the other recipients), you can alert other twitters on twitter.com and dispel such rumours, says Murthy.

Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Business Blogging — an active twitter himself — concurs: “Twitter is a powerful tool and even corporates are getting aware of its power to inform. Such incidents do not take away from the power of Twitter.”

The increased conversations around swine flu on Twitter, where swine flu found its way into nearly 2 per cent of all tweets, are indicative of the spike in conversations around the web, states Nielsen Online. Even the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has its presence on twitter.com/cdcemergency.

Also known as the ‘SMS of the internet’, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service which enables users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets) which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters. The tweets are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users (via mobiles too) who have subscribed to them (known as followers).

Since its creation in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gained extensive popularity. It has an estimated 500,000 users in India and around 20 million worldwide. Veteran (in internet time) sites like Facebook and Orkut have 6.7 million users in India and 14.5 million users in India respectively.

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by Aparna Ram

Sixes and Fours galore in South Africa but chances are fans in India missed a lot of the IPL action owing to one of the two matches played everyday being in the non prime-time or office hours. If like most viewers, you usually tune in to catch the second match played in the evening, it looks like the internet could come to your rescue. IPL’s own site iplt20.com, which after crashing due to software glitches on the first two days of the IPL, is slowly coming back to form.

In India, cricket on the internet is still just about live scorecards, commentary and photographs. And video on the web comes with accessibility issues depending on connectivity and your location. So here are the top text sites you can log on to for the IPL this season.
According to internet traffic tracking service Vizsense, of the 7 percent of the total internet user population that went on cricket related sites during the matches, the largest number of page views went to cricinfo.com at 5.3%, yahoos cricket site cricket.yahoo.com came at 4.3%, and cricketnext.in.com at 3.4%. Iplt20.com came at only 1.5%

Cricinfo.com..this site does a good job of ball-by-ball scrutiny of the matches. Its IPL microsite has contests and live chats with the sites editor to keep the ardent fan engaged. Bangalore Royal Challengers cheerleader Rebecca Lees blog quite had us hooked.

Your next pit stop this IPL season should be cricket.yahoo.com. If you do not get enough of your heroes during the T20 matches, then the team news, photographs and insider-columns on this site, will make any team loyalist happy. Or maybe, even Australian great Glenn McGraths exclusive column.

Site No 3…cricketnext.in.com Apart from being a good cricket resource, this site will keep you occupied with games if your favourite match ends up being a washout like it did on Tuesday night.

Mahesh Murthy, CEO, PinStorm, said, “IPL on the web was poorly marketed.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done in the internet video space for IPL then. The major roadblocks in this direction are the facts that internet awareness is just catching on, broadband connectivity is still not widely and easily available, and most workplaces block video-related content for fear of loss of productivity. Once these issues are addressed, there’s every chance the IPLs third season in 2010 will become a better online experience.

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by Arcopol Chaudhuri

The consumer craze for Tata Nano was built on an interesting publicity platform. After the car was launched, it was advertised with a media mix unheard of in India’s recent media history — zero ads on television, a judicious use of print ads and an active Web interface. In the run up to its launch, Nano got the media attention equivalent to perhaps the largest paid advertiser in the country.

Copywriters would have salivated at the thought of making TVCs for the vehicle. Did Nano need a big-bang advertising blitzkrieg? Should advertising have begun earlier? What is the ideal media plan for Nano? DNA asked media experts.

A plan focusing on customer satisfaction initiatives
Here’s a brand that presumably has more than the required “pull” factor versus the regular “push” factor that brands need to create to achieve the “pull.” The media attention and space/time that Nano garnered over the last few months would perhaps be much more than the largest paid advertiser in the country for the corresponding period. The initial demand here would certainly be more than the supply.

If we were the media agency for Nano, our recommendation would have been to clearly divide the communication plan into 3 or 4 phases — all phases underpinned on the need to focus on various customer satisfaction initiatives. The company should focus on delivering a top-class product so that the consumer doesn’t end up spending a large sum on maintaining the vehicle. The first set of owners can either kill or make the brand. Considering the hiccups the project has gone through, it is a crucial period and a scenario that has both its positives and negatives as this lot will not be a substantial number.

The advertising in phase I — a 6 month window — should have news value since media is sure to follow the brand success. We would have used every possible consumer touch point to drive home the happy feel of the first lot of consumers, including the national news television discussion forums with owners, Web chat, interactive newspaper columns, interactive SMS communication and radio call-in programmes et al. We would then have ensured brand experience/touch and feel of the brand in specific cities. The last stage of the first phase, leading into Phase II, would be the announcement of a Nano owners’ club — subscription through paid memberships.

The club members would enjoy various perks/facilities so as to enable them to feel privileged. There should be consistent focus to ensure the members receive a pleasant surprise every 3 months. If handled well, this has the potential to partly fund the subsequent phases of Nano advertising, which should evolve based on the results of phase one.
S Yesudas, CEO, R K SWAMY Media Group

We pioneered similar strategy for Maruti Swift
There is nothing unusual about the Nano media strategy. When a launch is preceded by several months of media publicity, which continues after the product is actually rolled out, there is no sense in spending too much on paid advertising. In fact, we pioneered this strategy with the India launch of Swift some years ago.

The product had been revealed at all the major international auto expos and it was for the first time that an international launch was taking place simultaneously with the India launch. There was also much PR activity. So we dispensed with the usual TV advertising and instead got 27 channels to create their own teaser-revealers of the car, which was supported by intelligent use of print, online and radio.

We have since used this strategy for all subsequent launches from Maruti. Typically, when there is an expected booking period, TV advertising is slated to break only after a gap of a few months when there are sufficient cars on the road. I am not sure what is the geographic strategy for Nano as an entry level car – the demographic strategy seems fairly clear – but depending on the market selection, a judicious use of various types of out-of-home media must also be on the line.
Lynn De Souza, chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group

Use newspaper ads to tell people where to book
If you look at the value proposition of the Nano, it’s pegged at its affordability and low price. Finally, we need to realise that it’s all about the business. It would be unwise to burden the already ambitious project with an unreasonable marketing campaign that renders the business of making and selling a Nano unsustainable.

One would rather see how to use and further fuel media curiosity and hype generated by the Nano launch to push all relevant messages to the market. If advertising costs money, that cost would have to be added over a period of time to the Nano price and would need to be paid by the consumer. Fundamentally, I wouldn’t agree with large format, large budget ad campaigns for Nano. If I were the media planner, I would have used newspapers to just give details of where to book.

Nano did no ads and yet the world knew about the launch date! It’s shocking. My driver asked on the launch date if we were going to book! This is what I call a big-impact entry. And if all this was without an ad, maybe it’s just smart marketing. At the heart of it, advertising just serves various messages that we want to communicate to the audience. So far, all the messages have been carried within the hype and the hoopla. That advertising cost conservation is part of the Nano business model.
Atul Phadnis,CEO, What’s-On-India

Would you advertise a cure for cancer?
Advertising is only needed when the product doesn’t make news itself. Nano was such a ground-breaking product that it needed no advertising. When it was announced, 5 pages in the newspaper were about the Nano – three were editorial pages, which I think everyone read and two pages had ads, which I think almost no one cared for and probably was a complete waste of money.

If I was the media planner on the Nano account, I would only advertise information on ‘Where and how do I book a Nano?’ (Strangely, the Nano ads seemed to downplay this.) And maybe, this information needs to come less from Nano and more from Tata Capital and Carwale. So my media plan for Tata Nano would be — nil on TV, press and outdoors and Rs 10 lakh over two months on the Web (just to steer people to the website and financing information as the site is not well indexed). I would use above-the-line media only later, if there was any competition. But I don’t see competition for a couple of years. Isn’t it obvious?

If I discover a cure for cancer, I won’t spend a dime to advertise it. The world will be at my doorstep to publish news about it. The Nano is in a similar category. If they were so incredibly creative on the product itself — why bother with creative on the advertising? A product’s marketing IQ is inversely proportional to its ad budget. The more differentiated you design a product, the less you need to spend to persuade people to buy it. The dumber your product is, the more you need to spend to market it. All those brands need to advertise on IPL because you wouldn’t think of them otherwise. The Nano doesn’t have that problem.
Mahesh Murthy, founder, Pinstorm

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by Sruthi Krishnan

Efficacy lies in the larger impact it has on voters

Chennai: With political parties wooing voters online and using social networking sites to recruit activists, cyber space is becoming critical to campaign agendas. But how effective is a campaign that you join with a click?

“Before we start measuring the efficacy of an online campaign, we need to determine the context within which online campaigning works,” says Nishant Shah, Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.

For instance, the efficacy of a campaign such as ‘Jaago re’, which encourages people to vote, cannot be determined by looking at the number of people registered on the site or daily traffic; rather, its efficacy lies in the larger impact it has in terms of visibility, transparency, and other such factors, he says.

But numbers do matter and what is considered “merely signing up” is a significant activity, argues S. Shyam Sundar, co-director, Media Effects Research Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University in the U.S. “In social networks, an important piece of currency is the strength of a given node in the network.” Hence, by signing on, users are sending a signal of endorsement, which is similar to people showing up at a political rally — it is a measure of success, even though not everyone participates actively.

An online group is a platform to gather people, but that is not enough. People have to be commandeered on the platform to do something concrete to generate value, says Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm, a digital advertising firm. “The Indian political party online groups seem to have gathered people but are not directing them to action except in stray cases such as Meera Sanyal in South Mumbai. I would largely discount the BJP and Congress online groups for now as mostly valueless.”

Whether or not a campaign fulfilled the objectives it set out to accomplish is a measure of its efficacy, says Mr. Murthy. This can be measured with metrics such as engagement (amount of time and depth of user’s involvement in the message), brand impact (visibility of the message to target user), clicks, sign-ups, ‘viralness’ (how much users spread the message) and persuasion scores (measuring how persuasive the message is), he adds.

“In the specific case, say, of the BJP’s campaign, it seems to have several objectives,” says Mr. Murthy. He outlines three of those — to negate the impact on youth of Narendra Modi and project L.K. Advani as the sole BJP leader; to project the 81-year-old Mr. Advani as a relevant leader to an audience of urban 18 to 35-year-olds; and to project the BJP as the ideological choice at the polls.

He adds that the campaign has done really well on the first two but failed in the third objective. “The campaign merely projects a leader and doesn’t tackle the issues the audience cares about — from Babri to Ram Sene and more.” In advertising terms the campaign has established high reach and frequency levels and is very visible online – but it probably has done very little in the persuasion scores,” he says, adding that it had succeeded in neutralising Modi’s appeal among a section of the public and projected just one leader of the BJP.

On 3rd April 2009, Pinstorm hosted the Bridging the Social Media Divide discussion session to talk of how marketers and social media enthusiasts can work together and forge ways of advertising via Social Media that are not intrusive while being RoI driven.

The discussion idea took root at the India Social Media Summit 2009, possibly India’s first summit on Social Media (SM), where many acknowledged that there was a need for social media enthusiasts and marketers to come together and set expectations on marketing via SM. While the social media enthusiasts believed that the medium required a change of mindset on the part of the marketers, the latter believed the medium needed more metrics and case studies to highlight that it was RoI driven. There was clearly a disconnect.

The first discussion of its kind in India aimed to bring the two parties together and set the ball rolling for a more evolved understanding of the medium from the prospective of the social media enthusiasts and the marketers.

The marketers asked questions such as what are the performance criteria on SM, what kind of RoI can one expect from ‘x’ amount of money invested in the platform? They also wanted a reliable means to track what customers were saying about their products.

The social media enthusiasts spoke of how SM should be used to influence and not sell a product. They were of the opinion that though cost of acquisition is higher in the short term, profitability over six months is higher than in any other medium of online advertising and that measuring the value of a conversation should a metric for SM. According to them, SM is like advertising on one’s bedroom wall and that the advertising message does not always have to have a ‘call to action’ at the end.

They also felt that when marketers were in the ‘campaign’ mode, they were not really listening to feedback from users.

The discussion adjourned with both parties agreeing that SM is not really only about marketing or only PR; it’s a combination of both. Companies are already engaged in reputation management, etc. in the offline world and this needs to translate online. They also agreed that marketing via SM was about creating a brand message that would go viral.

A participant who said, “Everyone has numbers to meet, but we all need to work harder to increase positive vibe for SM”, encapsulated the mood of the discussion.

The discussion was attended by Ajith, Alexander Gounder, Amol Mohandas, Anannya Deb, Arvind, Asfaq Tapia, Dhruv Chopra, Dina Mehta, Ekalavya Bhattacharya, G. Venkateshwaran, Gurpal Singh Kalra, Kenroy Rodricks, Lilian Ricaud, Mahesh Murthy, Mihir Karkare, Milind, Netra Parikh, Puja Madan, Rajiv Dingra, Riya Anand, Sumant Srivathsan, and Sanjay Mehta.

We are very keen to continue the conversation. What, according to you, are the focus areas of Bridging the Social Media Divide2? Tell us, by using the hashtag #bsmd on Twitter or under the comments here, we are listening :)

Image credits: Dina Mehta

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