'SMM is pointless if you can't build relationships'

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Jan 24, 2011

DougMowVirtusa (NASDAQ:VRTU), an information technology services company, has been putting together a social media strategy to capitalize on the various social media channels. Doug Mow, SVP, marketing, Virtusa, spearheaded the company’s social media adoption and in the last two years since the project was initiated, the company has made rapid strides. Here, he speaks with CXOtoday on the journey so far and the changing nature of marketing.

What has been your approach towards social media marketing (SMM)?
The process was initiated in 2009 by partnering with Greenough Communications, a U.S. based PR agency. The mandate was to create an overall strategy for the use of the various social media platforms. We started of with building a social media platform for internal use. We have been using a number of tools like Jive for the same. We also consult our clients on how they can effectively use social media as a marketing tool. For example, during the Chilean mining crisis, we advised some of our clients connected to the event on how they could use social media for crisis management. Our internal experience comes handy at such times.

So is this an indication that Virtusa could soon spin off social media consulting as a stand-alone practice?
We have been debating for some time now and there are several points for and against it, but as of now, I have to say that there are no plans for the new future. As a company, we try to look at the entire picture, so social media for us is part of an overall bucket of services. If we spin it off as a separate group there are chances that we might end up focusing too much on it. This is one point against a social media spin off.

Coming back to your experiences with social media, how different is SMM from traditional marketing?
The social media strategy has to be bottom up because you have to depend on each and every individual to do their part. It is not an alternate to traditional marketing and has to be strategically integrated with marketing. In fact, the social media platform can’t exist by itself; it needs to go hand-in-hand with other functions like sales, HR, etc.

How have you gone about building your social media strategy?
We divided the entire process into two parts. In the first phase our focus was to build the platform and develop a community. In the second phase we plan to engage with our community. SMM makes no sense if you can’t build relationships with the members. That will be the focus for further developments. If you take Twitter for example, we have multiple accounts - there is, of course, the corporate account; then we have other accounts pertaining to specific technologies. We also encourage our top management and employees to interact with people over Twitter.

Any misconceptions regarding social media that you want to clear?
Most people fear that there are a lot of frauds on social networking platforms. The truth is that there are far fewer frauds then we would think. Companies also worry that using platforms like Facebook and Twitter gives employees a chance to circumvent disclosure agreements; but disclosure policies don’t need to change when it comes to social networking. The trick is to be very deliberate about social media guidelines and behavioral expectations from your employees. Provide training if possible and don’t forget to monitor the performance of your social media initiatives.

Indians are big users of social networking platforms. Is strategizing social media initiatives more important for Indian companies than their Western counterparts?
Absolutely! There’s a simple reason. If you compare the population age demographics there are far more ‘young’ people in India than other countries, so Indian companies will have to embrace SMM much faster. In fact we ourselves use Facebook as a recruiting tool in India and Asia.

There is no going back now; social media is here to stay. If we look at companies like Facebook and Twitter, their evaluations are nearly twice as big as Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL)! The message is clear - companies need to evolve and consider SMM as part of their overall marketing and customer relationship strategy.