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How companies are using social media to take entry in new markets

Companies are using conversations onsocial media platforms to shape entry strategies in new markets, address consumer grievances and communicate directly with target groups.

Merely being present on social media is no longer sufficient for some of the world's largest corporations, who are turning to young technology ventures in India for help in decoding social chatter for business gain. These companies are using insights gained from conversations on 
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to shape entry strategies in new markets, address consumer grievances and communicate directly with target groups.

"It (social media analytics) helps us converse in the proper context with the right audience and close business with customers," says
Arun Balakrishnan, chief executive of the Indian arm of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. As a late entrant to India, Berkshire was up against established players like Axa Bharati and ICICI Lombard and needed unconventional digital marketing to get an edge.

Last December the 
insurance provider turned to social media analytics venture Salorix for help. The Bangalore-based firm used its analytics platform to mine millions of real-time social media conversations to identify top influencers in this segment. The volume of direct conversations around topics like health and travel insurance was minimal but people would talk about topics that are related - a loss of health plans when moving jobs or travel insurance for a summer holiday. The challenge for Salorix was to link the insurer with such customers. "After all, rarely does anyone get up in the morning and express the need to buy insurance on Twitter," says Anup Ghoshal, Salorix India's head for business development.

The four-year-old venture, founded by IITBombay alumnus Santanu Bhattacharya, ran a six-week campaign that helped Berkshire increase its follower base on social media by 80% and engagement ninefold. By 2016, large corporations are expected to spend around $9.8 billion (Rs 55,000 crore) on social-media advertising, from $3.8 billion in 2011, according to research firm BIA/Kelsey.

Ensuring this money is well-spent is high on the agenda of most companies, say experts. "Brands are using analytics to understand who they are interacting with, what users like and how to create communication to reach out to the right audience," says Ashesh Jani, a partner at 
Deloitte Haskins & Sells. This is throwing up huge opportunities for startups such as Salorix, Chennai & New York-based Unmetric, Simplify360 and Drizzlin, that are sifting through social data to deliver actionable insights.

Many of these companies started out with basic services such as creating social mediaaccounts and pages, and have now graduated to playing the role of social media consultants. Unmetric, founded by IITMadras graduates Lakshmanan Narayan, Joseph Varghese and Kumar Krishnasami, started out by helping local businesses such as restaurants and spas understand and use social media.

The Chennai-based venture was launched in 2010 as EyesAndFeet. But in a year, the founders realised there was value in analysing the data being generated by large enterprises. They developed a software platform that can sift through billions of bits of data on social media and analyse it through selflearning algorithms. Within a month they raised a first round 
funding of $3 million (about Rs 16 crore) from Nexus Venture Partners. Today with customers like Subway, Toyota, Airtel and Australian bank Suncorp, the two-year-old company is targeting revenue of $15 million (Rs 82 crore) in fiscal year 2015.

"Markets are truly all about conversations. Brands need a new suite of analytics solutions to keep them on top of competitive campaign activity and to mine actionable insights," says Narayan. Large companies are also looking to create targeted communication on social media, a service offered by Bangalore-based social media analytics venture Simplify360.

"Reputation management and sentiment analysis has become very important on social media and analytics can help us there," says Vasudev Murthy, a senior practice partner at Wipro Consulting Services, which has partnered with the 
Simplify360 to provide social media solutions for its clients. One of Wipro's clients, a large Indian bank, now has a technology dashboard that highlights in real time any negative talk on social media. Deep Sherchan, the 28-year-old cofounder of Simplify360, says his company charges between Rs 10,000 and Rs 1 lakh per month for the cloud-based platform. It counts Cafe Coffee Day, Mahindra Retail and ITC Foods among its 35 clients.

By fiscal 2014 the company expects to clock revenue of Rs 17 crore. Such ventures are also finding a ready clientele among advertising and digital agencies. "Every month, the marketers and social media teams at companies and agencies need to report the impact of the money being spent on these sites. Our analytics helps to measure the impact," Sherchan says. Entrepreneurs admit that it is still early days for social media analytics.

Deepak Goel, cofounder of Drizzlin Media India, says brands have so far mainly focused on changing communication according to the analytics. Drizzlin works like a social media consultant for clients like Lenovo and quick service restaurant KFC. "Few have reached the stage of creating products and services based on analytics. That would be the ultimate use," says Goel.