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Optimizing Your Social Media Strategy for an Indian Audience

by Ajeet Khurana | November 26, 2013 | 11 Comments

social media Ecommerce players have always tried to tap into the social habits of prospective customers. This has led them to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and others. And that is a good thing. But as social media newbies soon realize, just posting social status updates does nothing for brand salience, web traffic, or sales. Online — or in person — the primary formula for all social interaction is relevance. And while it takes more than just relevance, that’s the starting point for connecting with any audience.

What Does This Mean for an International Ecommerce Player?

Let’s say that you are an ecommerce business that is getting serious about the Indian market. How would you approach your social media strategy? This is far from a comprehensive lesson on Indian society, but here are some thoughts that will get your juices flowing.

India Is a Land of Religion, and on Occasion, the Religion Tells its Believers to Buy

To a western audience, this might seem bizarre, but Hindus in India actually have a religious festival called Dhanteras, which is observed by buying precious metal. Usually this is in the form of small items like rings and pendants. And just in case you are not aware, this “niche” audience numbers approximately 1 billion people – that’s right, approximately 14% of the world’s population. 14% of the world’s population receives a religious dictate to buy precious metal, usually in the form of light gold jewelry, on a specific day in the year. Do I have your attention now? Enough attention to get you to rush to Wikipedia to verify the facts I just listed?

Even if you are not in the jewelry business, there is an important lesson to be learned here: there are strong cultural drivers in each market. As an ecommerce professional, your job is to unearth those influences and use them in your social media strategy. In some cases, these influences could be as obvious as Dhanteras in India. In other cases, you may have to dig deep to figure out a cultural influence that could lead to a purchase.

Where Does Social Media Fit Into All This?

Like answers to all crucial questions, here too the answer is, “depends.” What is your approach to social media? If you use it to announce deals and offerings, you could tailor your announcements to the mood of the Indian audience. If your social media strategy is more about increasing your brand relevance, you could create messages that relate to Indian emotions. And if social media, to you, is primarily an instrument of customer engagement, then you obviously need to know the contexts within which your customers like to be engaged.

But whatever you do, don’t splatter messages about “Cyber Monday” or offer “Black Friday” promotions. These terms are alien to Indian consumers. They establish you as a brand that has no idea about its audience.

“Think Global, Act Local”

This is one of the clichés in international marketing. But like most clichés, the original meaning is well intended. India as a market is different — so are they all. Your job as an ecommerce business is to appreciate those differences and rework your social communication to adapt to Indians. Here are some examples of what that can mean in the context of social media strategy for targeting Indian customers for your ecommerce business.

Sports: Cricket Does the “Slam Dunk,” But Nothing Else

There have been several abortive attempts at promoting other sports, but the fact is that cricket is the only truly national sport in India. I recently saw a tweet by an ecommerce site that referred to one of its deals as a “slam dunk.” Great phraseology, but not for the Indian audience! A far superior alternative would be to say, “smash the ball for a sixer!” That is something all Indians would relate to. Are you from a place where “smash the ball for a sixer” is gibberish? Good, now you know how the Indian ecommerce customer reacts to “slam dunk.”

Local Holidays Are Huge Selling Opportunities, and There Are Many Local Holidays in India

The average Indian ecommerce customer is steeped in religious, cultural, and traditional values. It is no surprise that a lot of online purchase takes place around religious, cultural, and traditional events. So in Dassera, home appliances, furniture, and other home improvement products do very well. So does apparel. In Diwali, ecommerce players selling gift baskets, dried fruit, chocolate, and other snackables do well. At Rakshabandhan, small gift items for women work the best. And the list goes on. Your social media strategy should build on these important life events of Indians.

And All Else That Is Different

Like most Asian societies, India has a very strong family orientation. It is common for multiple generations of a family to live under the same roof. Also, compared to global audiences, Indians spend an exceptionally high proportion of their earning on their children’s education. These two demographic characteristics of your Indian customers create opportunities for social media communication.

At one level, all of this is common sense. After all, it was almost two millennia ago that Ambrose said, “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” But a quick look around the ecommerce landscape shows us that even some mid- to large-sized ecommerce players do not seem to demonstrate sensitivity to local cultures. Probably the dizzying pace and burgeoning growth of the ecommerce industry do not allow them to notice the finer aspects of ecommerce localization strategy. But when the imminent shakeout does take place, the survivors will quite likely be the ones that appreciated the complexities of international ecommerce.

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Comments (11)

  1. Priyanka Chaturvedi Agrawal |December 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm|Reply

    a very insightful read; simple, common-sense which should come easy but doesn’t. I loved the ‘dhanteras’ & slam dunk examples.

    • Ajeet Khurana |December 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm|Reply

      Thanks Priyanka. I agree that good social behavior is actually a whole lot of common sense. Alas! That does not make it easy!

      • disqus_zSCrsR5fkU |December 28, 2013 at 3:43 am|Reply

        Useful information for the concerns

  2. Taha Nabee |December 13, 2013 at 10:47 am|Reply

    International consumer businesses that have not previously attempted to do business in India, could make many ‘rookie’ mistakes. Not indianizing is one such mistake. I believe that the extent to which the Indian consumer demands Indianization is unseen in any other international market and needs to be studied in great detail while preparing a go to market strategy. Succeeding in India, is very different from succeeding in other markets because of the complexities of doing business in India and the huge diversity in consumer base. India is more similar to Europe in its entirety than any other single market I have seen. As a result, consumer oriented businesses need not only to Indianize but are required to further localize their strategies, both online and offline within regions of India. Dhanteras is a national phenomenon, and Diwali is celebrated all over the country. Everyone in India knows this, and marketers try their best to capitalize on it. What is missed by those focusing only on macro-marketing-strategy are Onam in Kerala, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Akshay Tritya in Maharashtra and the hundreds of other opportunities to market that this behemoth of an economy presents. Either marketers need to focus on specific geographic segments of the country or figure out how they can use technology to effectively localize to the relevant state/city/village where they seek to evoke consumption.

    • Ajeet Khurana |December 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm|Reply

      Great insight Taha. Many cross border ecommerce businesses look at “India” as a market. That is ok if you are merely skimming the Indian market. However, if you are trying to delve deeper, you have to realize that there is no such thing as India — given all the variations we find in this large country.

  3. Rajvi Mehta |December 24, 2013 at 11:27 am|Reply

    I personally liked the, “think global, act local” paragraph. I could relate it to the time in the 90’s when Coca Cola came to India but was instantly rejected because we couldn’t relate to the same. Then it’s comeback was a big hit. The same with Mac donalds. This even holds true in the e-commerce sector. While trying to globalize your business, one should make sure the locals are happen. No point in having a product that is not locally accepted. Great article! I am sure most of us can relate to this at some level.

    • Ajeet Khurana |December 24, 2013 at 11:35 am|Reply

      Rajvi, great examples about foreign products entering India and initially failing due to a lack of appreciation of the local culture. At the same time, its great that you pointed out that they eventually got it right. In ecommerce, I am hoping that this cycle from exploration to getting it right is much shorter.

    • Casey Fahey |December 25, 2013 at 9:50 pm|Reply

      I think somewhere there is an unwritten rule which states: “Every American brand must suffer at least one horrible failure prior to successfully gaining a foothold in India.”:

      I was at a conference where they examined Ford, who approached the Indian market by putting power windows in the front only in order to save money. The mistake was that in India at that time anyone with sufficient resources to operate a car would also likely be riding in the back; Ford had put in power windows for the chauffeurs only!

      • Ajeet Khurana |December 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm|Reply

        Interesting point Casey. This gets all the more funny when decisions are made in the US headquarters without any feet on street in India. One would assume that would not happen, but when the business is entirely website based (as in the case of ecommerce businesses), we run the risk of businesses being insensitive to cultural issues.

  4. Eamonn Armstrong |January 2, 2014 at 3:41 pm|Reply

    Being British I’m interested to see how Tesco will do in the Indian market, and if they will use social media to grow the brand.
    Much agree with the “Think global, act local” paragraph. Globalisation is a massive process that not many companies have mastered (Coca Cola have, the the extreme!)
    Having a global prospective of the world will certainly pay off in today’s market.

    • Ajeet Khurana |January 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm|Reply

      Given how many business books have screamed out the slogan, “think global, act local,” one would have assumed that the message would have sinked in.

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