Introducing LocalOye.com – a new journey

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This post has been pending for quite some time now, and I am not sure if anyone follows this dead blog by now. Since October 1st, I have been working on building a platform to discover and book venues for event spaces. The idea was a natural extension of what we were doing at i’mma (a mobile app to discover cool places around you) – within 15 days of the launch we realised that most of the enquiries were coming for event planning and venues. We did a little more research and realised that the current solutions are highly inadequate, or if they were on the right track the execution was horrible. Couple this with the fact that we were trying to find a venue for a friend’s bachelor party, and it was a frustrating experience, the decision to quickly jump on to doing LocalOye was an easy one.

The industry is going to take some time to mature, requires a sales force on the ground; but it also comes with its own set of benefits. The market is huge (weddings alone make a 15B$ dollar industry in terms of event logistics), there are big problems to be solved for both the sides of the marketplace:

  • Venue seekers waste a lot of time in trying to find a venue since there is no information available unless they personally visit each venue. And going through a centralised system like LocalOye can also get them discount deals
  • Venue owners have to struggle with irrelevant deals from horizontal classifieds, wasting a lot of time and money running after the wrong leads. The result? Less than 40% occupancy even in peak times.

The team is off to a good start for now, and we need to keep the momentum that we have gained. In 45 days, we have 500+ venues with us, a revenue rate of 35k+ per month, conversion rates of 46% and an overall healthy feedback from both the stakeholders. We crossed 10k uniques 35 days after launch! All in all, tough and interesting times are ahead. Wish us luck! For the month of December, we would be focused on building a healthy listings of Banquet Halls, Conference Centers, Team Outings, Reception Grounds, Training Halls and Meeting Rooms. To infinity and beyond!

 

How Pink Floyd can help every entrepreneur…

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The song Wish You Were Here has influence me a lot in recent times, and I actually took a career decision lately solely based on these classic lines (my ex-Superchooha colleagues will vouch for the A4 poster of the lyrics that used to hang on our notice board)

Did you exchange … A walk on part in the war,

For the lead role in a cage?

Goes to show that music is much more than rhythm, it is something which encompasses your soul. It is poetry and it is love.

FYI, I am joining an early stage startup in Pune called Next Leap as a Product and Marketing Manager. Loads to learn and loads to do. Interesting times are up ahead. Anyways, so hear out this interesting story -

So there you are. You have sold off your fledgling 1 year old startup (albeit not on your terms i.e. a distress sale) and you have joined a nice paying  job. You get up every morning.

You fight to get into a rickshaw. You fight to get into the local train. You fight to find breathing space in the train. You fight against the stem of 9 AM morning office crowd to reach your office.

And then, when you think that all these fights would be worth the work that you are going to do,

You have to now fight to get any work done. You try to go around bureaucratic processes and egos. You fight against fixed mindsets. You fight against crumbling organisational structures. You fight with yourself, convincing your other half to keep going. You fight against hope that one day you will win this war. And before you realise it, the day is already over.

For those who are lucky, they do not have to fight wars inside workplaces. They get a smooth ride, loads of perks, easy decisions to make and break, and a monthly salary at the end of 30 days.  And before they know it, the salary is the monthly dose of addiction they can not let go of. Soon enough,

They can not tell - Heaven from hell, and Blue skies from pain…

They have traded – Heroes for ghosts, and Hot ashes for trees…

… most of us at one point in life can associate with this. But you know it’s gotten really bad when you ask yourself the following question and you are ashamed of the answer -

Did you exchange … A walk on part in the war,

For the lead role in a cage?

So the next time you feel down in the dumps, and you think the world is unfair, you listen to this song and take solace in the fact that you are fighting wars that are worth fighting for.

CHIP magazine on social media careers

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CHIP magazine recently quoted me on an article on how social media careers can be built and how the media industry is changing to adopt itself to the new age and wave of social media knowledge persons.

“Anyone from a communications background with a fair knowledge of the Internet can become a social media manager. Apart from that, and from personal experience, anyone with street smarts and common sense can become one. And hard work of course! The starting salary can be between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000. The growth prospects are huge since the social media concept has taken everyone by storm, especially all the marketing and advertising agencies in the world. Every such agency has an in-house team, and if they don’t have one, they outsource it to smaller agencies. In the past 12 months, my own startup company has seen a 600% growth, with an addition of two members to the team every month.”
- Aditya Rao, Co-founder and Director, Social Business Strategy, Superchooha

You can check out the complete article here.

The Hindu on ‘Connecting Netizens’ – featuring Superchooha

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The Hindu recently featured Superchooha and quoted me in their daily. Thanks to Paromita Pain for taking the interview.

“Our approach goes beyond the current industry standard practices (which are very short-sighted) of marketing on Facebook and Twitter. By bringing together employees, vendors and customers we are solving business needs like reducing costs of support systems, brand perception research, online reputation management and creating platforms for a better engagement with customers.”

“Most think that they will garner negative publicity online,” says Aditya. “But gradually we have built up case studies and a good portfolio to add credibility to the approach. Also the industry has evolved since then, now brands understand the importance of internet and social media.”

“All our business has either come through contacts on social networks like Twitter and Facebook or through word-of-mouth in the industry. And we plan to continue that way,”

You can read the full article here.

Why did we decide to shut down Superchooha and opt out of the agency model?

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This blog post is long LONG due. I know. I know. I have been totally off radar and running away from answering questions in details. The main reason for that approach was that my near future was still not stable and I was finalising on a few prospects. Now that it’s done, I can share my thoughts and chain of reasoning I used to arrive at my conclusion. Will follow up with another post on what I am currently upto:

What was Superchooha and what were we upto?
A social business agency, using tools to help brands do marketing, market research, knowledge management, ideation platforms, customer support communities etc. How was it different from any other social media agency, you ask? We were doing not just marketing (though 95% of revenue still came from that) but diversifying into various other verticals. I was a Co-founder along with Ankita (who is the original Superchooha rockstar) and responsible for overall business growth and innovation.

So what was the status?
We were doing pretty awesome in fact. We already had a strong portfolio of 40+ clients. We were in talks with 4 angel investors. Business was growing. We were partnering with 3-4 companies for backward and forward integration. We had cracked 2 partnership deals from Dubai and Qatar. Team was properly built and trained so scaling up could have been easier (relatively).

Most important of all, we had managed to built a social culture from within the company. A bunch of young freaks out there to take the world :)

So what went wrong?

  • My bubble burst. Social media marketing had become restricted to content creation on Facebook and Twitter. There was no space for most important stuff like branding and integrated marketing.
  • Basically we were working in a silo (as are other social media agencies). This is bad not just for your passion of marketing but also for the business in the long term.
  • The barrier to entry is very low in the industry. There are random social media ‘gurus’ sprouting from every curb on the streets. Which will always keep undercutting you.
  • It’s fucking difficult to scale up the operations, mainly because it is a services model and not a repeatable product. It’s surprising how few people understand this simple funda -
    Products: You can sell 10 pieces or 100 pieces without any increase (substantial) in sales efforts / resources = less expenses
    Services: The moment you want to service 3 more clients, you need to hire more people, spend more time = more costs
  • If you are putting your blood and soul into the startup, working day and night to complete projects, it better give you the right returns 5 years from now. Passion and love is fine. But in the end. It has to give you an ROI so that you can take the investment and put it into further awesome things.
  • I did try building my own product internally on media monitoring, which is still in the Beta phase. We also formulated plans of running the services model and using that money to fuel the product model. But nope. It doesnt work that way obviously. Your heart and sould needs to be at one place.
  • And trust me, there can never a big independent communications agency. Your only hope of getting good money is a buy-out. And those are surprisingly unhealthy for the startups in this field. Want an example? Look up for the Razorfish acquisition by Microsoft and you will see a valuation of 1.56x the annual revenue! Which is peanuts.
  • I want to retire by 30 from work. I really do. And I know that if I aim for 30, I will achieve it at 40. And continuing with Superchooha wasn’t going to gimme that.

What advice do I have for other social media agencies?
As much as my meager experience has taught me, I can share these thoughts with other social media professionals in the industry:

  • Stick to it! It’s a booming industry and is the future of internet and thus of humanity. But make sure you get your priorities right. If you want to stick to services, make sure you fuel that with innovative products and diversified solutions.
  • Beware of big and established agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy One, Webchutney etc. (they have already taken the first steps by building 2-3 member strong team of social media strategists) will stand up one day and build their own social media team instead of outsourcing to you. And their bigger brand name and integrated solutions will get them that account. Leaving you high and dry.
  • Understand that the future of web is not social media marketing, it’s just ‘being social’. Find out and start offering services on how you can make every internet operation more social and generate value out of it.

That’s it I guess :) Your thoughts?

P.S.

I miss these buggers :\ They are some of the most awesomest bunch of people I have ever met.

P.S. 2

  • Shabaz Malik (the cute guy on the right. He knows how to use his tongue, all right!) has started his own company called Missing Link. With him is Manveer Malhi.
  • Ankita Gaba is still kicking ass as usual. And getting better at it. She’s handling some clients. Giving social media classes at two colleges. Leading the way at Social Media Club, Mumbai and phew! What not.
  • The others are at various other digital companies like Hungama, Interactive Avenues, Windchimes etc. or doing higher studies in communications.
  • Heck an intern just landed a job at Mu Sigma (business intelligence)  by selling the concept of our Internet Audit Reports via social research :)

Finding your target audience on social media – A quick primer

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For all the talks of internet being more measurable than traditional media, most brands still fall short in optimizing their social media efforts by not narrowing down on where exactly is their target audience amongst dozens of popular platforms. Initially, in Search Engine Marketing, we marketers were restricted to target users based on their location using I.P. address tracking and also via interests based on the search query typed. But this is obviously not a complete picture because our target audience gets influenced and makes purchase decisions based on a lot of other factors like sex, platform being used and recommendations from friends etc.

And this is where social media comes in – Most platforms have such a deep knowledge of our personal data like interests, kind of friends, age, sex, current location etc. that it becomes much easier for them to categorise the user base and present targeted information to marketers. But one thing which I have realized in my past 7-8 social media projects is this:

Build it, and they will come. Just make sure your content and strategy is in sync with people whom you are targeting. Content and context are still kings, after all.

Why this happens is because of the most common filtering solution, social interests and good discoverability. X guy sees my content in my community, and shares it to all his x00 friends. Out of those x00, only Y% users will come to your branded community. But they will be highly relevant to you and will get you y% more users.

The conclusion: It’s pull. Not push.

It takes time for this viral effect to kick in (depends on platform design and content strategy) .. so it’s always good to give momentum to this virality by pushing out some social ads from your own side. Here’s how you can reach out to your target audience on various social media platforms:

  • Take a thorough look at the demographics of the audience and then decide which platform is best suited for you. Do a quick search for demographics for social media platforms which would give you a list of options. Collate your data from there and narrow down to 1-2 platforms you think your target audience might reside e.g. B2B audience and chatter would be on Linkedin and not on Facebook. Teens would be on Orkut, Myspace and Facebook etc.

  • Most of the stats you would find online are via international research and you can either extrapolate this data to India or you can also take help of Indian tools like Vizisense.com which is a personal favourite and is owned by Komli Media [below is a sample screenshot for Facebook]

Next step can be a bit tricky, because every platform has a different UI and requires different strategy to reach out to your audience. A brief summary of how to do this on Facebook and Twitter is below. But the basic strategy for any other platform is the same too. Be a part of the platform using a profile / community and start interacting with the audience. Remember the golden rule:
Content + Conversations = Community

Facebook

This one is the easiest and the bestest. Facebook is the big bad wolf. It knows everything about you. What things you like. Your complete demographics to the extent of your family relations. And this CRM data can be used by marketers by using Facebook ads. You can advertise for an external link or a Group / Page inside Facebook. The payment models for these ads can be both CPC or CPM as usual in SEM practices.

Twitter

Though not open for all, Twitter has recently opened up Promoted Trending Topics and Promoted Tweets in search queries. When a user searches for a query, on the top he can see relevant tweets from the advertiser which he can then again interact with. So, if you are trying to reach out to movie buffs, it would be a good idea to buy promoted tweets for the search query movies, mall etc.
Same goes for promoted Trending Topics. It has also very recently launched an @earlybirds account from where users can see discounts and deals being offered via different brands. Bad news is, all these new experiments are still in Beta and only via invitation.

The other option you have is to use the Twitter API and some tools like Tweeple etc. to find tweets and users based on their profile info, status updates, location, conversations etc. Below is a good list of tools to start from:

  • Tweeple – Complete bio and update history of Indian Twitter users
  • Listorious – List of users based on topics of interest
  • Advanced Twitter search – Good old fashioned style of searching content via words and location of users

Linkedin

This platform is more of a professional place where users can connect with others from the same industry. Though the UI design is not very ‘social’ the one thing that has made Linkedin more than just an online CV marketplace are the discussions happening in various groups.

Anyone can create a group based on interests and invite other users. And this should be the strategy that your every B2B effort should incorporate i.e.

  • Build a strong presence of your brand representatives on Linkedin via personal profiles.
  • Infiltrate relevant groups using these profiles. Keep an active eye on new groups related to your industry, this is the only way to find your audience.
  • Engage users in conversations around your industry. Answer their queries. Solve their problems. And then you can start converting leads into sales.
  • To have more control over the activities, you should also look at owning your own active and growing group. Your broad objective here should be to make sure that the market perceives you as the thought leader which gives out good content.

The Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) Program is a very good and highly successful example of the above strategy.

Apart from these you can also use tools for the complete social web like:

  • Klout – To identify thought leaders / influencers in various topics on social media
  • Radian6 / Alterian SM2 – Monitoring tools to identify people talking about you
  • Beatblogging.org – To find out bloggers via topics of interest

Why do we check-in?

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For the past few weeks, non social-media savvy people (those douche bags, eh?) and even loads of Twitter and Facebook friends of mine have been asking me the same question (not without irritation, mind you)

It’s a difficult one to answer. But if I would like to do so without getting jargon in between, I would say – vanity and social gratifications.

RWW recently did some really cool and detailed thinking on why people are using LBS and here’s the summary of it:

  • Serendipity and Connections
  • For the win
  • As a trvelogue

But I think that the core and basic reason why anyone uses @foursquare is this inbuilt inherent social need of human beings, which require us to proclaim proudly of what we have won in any game. The pride that comes with being popular and cool tech-savvy traveler. The pride of showing prizes and records we have earned in our life. The pride of having our own unique identity (vanity) in this cluttered world. The pride of owning a place, because well if you can’t own it in real life, might as well do it in a virtual world.

And this is social psychology at its basic, which has till now, is currently, and will always remain true till the dusk of time. And it looks as if businesses are starting to make use of this behaviour.

Can Twitter work as a usable media dashboard?

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My online life revolves around Twitter.  I get all my industry information from there. I connect with so many of friends via Twitter.  I connect with other industry professionals on Twitter.  I get my breaking news from there. But what Twitter hadn’t been for me till now is a centralised and organised source of news not unlike a magazine or blog. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I saw the dashboard for the football world cup on Twitter.

First impression: Looks slick. Very clean UI as usual. Woohooo!

On deeper testing: I can only think of one thing. What am I supposed to do now?

It does not solve any purpose for me. The tweets that are whooshing past in the activity stream are either very irrelevant or they move past too fast. How are they selected? On the basis of most no. of RTs? Or most no. of followers of the original source?

Well, whatever it is, it is clearly failing. There are some tweets which are not about the world cup and some which are not in English (how hard can transliteration be, man?) :

A decent feature seems to be the Top Staff Picks which is a collection of the best Twitter handles (experts and players) on the topic.

The individual page for each page sounded promising but turned out to be a bigger disappointment, full of bots, hashtags and random information.

What is happening here?

The current model is way too reliant on trusting individual users and then streaming their tweets to the visitors. What Twitter needs here is a better search based UI which is good in its algorithms and measures influence properly.

Otherwise, I am afraid Twitter will always be what it is in this dashboard: Noise.

Afaqs! Reporter cover story on ‘Twitter for Dummies’

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Afaqs! recently quoted me on their cover story for Reporter magazine on ‘Twitter for Dummies’ which I found to be a good summary of case studies in India and its use-cases. Unlike your usual run of the mill articles this one (thankfully) also touches upon customer support, feedback, product development and social CRM:

With Twitter, marketers can monitor their target audience across geographies, connect with them on a personal and real-time basis, says Aditya Rao, Co-founder of Superchooha, a Social business communications firm.

Rao also points out an international example – Mountain Dew uses social media along with Twitter to engage its consumers in the new Dew flavour development process.

One other very wise quote which I enjoyed myself was:

Ashok Lalla, president, digital Euro RSCG has a piece of advice for marketers: “Marketers should go beyond their brand on Twitter and should include the user’s needs and world in their conversations. For instance a car brand on Twitter can participate in chatter about traffic snarls in the city, share traffic updates and highlights new restaurants along a certain route.”

You can download the PDF from the link above or grab a copy from the stands. It would be worth it :)