In a country as vast and diverse as India, social media marketing offers immense opportunities for brands to grow and in this Spotlight India series, WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das looks at major shifts impacting the landscape.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on social media marketing in India. Read more

A couple of weeks back, I shared my thoughts on things I believe would keep the Indian marketing fraternity busy this year. The piece also offered a preview of what the year’s first Spotlight India was going to be about. And as promised, here’s the edition focussing on social media marketing in India.

It has almost become a regular practice to visit this theme each year. In the past, we have touched upon the subject with our Spotlights on influencer marketing and later DTC brands. It isn’t without a reason. The digital and social media marketing space is so dynamic in nature. The landscape and conversations are changing as we speak and to have one’s finger on the pulse is an absolute necessity.

It has come a long way in the last decade and the journey has been at a frighteningly rapid pace. Rheya Hiremath and Zameer Vikamsey, strategists at an independent agency called Wife wrote in their knowledge paper for this edition:

“Never could brands have imagined a world where the authenticity and success of their products would be determined with two simple clicks. As India officially becomes the world’s most populous country, there has never been a better playground for marketers to serve and respond to such a vast range of consumer behaviours. It’s time to reap this new demographic dividend on offer.”

Talking about the evolving medium and changes, we have Saurabh Kanwar, founder, and a voice of repute who had contributed to our Spotlight India on influencer marketing. He then waxed eloquent on the significance of micro and nano influencers, something brands continue to be excited about. Kanwar recently also shared a cheeky piece on what he thought of “Elon Musk’s Twitter”. This time, he took a holistic view and listed some of the key social media trends brands must watch out for in the immediate future.

“This may be the year where we will be forced to go deep under the hood of our digital brand practices and re-examine content and campaign development processes. First, to simplify the complex web of agencies that currently cause communication logjams and, more important, to build processes for greater human creativity in a world filled with colourless AI-generated copy,” Kanwar said.

Given how the landscape has evolved and the immense social media savvy India market, we are looking at the discipline as a whole. With the four knowledge papers and the two brand interviews in this edition, I have highlighted the India perspective around the key shifts happening and how it impacts how brands can utilise social media to grow.

The rise and aftermath of TikTok leaving India

Could a Spotlight on social media marketing in India be complete without mentioning how the short video format is redefining social media content? Absolutely not! The story in India got all the more interesting after TikTok was banned in the country. Pat came a bunch of similar apps driven by marketers who could not have ignored the opportunity especially with the promise influencers have been showing. I spoke with Prashant Sardesai from VerSe Innovation that owns Josh, a leading short video social networking app in India.

In a candid and detailed conversation, Sardesai shared all that went into building Josh and how content is never going to be the same again in what he believes is pure technology play.

“Short videos are here to stay. What form does it take? What content formats become popular? That will, of course, continue to evolve. The formats will evolve to fit the medium and fit what the audience wants. We’ll learn as they go along. I believe that short videos will overtake TV for the audience that today is 17-18 years of age. By the time they are 30, they'll be consuming short videos in the way they consume OTT or TV. This means advertisers or anybody in the space looking to reach these audiences cannot ignore this,” he said.

Looking beyond the metros for social media consumers

This has been a subject I am particularly interested in. It is an obvious fallacy that the urban dwellers are the gatekeepers of social media anywhere. There is a lot of action that takes place beyond the metros, especially in India. VMLY&R’s Amandeep Singh had written an excellent knowledge paper about influencers from smaller towns and villages in India for our edition on influencer marketing. It only made sense for him to follow that up with another piece on how marketers should continue to explore the potential of the non-metros in the country with their social media strategies.

Singh said, “In a country as vast and diverse like India, personalisation is a great way for brands to build a stronger connection with consumers. When platforms are primarily video-oriented and built around vernacular languages and local content creators, brands are more successful in reaching hinterland users.”

Using social media to grow brands

We feature in this edition a young hotel chain in India that has completely relied on social media to build the brand. Prior to the lockdown, Bloom Hotel was already creating enough buzz in the industry with its properties that appeal to business and leisure travellers alike. Their growth story has only become more exciting in the last two years.

I spoke with the group’s chief marketing officer, Prateek Agrawal who shared a fascinating story about the chain’s growth and how social media has been at the centre of it. Successful and cost-effective social media campaigns, interesting collaborations with influencers and celebrities, strategic targeting and content marketing, Agrawal was happy to reveal all.

“We are not using any mass media like television or print. Our marketing is very centralised in terms of user engagement and reach. We are picking out users based on their interests and demographics, and reaching out on their chosen platforms. Our strategy is defined based on the platforms where we also differentiate between age groups,” he said.

Measuring effectively

We could endlessly discuss trends and opportunities and how to best carpe diem. What would really eventually matter is how one is defining success and measuring effectiveness. You cannot be on an endless journey riding trends without proper goals and checks.

Janhavi Iyer, director brand strategy, Gozoop Online authored a detailed paper on the concept of measurement while sharing how brands could set better objectives and KPIs.

“Unlike traditional media channels, social media is more than a medium of passive content consumption. It is a space that enables two-way conversation and can be used in a wide range of interesting ways that include building deep and lasting brand love, understanding and uplifting consumer sentiment, and identifying real consumer pain points and solving them,” Iyer said.

She continued, “Because there is no singular approach, we often create a custom set of metrics to be measured when working with our partner brands. Widening one’s perspective on the possibilities of social can allow for sharper objective and KPI setting – all you need is a little imagination and a whole lot of clarity.”

I quizzed Agrawal from Bloom Hotels on this as well who offered his thoughts on how he sets and evaluates KPIs.

Where are we heading?

This discussion, I am certain, isn’t going to stop here. Like I mentioned before, things are changing very quickly and we will continue to visit this space for fresher insights. This just in: Twitter has upped its character limit to 4,000 from 280. Microblogging platform no more? What are the detailed stories waiting to be told? I excitedly watch this space.