MUMBAI: Advertisers and agencies have the chance to connect with a highly-engaged audience and a world-leading group of start-ups in India's social media sector, a leading expert has argued.

Don Anderson, head of strategic and digital integration, Asia Pacific, at Fleishman-Hillard, the PR network, told Campaign India that no matter how entertaining it is, advertising is a "one-off piece of communication" that does not involve consumers.

But organisations like Tata, Nokia and Samsung are getting people engaged by developing stimulating social media content, he argued, adding: "They're entertaining, but they're also creating conversations."

More and more brands are also looking to connect such social media output to their e-commerce platforms, he continued. "This is a conversation I'm having with brands almost daily," said Anderson.

One route is to achieving such a goal is demonstrating products online via YouTube, and encouraging clips to go viral using advocacy groups, which will in turn help people make purchase decisions.

"In social, for a lot of businesses, it is critical to look at the consumer journey and that should actually be the starting point in the framework," said Anderson.

He noted, however, that digital advertising remained "nascent" in many markets, and expressed surprise there had not been a greater rise in spending on social media. (A study last year found that most major brand owners in the Asia Pacific region allocated less than 5% of their ad budgets to this channel, although this was expected to rise.)

"Part of that comes down to what people are comfortable with and people making decisions," said Anderson. "But the communities are there ... In India, a huge amount of people go online everyday and log on to social media sites."

Referring to his own company's activity, he said: "If you look at the startups ... India is undoubtedly the leader in social media. And that's precisely the reason why India is a priority market for us."

He then outlined Fleishman-Hillard's approach to social media: "We try to distil various viewpoints down and come to one sense of direction, or one idea as to how it could be applied to the business. And then, it ultimately comes down to content."

On that point, the company favours a strategy where you have "drumbeat content – continuous conversational content that runs over a longer period of time," according to Anderson.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia; additional content by Warc staff