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A tweet job
A few years ago, public relations experienced a boom. PR companies multiplied overnight and suddenly everyone was engaged in 'communication'. More recently, a new form of employment, which also hinges on communication, has emerged as the next big thing. It's called social media marketing.
Much has been written about the marketing power of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. When companies realised that they could acquire an audience of fans online, they began actively promoting themselves on these. In India too, interest in social media is increasing at a steady clip. According to a survey carried out in 2010 by Nielsen Online, only eight per cent of social media users have not read product reviews in the last year and 77 per cent have visited the website of a product after reading about it on a social media site. The survey suggests that those who have the foresight to stake a presence on social media websites will in the future end up selling millions more of bottles of shampoo, sticks of gum, pencils and so on. Gaurav Mishra, a brand consultant who runs the popular blog Gauravonomics. com - he made news in 2008 when he conducted an year-long "off consumption" experiment that involved not spending money on any item that wasn't absolutely essential - estimates that India has over 100 companies that specialise in social media marketing.
The other lot who stand to gain are social media managers. They are often young and hyperactive on the internet. For them, work becomes an extension of the daily routine of contributing to social media networks. And as they still belong to the first generation of social media professionals, they're inventing the rules of the job as they go along.
Take Rohan Babu, the head of social media at Media2Win, a digital marketing agency. Babu began his career in conventional advertising before switching to the digital medium two years ago as "there is more scope in digital". Babu has a natural advantage. "I'm addicted to Facebook and Twitter, " he admitted. "You rely on networks so much that they are a part of your life. Earlier I could only search for information on Google. But now I rely on people's opinions. That's the power of social media. "
Asfaq Tapia is just 26 and already the head of social media marketing at Epigram Advertising, a company that markets Bollywood films both online and offline. Like Babu, he is hooked to social media sites. "People wake up in the morning and read the newspaper," he said. "I log on to Facebook just to read what people are writing. "
What makes a good social media manager? The most important quality, those in the business say, is communication skills. "You need to be outgoing, " Mishra pointed out. "You need to be able to get in touch with people online and offline. " That, and an understanding of the internet. "Every single movie has a niche, " Tapia explained. "If I have to market a horror story, I have to know which communities engage in horror. On Yahoo groups for example, you have a lot of people who engage with horror. You can influence them to watch films. "
Ankita Gaba, a freelance social media manager, pointed out that being personally active on social media networks - she herself is a regular contributor to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Quora and Foursquare - is important as they are the biggest sources of marketing ideas. For instance, she once came to know that members of IndiBlogger needed a venue for a conclave. She got her client Hotel Sea Princess in Juhu to provide a venue. "We had 150 bloggers, " the 25-year-old said. "They had their own agenda. But imagine the number of mentions we got. " Familiarity with various networking sites also alerts you to the differences in the sorts of communication exchanged. Gaba pointed out that marketing campaigns on Twitter can't afford to be trivial as Twitter users are smarter. "Twitter people have high IQ levels, " she said. "They're geeks. "
It might not be long before business schools start MBA programmes for social media. But at the moment there are few places that impart training on the topic. Rajiv Dingra runs Wat Consult, a social media marketing agency. Four months ago, he began four-week courses on the subject. So far, 50 people have taken the course. Since many of them are entirely unfamiliar with social media, the course covers basic things like setting up Facebook accounts and more advanced subjects like brand strategies. Dingra believes that social media is a good profession to be in as its role is only going to become more important. It also pays well, with salaries touching Rs 30, 000 within a year. "Social media aggregates an archive, " he said. "A brand cannot ignore it. "
Marketing company Digital Vidya began twoday social media 'bootcamps' in January. CEO Pradeep Chopra said that so far 600 people across the country have attended these. The Delhi-based Chopra said that he had expected only digital marketers to sign up, but was surprised when conventional marketingwallahs also showed up. Participants are taught by way of case studies and practical activities that include Facebook communitybuilding competitions and creating Twitter pages.
While managing social media is an increasingly attractive job, it continues to occupy a niche in India. Mishra pointed out that only five per cent of corporate budgets goes towards digital marketing. As a result it's yet to acquire the respect it has in the West, especially among folks of an older generation. How do you, for instance, explain to your parents that your job involves tweeting and inventing Facebook games? It doesn't help that many social media companies have unconventional names like Webchutney and The Flea. Gaba, who used to run a social media marketing company called Superchooha, recalled that one of her employee's parents thought that he had joined a company of exterminators. They didn't immediately understand that 'chooha' referred to the computer mouse. "My friends are envious that I get paid to play on Farmville, but most people don't understand Facebook and Twitter, " she said. "When my building people ask what I do, I say that I design websites. "
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