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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
Civil Engineer & CAD Specialist
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Applications of Social Net-Working

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Small businesses need support. And there is a lot of it available online. Just log on to social or specialised networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin; create a group in the name of your business or product; invite pre-chosen members as well as curious fans to be a part of that group and very easily, without perhaps spending a dollar, you would have taken care of the fourth and final of the 4Ps—promotion.

You don't have to be a marketing whiz to figure out that advertising rates are expensive. So, if you are heading a small business, there is a choice: invest in an expensive mainline media ad or write personal blogs, tweet and interact on Facebook.

Thinking from where to start? Today, Facebook is the in-style platform with nearly 400 million users, 5 million in India. Twitter is catching up fast with two-million users in the country and growing. Not far behind is Linkedin, which connects around two lakh professionals in India alone. However, don't forget blogging is with what entrepreneurs started branding themselves with and will always be their all-time favourite. Says Rajesh Lalwani, founder of Blogworks, a strategic social media solutions company, "In social networking what is new today will be old tomorrow. I don't believe in the concept of 'hot spot' for this platform. It's just when a new toy comes into the house, everybody wants to play with it."

Publicity through social websites has acted as a game changer for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across all sectors, whether it is aviation, retail, manufacturing, healthcare or recruitment. Earlier, the trend was visible in companies such as Cleartrip or MakeMyTrip, which started their businesses online.

Surprisingly, when these entrepreneurs or businesses actually started using social networking tools, they did not realise that it would become such a great platform for marketing. "I wasn't too aware of it till your call that social media has indeed contributed so much to my business," Hyderabad-based entrepreneur shares with FE. So, here is a fascinating glimpse into how different SME businesses charged headlong into social media and came up trumps.

Chimes Aviation Academy

Demographics matter. If you want the right audience in terms of age and profession, there is perhaps no better way to catch hold of them other than using social media. And if you find it a tad too complicated, get the guys who can do it for you.

Chimes Aviation Academy, a 20-month-young training academy for aspiring pilots, outsourced its social media related work to an agency called Markigence. Only then, it realised the potential of social media when Markigence started reaching out to probable candidates through professional or leisure networking online.

Raminder Mamick Ghosh, head of business planning &amp; control, Chimes Group, was clear that Facebook would expose the academy to people in the age group of 18-24 and Linkedin would help the academy get in touch with qualified executives for their special programme, "professional private training for corporate executives".

Today, the campaign, "All about flying", on Facebook has 530 fans, who joined it in a span of three months. This group chats about news in the world of aviation, shares humorous and informative videos and discusses the best flights.

Furthermore, Chimes Aviation Academy collected profiles of all the executives looking for pilot training through Linkedin for their high-end executive course and got 100 serious queries per month, of which three were converted into potential candidates. This is considered a decent score since the company focuses on training only 60-100 executives a year.

"We plan to take this medium very seriously in the future as small businesses such as us are not very comfortable investing in print or electronic advertising," says Raminder.

The Gym

From bulbs to bulging biceps—the connection is a little exotic but blame it on Facebook—is the leap Gagandeep Khatter took. Six years back, Khatter, then a 22-year-old health freak, knew exactly what he wanted. He worked for his traditional family business of supplying bulbs. But then Facebook happened and today, Khatter runs five gyms across Delhi.

Khatter started a group on Facebook for his health centre, The Gym, last year. Within six months it garnered 1,900 fans and 1,350 members. "My target is 10,000 this year," he says with an optimistic smile. The group adds five to six new members everyday.

Khatter's strategy was simple but effective. He offered free consulting on Facebook and established credibility. His wife, Jyotsna, a student at Delhi University, pooled in and took care of all the queries that dropped into his inbox. However, the queries for admissions are not more than 2-3%.

The young couple makes an effort to at least leave one message a day on their Facebook wall—something like "How to lose weight by drinking more water" or "Don't intake carbohydrates after 7 pm". Responses to such messages range from five-15 per day. Jyotsna is candid while commenting on their initiatives on Orkut and Twitter. "Orkut lacks class and random people are making the website meaningless. Moreover, Facebook is the 'in' thing right now," she says. But surprisingly, Twitter still seems complicated to this small business set-up and for now, they are happy with young people reacting eagerly on Facebook.

Options Executive Search

"Clever father, but a cleverer daughter" is not a cliché. It's a sure-shot way to boost revenues if the lucky father happens to be a businessman. Achyut Menon's 10-year-old daughter inspired him to blog three years ago. Today, the 47-year-old Menon experiences 200 hits a day on his personal blog, has 700 followers on Twitter and over 3,000 connections on Linkedin.

Options Executive Search, his 18-year-old company, helps young non-resident Indian professionals find jobs in India. Most of his business used to happen over the phone before he started using a blog to answer all their questions. And when it was tagged as the "best recruiting blog" by in 2006, there was no looking back for this Hyderabad-based recruiter.

He started receiving inquiries from foreign clients and his first foreign assignment was from a Hong Kong-based consultant in 2008 through a Linkedin link.

Menon takes care of the entire online marketing job himself. He feels that his knowledge of the domestic job market is vital and only job hunters would take him seriously rather than the fresh MBA graduates working for him.

Till now, Menon has been sceptical of leisure websites such as Facebook, but doesn't want to leave any stones unturned. "I am an old man and would definitely not attract young people there," he says, adding, "I am motivating my staff to start a campaign on Facebook. Moreover, I feel young people don't want to be reminded of jobs on a leisure website."

The bombay store

Anaggh Desai is a smart man. The CEO at The Bombay Store, a 200-employee strong retail company, doesn't use social media as a return on investment tool. His company uses it to let its customers know "what's new in the store", and in return gets to know "what is it that customers want". The Bombay Store felt the need of marketing the store on social media in October 2009. This is when the management thought of revamping the look of the store. Desai knew that his new target audience was people between 20-30 years and Facebook would be the right choice to begin a fan club.

The group is still in its embryonic stage and he feels it is too early to comment on the benefits of this medium. "But I definitely know where to publicise for my new Kala Ghoda festival collection," he says.

Desai is also an active blogger and feels that there has always been an overlap between his blog and The Bombay Store as a brand. He ends up answering questions about the store either on Twitter or his blog.

Desai concludes that India is still a "touch and feel product" market and the retail sector needs time to take the best out of social media. But he plans to have a more interactive website with a CEO's corner and public blogs for the future. However, it's no longer a big deal for the store to scream out on Twitter "Shawls at unbelievable prices during February 6-26" or "Valentine show windows at our store. Do you like them?"

Burnt Sienna

"Product, price and computer" is the mantra for Nandita Bose. The company group, Burnt Sienna, on Facebook brings to her a major chunk of jewellery orders every month. Nandita played the game differently, considering she owns a jewellery manufacturing company.

The Facebook group initiated by her doesn't cater to retailers but targets a niche -corporate women. It is conclusive that these women spend a lot of time on their laptops and are very comfortable to pick and chose designs online. "Facebook is very addictive. I clicked on the Burnt Sienna group out of curiosity a year back, and then I got hooked to it," says Rakhi Shetty Ravindran, a middle-aged entrepreneur and one of the 1,600 members of Burnt Sienna.

In its first month, Facebook clocked in sales worth a lakh for Burnt Sienna and Nandita started taking this medium seriously. Today, she plans to stick only to Facebook in the online space and promote it in the best possible way. She doesn't want to scatter her focus to other channels.

Nandita confesses that the group's strength is in its speed. She makes it a point to revert on every single notification personally. Delivery of jewellery is done within the time promised. At the same time, she is very particular about the members of this group. Each request to join the group is assessed by her.

"The motive is to convert all the visitors into potential and long-term clients," she concludes.

Diksha Dutta
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