SINGAPORE--Companies must be prepared to implement the technology and dedicate the people to manage interactions on social media networks if they decide to establish their presence on these online platforms, according to a market player who says the market currently lacks the tools to help companies do so.
Speaking at Social Media World Forum Asia held here Wednesday, Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of India-based digital advertising agency Pinstorm, said businesses need tools that are able to adequately monitor and respond to the massive amount of online chatter that exists in the social media landscape today. This is particularly critical in large markets such as India where followers or fans of a company's social network can run in the millions, making conversations difficult to track.
A ComScore report released August noted that over 33 million Web users in India, aged 15 and above, visited social networking sites in July--a 43 percent increase from 2009. Facebook clocked the most visits for that month, the study showed.
In India's digital terrain, the number of mentions on social networks is "phenomenal", Murthy told ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of the forum, hitting 8,000 mentions a day. "That's 700 mentions an hour, 12 a minute, 1 every 5 seconds. Imagine a brand being mentioned online very five seconds," he said.
After testing some offerings in the market which did not address its requirements, he said Pinstorm went ahead to create its own technology to fill the gap. Among the features the software provides is the ability to identify a set of pre-determined keyword when they are used in social chatter and highlight a range of options that an employee in the company can then choose as the next course of action.
It can track conversations about a brand "literally by the minute" as well as measure all online mentions and spot user sentiments, whether "extremely positive or extremely negative", Murthy explained. These sentiments are then raised to the company which is given the option to approve or disapprove the course of action to take, which is crafted and followed up by Pinstorm.
He described it as doing the "heavy lifting" for businesses: from the listening to the responding, deploying and rectifying online conversations about the brand.
"But a human being needs to look at it [and decide how to respond to the online chatter]. You can't depend on technology alone," stressed Murthy.
Using the example of linguistics, he said no language tool is "100 percent accurate" to differentiate, for example, how the word "hell" is used in two sentences, "get get the hell out" and "a hell of a good time".
Conversations are brought to the consciousness of a human being who is able to evaluate it in a way that artificial intelligence (AI) tools cannot, he added, noting that the human element is critical for social media management.
He added that various business units within an organization such as corporate communications, customer service and marketing should integrate rather than segregate in the company's efforts to manage social media chatter. This will help ensure the company's brand is presented as one cohesive entity to the user across various platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Social opportunity in location
And the opportunity on social platforms may further grow when user location is added to the mix.
According to Ryan Lim, business director of Singapore marketing company Blugrapes and who was also a speaker at the forum, location-based social media technology such as Foursquare can prove a useful tool for social media marketers.
Such services can detect where consumers are and such "foot traffic" data is useful to brick-and-mortar retailers, Lim said. It allows merchants to pinpoint potential customers located near their store and push out offers or discounts so when consumers checks in using their Foursquare account, for instance, they are entitled to the special deal.
With the help of such tools, marketers can get creative and drive more traffic to business outlets, Lim said.
Another advantage of location-based social media is "retail traffic accountability", enabling marketers to "cut through the noise" and account for foot traffic, he said. Because services such as Foursquare have user information such as gender, marketers are able to measure specific data including user demographics and unique visitor count.
In addition, Lim noted that with location-based social media, marketers can reach out to a "much bigger net" because such services are "operator-neutral" and "handset-neutral".
Regardless of the potential, he described the location-based marketing scene as "pretty non-existent" in the region due to the small number of users, compared to other social media platforms.
Compared to Facebook's over 500 million registered users, for instance, Foursquare has just 3 million registered users worldwide.
"It's not critical mass yet," Lim added.
However, he believes Facebook's own location-based media service, Facebook Places, if extended to this region, will have a big advantage because of the company's significant user base and will help drive market adoption if the company deploys the tool correctly.
Facebook Places has been launched in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan.