Category Archives: Business on Digital


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WCMumbai 2016: The Community Manager – The Future Of The Blogger

I was a speaker at WordCamp Mumbai for the third time running. This time, I did something different. I walked up onto the stage with only my thoughts and nothing else. No Powerpoint, no podium, no rehearsed speech. Just me and my ideas. Take a look and tell me what you think.

How Bloggers/Tweeters Get Exploited By Agencies & Companies

A Week Of Exploitation

A few years ago, a certain Bangalore-based PR company organised a week-long social media conference. My business entered an arrangement with them and we were listed among their partners. After several conversations and some work, we were suddenly dropped from the listing, without even the courtesy of a conversation. When we followed up, one of their people told me that she had checked my blog and that “You don’t have that many followers.” I’m not sure how one checks ‘the followers’ of a blog, especially one that doesn’t list its readership stats publicly. And if that were valid criteria, shouldn’t that have been asked for and assessed before the work began?

This year, I was approached to conduct a workshop for the same event. I found out later that the workshop would be a paid one and that the proceeds would go to the PR company but that they would not pay the speakers/workshop trainers.


This Is Not Getting Paid In Kind

The real problem here is that I know many newer bloggers, tweeters and other people on social media are promised things like ‘visibility’ and ‘opportunities to network’ instead of being paid. For one, social media by its very nature offers visibility and networking opportunities FOR FREE. One doesn’t need to pay someone else, let alone do free work to get this. If your work is good enough to merit a brand or a company riding on it, then it’s good enough to get you visibility and people who want to connect with you.

Blogging Is Work

Secondly, content creation is work. Followership is garnered through steady, quality work (whether you do it for a living or not). None of the other fields that do this operate for free. Ad agencies do not create ads for free. Media houses do not run brand campaigns for free. Event companies do not host their events for free. So there’s no good reason a blogger, tweeter or social influencer should do this work for free.

If you belong in this space, don’t undersell yourself and don’t accept such exploitative behavior. The industry will only give you the respect you deserve if you claim it.

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Image via stockphotos on

If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

A Brand Walks Into A Party

I like to approach social media the way I approach socializing. It probably helps that I am an extrovert. But I wasn’t born that way. I went through nerdy childhood and awkward adolescence, feeling left out of the popular cliques. Over time, I figured my way into where I wanted to be. That experience has been the most valuable one for me, when it comes to social media.

Brand walks into party

Social media is about people, about how we connect with each other, one on one and in groups. This is the essence of social skills. How to find that open spot, when to get in, what to say and what to be, how to deal with the ever-shifting vortex of other people’s perceptions. Isn’t this what a brand must deal with as well, when it comes to consumer mindspace?

What do you do when you go to a party? You prepare, by dressing up, by looking up the address and on occasion, thinking of things to say to the people you imagine will be there. For a brand, this translates to identifying the target audience, researching what interests them and where they hang out.

When you enter the party, what is your first action? Look around, take in the scene and reassure yourself that you’re dressed right, you’ve arrived at the right time, there are enough people who look like the picture in your head. And if one of these is off (as it is likely to be in a realistic scenario), you’ll take immediate corrective action. Hurry to the restroom (or back out, if you can) to get your attire in order. Formulate an apology or excuse for not being there at the right time. Reorient yourself to the people who are there, given they are a different crowd from what you expected.

I find this helps me stay more realistic about the flexibility that is required of a brand, when it first comes onto social media. Content strategy, social media plans – all of these are sweet dreams on paper and will look that way for about a week. After that, reality will require you to shape it differently or fall by the wayside.

Given that brands are business properties, backed by the money, effort and time of several people, there is that additional pressure to perform. Who would a ‘top performer’ be in my party metaphor? Why, the toast of the party, of course. As a brand custodian, you aim to be that. You might end up being one of the ‘interesting people I met today’ for most of the audience. But it sure beats being that wallflower that nobody remembers. Or worse still, that utterly gauche person who made a laughingstock of himself by throwing up (social faux pas). Being popular is an art but also an acquired skill. Boiling it down to a formula-based science won’t get you very far.

Brands need to approach social media the same way people approach a party. Social skills make the whole difference between this being a nightmare or a fun activity.


* I’ll be posting a series of such blogposts under the category ‘Business on Digital‘ and labelled #SoMeDiCon.

Content Marketing: The Power Of Story

Content Marketing, yet another buzzword added to the business lexicon. Let’s not go the jargon way. Let’s just talk.

Every human interaction is a conversation of a sort. Negotiations are conversations. Transactions are conversations. Information exchange is a conversation. Relationships are a series of evolving and shifting conversations. The power to communicate leads to two human beings creating something bigger than themselves together – something that could be fuel to build bigger things like profits, a building, a government and even a philosophy.

Seen in that light, what else is marketing but a conversation between the marketer and the consumer? Isn’t every marketing effort about telling the consumer a story that they can identify with, that gives them a guaranteed payoff, that keeps them engaged and (it is hoped) paying and loyal? Content marketing uses story as a vehicle to connect to, interest and engage consumers as audience.

Custom media published by commercial establishments that were otherwise not involved in content production, were the early harbingers of content marketing. In-flight magazines and trade journals are some examples that continue even today. Procter & Gamble created and backed a series of serial stories on radio, then television that captivated their target audience for Ivory Soap. The product these were created for, gave its name to the content format known now as soap operas. Thus for over a century now, brands have seen value in catering to, even pampering their customers by giving them information & entertainment to hook their attention.

John Deere’s publication ‘The Furrow’ has created such a loyal reader base among its audience of farmers through its articles on agri-business entrepreneurship that it continues being published even today, over a century from its conception. Who do you suppose a farmer is likelier to look to for advice on what tractor to buy? A brand that he interacts with only when he speaks to its salesmen or one that sits at his table every day and gives him ideas on how to be more profitable in his work? For brands willing to look beyond visibility to recognize the value of long-term trust, content marketing is an answer.

What are some of the advantages of telling a good story? It goes beyond interest and right into the realm of engagement. A great story, pulls its listener into a new universe, makes him/her feel emotions and form attachments to the things that the story is about. Consider the effort that brand managers invest in trying to build, understand and sustain brand personality and perceptions. It isn’t a precise science but there is a craft to it and it’s the craft of story-telling. See the brand as a person, a character in a story that should grip the customer. The Sex & the City series singlehandedly made the shoe a hero in a woman’s wardrobe, lifting it up from its accessory status. At a more superficial level, the story relentlessly plugged the Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik brands but look at the larger picture – the story created a new context of consumption for the entire category of women’s footwear.

Content marketing today takes the form of print, audio and video media. It also turns up in interactive media in the form of gamefication and online communities. It makes its presence felt in the form of events that aren’t brand launches or press conferences but well-crafted experiences that make its participants come together with the brand.

In sum, content marketing uses the fundamental premise of a good story to convey a commercial message in a way that it is received by an interested audience. Over and above advertising, which also does the same thing, content marketing helps establish a deeper connection with the consumer. And finally, in an increasingly interactive age, content marketing can turn a brand and its customers into collaborators as they join in conversations to build a common story.


I gave a talk called ‘Content Marketing: Powering brands through stories’ at the Technology for Marketing & Advertising (TFM&A), Delhi earlier this year. Here’s a video shot during that talk.


Payal and I will be conducting a workshop on Content Marketing this week, where we will talk about content as it pertains to brands and how to develop brand stories into conversations with customers. We will also work with the participants to build a content strategy for their respective brands. We are still taking registrations so if you’re interested, drop me an email at ideasmithy at gmail dot com or tweet to me –

The workshop details are as follows:

Content Marketing for Brands

Date: Friday, 6 September
Time: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Venue: Mahim West (close to Tulsi Pipe Road), Mumbai
Tuition: Rs.2500 per registration

CM 3

Twitter Trending Activities: A Poor Show by Social Media Agencies

Two of today’s trending topics are obviously manufactured social media Trending topics 19May13campaigns. I clicked through not because the tags engaged me but because I’m seeing so many of these, I feel I need to say something. Both use the same shoddy style that people who call themselves professionals, need to reconsider.

Right off the bat, both #LoveAtFirstSniff and #IFeelRoyalWhen put me off because of their sheer length. 140 characters is so little, every single one counts. A hashtag that takes up too space, gives people less space to say what they want. On social media, that means they will not care and hence not participate.

My experience with social media professionals tells me that many of them do not even think about this. The common refrain is that ‘it has to carry the brand’s message’. Well, social media is not advertising. Imposing a brand’s agenda onto communication channels works against the brand, by generating resentment instead of participation.

I also do not see why social media needs to follow traditional communication’s norms. What’s wrong with abbreviations? The language of social media, especially short-form content requires it. The concern appears to be, ‘How will people know what it is about?’ Simple, they’ll know what it’s about, if the tweets using that hashtag explain it adequately. This requires more thought being put into the content of the tweets than just 140-character shortened general marketing messages.

Neither hashtag was particularly engaging. That’s not very friendly, and on a medium that is by its very name, social. All interest on such activities is generated by offering goodies or contest wins. Why would you need to bribe people to participate in a conversation? If you’re interesting enough, people will want to participate. The wonder of social media is that it makes numbers possible not by bribing but simply understanding, relating and engaging with real people.

Both these hashtags smack of brand agenda as well as an indifference to what people want. On social media, who cares what a brand wants? Other social media users who are the people who make a topic trend, are not marketing channels for the brand. They have no interest in what a brand wants. If a brand is smart, it will understand what these people want and create a conversation that they’ll be drawn to, and aim for that mental association with a consumer requirement. #LoveAtFirstSniff and #IFeelRoyalWhen are both examples of what I call ‘brand-outward’ rather than ‘audience-inward’ communication.

Due to patchy understanding of the medium as well as a need to quantify business actions, most clients either want or are appeased by social media agencies proposing ‘trending activities’. In reality, after the activity is agreed upon, a small group of people spend their efforts pushing out tweets onto the hashtag in an effort to make the numbers required for the tag to trend. What business value does this serve?

The hashtag appears on the ‘trending topics’. If you’re looking for visibility, that’s not particularly relevant visibility since the average Twitter user does not care about a topic that is not relevant to him/her. Participation by a few social media executives and their immediate circle that is being begged, cajoled and bribed to push out tweets isn’t engagement either. In what way does this benefit the brand except to be able to boast that it spent money making noise that nobody listened to or cared about?

If you are a marketing manager, think twice about wasting your budget on activities that do not add any real value. If you are a social media agency, such activities make you come across as an outfit that’s just conning its clients into forking out marketing money for no real value.  As professionals, the onus is on you to understand what role communication plays in your client’s business and how it can best be used & managed on the social media.

Gillette Soldier for Women – Regressive & In Poor Taste

This ad by Gillette has been on TV for awhile now.

It started off with the intriguing ‘Soldiers wanted’. The build-up was great. And when it ended, I was groaning. Really now? We need to recruit men into ‘supporting women’? Like it’s a cool thing to do, not the have-to thing to do.

Worse, my overriding impression is that this is such a desperate attempt to cash in on all the hoopla around the Nirbhaya Delhi gangrape case. Very, very poor taste indeed. I mean, everyone and their sister and brother has felt the need to outrage and say something. Granted the numbers may have given this incident the required nation-wide attention that was long overdue. And admittedly the reportage on violence-against-women cases has snowballed because this news is hot, but what the hell, it’s getting people’s attention. I’m willing to be the realistic cynic in all of this. But hang a brand logo on that and attempt to ‘own’ the idea from a marketing standpoint and I’m sorry – you’ve alienated me.

Kiran Manral has a Facebook discussion going on this where she says,

“My issue is the throwing back of the debate into the ‘women to be protected by men’ category.”

Yes, that’s a valid thought. But it’s a whole other discussion that I’d get into if this were a short film or a Public Awareness video instead of a damn ad commercial.Atrociously poor form, Gillette.

* Also posted at XX Factor.

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