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The Allure of Social Commerce

Analysis
Feb 10, 2013 2:59 AM   By Dilipp S Nag
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RAPAPORT... Social media has revolutionized methods of interaction globally, and not only individuals are smitten with the medium's power. Even the government and political parties have jumped into the fray. Shashi Tharoor, India's Union Minister of State for human resource development, says that no leader of a democracy can discount social media, calling it an "asset and a threat."

Social media's biggest strength is its ability to create connections, so it’s not surprising that it has become an integral part of business marketing. Engaging customers through social media allows for a more intimate relationship and also converts their interest into support for products and services.

An increasing number of companies are exploring the world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest and blogs. But Indian jewelers' adoption of social media remains minimal, with only a few jewelry industry players (such as Tanishq, Gitanjali, TBZ, Tara Jewels Ltd., PC Jeweller, Shree Ganesh Jewellery House Ltd. and Thangamayil Jewellery Ltd.) active on social sites. Are jewelers afraid of challenges in linking social media initiatives to their overall business plans and strategic agendas, or are they simply unable to see the business opportunities that social media offers?

India is one of the fastest-growing markets for internet usage in the world, with its current 136 million users set to grow to some 370 million by 2015, according to industry estimates. The country’s retail landscape is also evolving, as internet penetration grows and more companies embrace ecommerce to drive growth.  According to a study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and comScore, India’s online retail activity is growing at a rate of 43 percent a year
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“Social media is a relevant platform for all brands who want to reach out to their consumers,” says Suprit Karkera, assistant vice president for corporate communications at Gitanjali Group, which retails its jewelry in India under the Gili, Nakshatra, Asmi and D'Damas brands. “Jewelry is a product that has an emotional bond. So it's important to be available on all platforms where our consumers can interact with us and stay updated with the latest happenings.”

Socialbakers, a social media analytics firm, says that some 62 million Indians use Facebook and another 19 million are on LinkedIn. Other social sites also have a significant user base in India and these numbers are expected to rise as internet penetration increases.

Aswani Kota, principal consultant at Cynosure Consulting, which provides services to the gems and jewelry and other industries, notes that with so many members of the young generation going online who will be marrying sooner or later, it is prudent for jewelers to be on social media to try and attract them as customers. 

“With so many users on social media and an increasing number of people buying online, it makes sense to have a presence there to create a buzz about the product and target the right audience,” says Rahul Jain, assistant vice president of media at PC Jeweler Ltd.

CONSUMER INSIGHTS

The success of any business lies in knowing the customer, and social media can be the key to a greater understanding of your customers. Since discussions on social networks, blogs and consumer review sites shape public image about products and services and impact sales, jewelers must know what consumers are saying about their brands.

Insights derived from social media can include customers' feedback on jewelry designs they like or dislike, what kind of design they are looking for, and whether they are satisfied with the product and service. Social media enables quick customer responses and allows a company to deal efficiently with any issues that arise, enhancing brand loyalty.

DOING IT RIGHT WAY

“Social media is there for everybody, but if you don’t execute it strategically then it is of no use,” says Kota. “There are quite a few jewelers and if you see their social marketing initiatives, there is a wide gap between what they [could] do and what they are doing.”

What is the "right" way to employ social media? It is crucial to understand how it works and what online consumers' habits are before using the medium to reach out to them.

Social media has the potential to accelerate innovation, reduce cost, drive business growth and strengthen brands through mass collaboration. But you must analyze the following: What are your business reasons to invest in social media? Is your vision clear? What benefits will you gain by tapping into the power of the masses? Are you ready to handle multiple-user interaction styles? Do you have the required technical skill to support social collaboration with your business? What about monitoring conversations? What will you do with the feedback? How much transparency is needed?  How will you take advantage of insight from social networks?

Analyzing social media will help jewelers make marketing decisions by contributing to an understanding of which channels and platforms are most effective and how social media can best be integrated with other marketing. But your organization needs a system in place to monitor the social media activities of your consumers as well as that of competitors. Ignoring this could lead you to miss out on great business opportunities.

If objectives are well defined before any new campaign launches, it will be easy to integrate offline and online activities. What should you monitor on social networks? Keep track of the number of followers on your business' page and note what they are talking about. Experts say one should also keep in mind the following: Are you able to target the right audience? What are you trying to communicate? What motivates users to "like" things on Facebook? Updating content and visuals consistently is important, but you shouldn’t do something just for the sake of doing it, they note. However, jewelers have a big social media advantage in that their product itself has appeal, so graphics should feature prominently.

ENGAGING - THE KEY TO SUCCESS

The majority of the online audience in India belongs to the 15 to 34 age group, and 50 percent of the population is under 25. But it's not just the age profile that favors India, says Gartner Inc. The information technology research and advisory company notes that the country's massive middle class will reach 267 million people by 2016 and 583 million by 2025. These households will see their incomes balloon to $1.1 billion (INR 51.5 trillion) -- 11 times the current level and 58 percent of India's projected total income.

How you can get the most out of social media? To engage users efficiently, you should understand the various promotional tools available on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. Since more and more people own smart phones, creating your own mobile application and offering it to customers for free is a good way of staying connected with consumers. Your digital platform must also support growing user demands for social media compatible with new mobile, phablet, and tablet technologies.

Cynosure’s Kota says that social media is a highly evolving field and therefore a specialist is required to handle the things. “You can hire one or [use] the services of a freelancer, but you have to be abreast of what is being used by the target audience and how they are doing it,” he notes. Jewelers also need to cater to the seasonality of the market, given India's wedding and festival seasons. Kota adds that updates about new products and inventory "is the kind of thing which works out."

Negative remarks from consumers should be handled on a real-time basis. “Other people who are on social media will see that something went wrong, but this is a responsible jeweler [who is] addressing the issue with immediate action,” Kota says.

REVENUE

According to Adam Sarner, research director at Gartner, both investments and growth in social marketing are assured over the next two years. However, he adds that the ultimate success of social commerce will depend on how well marketers can make social marketing projects more than just “engagement” and actually tie social media activity to clear and measurable business objectives.

“Far too many companies are still following the hype of ‘social’ and have created or participated in social media without a plan,” he notes.

Sarner says that the many reasons for businesses to invest in social media – improving customer relationships; enhancing brand awareness; sharing information and ideas with customers, suppliers and partners; and establishing an interactive relationship with customers – "can ultimately be connected to an actual business benefit: Revenue from customers."

Building a social media marketing strategy and executing it consistently is vital. “Social media today is not an option for anybody. Social media is a necessity; the sooner you embrace it and jump on the bandwagon, you will know how to use it to your advantage,” Kota concludes.
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