A Social Summer

Prof. Gautam Ahuja, in his introductory lecture (that was part of the Ross international student orientation) emphasized the importance of learning to ‘ignore the hype’. He went on to give an excellent example to corroborate his views – how Walmart reacted to the internet/E-Commerce revolution: When most other retailers panicked and acted as if brick and mortar retailing was about to die overnight, WalMart did their bit by creating walmart.com, but nothing beyond that. Here they are, a decade later, going strong at $400+ B a year (Year 2009, fortune 2 company). Prof. Ahuja’s lecture had a profound impact on me, because those were my views too (but I never dared voice them, out of fear of being ridiculed). Subsequent to this, I started passing every piece of news/development from the world of business through an internal ‘Hype’ filter (before deciding whether it deserved any attention)
So, imagine my response to the overnight celebrity status and adulation that ‘Social Media’ started receiving, one fine day. For my part, I had dabbled in social media – An orkut account here, a yahoo group there, but I was not crazy about them (But with Facebook, it was different a different story. It was a case of love at first sight – I cannot explain what it is/was about facebook that attracted me to it, but there it was). So facebook is great, agreed; but were facebook and twitter the real new game changers, as was coming to be widely accepted? And was facebook the new google (and what of their plans for world domination?). “No way”, I said to myself, “Too much is being made of what is at best a passing fad – Something that people will enjoy for a while before moving on to something else”. With these thoughts in mind, I headed out to the big bad world of technology (San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley), in search of the ever elusive summer internship.
Thanks to Doostang.com, I became aware of a few of the gazillion high tech start-ups that hoped to cash in on the storm brewed up by Social Media. “Involver” was one such company. One visit to the Involver web page convinced me that this was one of the few high-tech start-ups that had a compelling business model and excellent early monetization prospects that set them apart from the rest. Involver is the first (And at present, only) complete brand marketing platform for facebook. Like all things web 2.0, the mantra for success (At least initially) had to be “Freemium”. So, while the Involver platform was being developed and enhanced, they let facebook fan page owners install the Involver fan page application suite for free! Over the course of a year, thousands of fan pages started using Involver – These included both popular brands such as Reader’s Digest, US Weekly etc. and smaller establishments such as independent restaurants and Indie artists that formed the long tail of their respective businesses. Like all good things, the free Involver subscription had to come to an end, and back in June’09, they decided to start charging for their premium applications/services (But they still did offer two fan page tabs for free – Remember, one of the commandments of the ‘freemium’ model is – “Thou shalt continue to offer some of thine products for free”). The challenge was to determine ways to convert their free subscribers into paid customers. Among other things, they decided to augment their business workforce with a business/marketing intern, and advertized on Doostang.
A cover letter and a couple of interviews later, the folks at Involver invited me to work with them as a summer intern. At Involver, learning for me, began before day one – starting with the interviews conducted by the marketing director and CEO – Both of which involved insightful discussions around pricing strategies, marketing to companies that constituted the tail and my honest opinion about social media and its potential as a marketing platform. By this time, I had realized that social media was not all hype – When people no longer read news papers and magazines, and no longer watched TV, where did they spend their free time? Stats from Comscore screamed : “Social Media”. In this case, “social media” had come unscathed through my “Hype filter”.
At Involver I was fortunate to work on a variety of projects – To start with, I started identifying potential new fan page tabs/applications that could be added to the Involver suite in order to enhance its appeal to marketers (Fan page owners). This involved a bit of brainstorming (With self, and then with the marketing director/CEO), a detailed analysis of the industry verticals that constituted the Involver clientele (Here I made an assumption that the existing client base was representative of their future customers – in terms of industry mix), an in-depth study of some of the most popular brand fan pages (Such as Pringles, Adidas, Coca Cola etc.) and some smart search! Eventually I ended up identifying a handful of applications with open API (Fully developed by third party developers, with interfaces that supported embedding those applications in other web pages) – This list included some of the usual suspects such as Slideshare, Tripit, flickr etc.
My next task was to identify means of tracking web page visits and conversions (Purchase), and ways in which to enhance conversion rates. The answer to this problem (as is the case with a number of other problems in life), lie with Google – Google analytics to be precise. What aided me immensely in this task was the detailed documentation from Google, together with awesome blog posts by Avinash Kaushik (Widely acknowledged Web analytics guru and the author of “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day”) – http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/.
And now for something fun! The Involver internship gave me an opportunity to work on something related to Woodstock’69! The Woodstock’69 40th anniversary facebook fan page management had been outsourced to Involver by one of their premium customers. I was assigned the task of managing the facebook campaign for this client. As part of this exercise, I designed facebook ads (Messaging and imagery) that helped attract users to the Woodstock fan page and participate in a viral campaign that afforded fans a chance to win Woodstock branded electric guitars for spreading word about the fan page, dabbled in the CPC/CPM esoteric and was responsible for measuring/tracking advertising ROI, and identifying ways of improving the same.
Over the next few weeks, I worked on a number of other marketing and business development projects. Among other things, I developed compelling responses to RFPs, conducted research on facebook tools (Such as the facebook lexicon and how marketers can benefit from such tools), identified reasons for slow adoption of Involver premium by certain categories of businesses (Via market research/surveys that I sent out to representative free subscribers). All in all, the wide variety of projects at Involver, made my west coast sojourn a memorable one. The icing on the cake, however, was the experience of working at a start-up, in a super-fast paced environment, where almost everyone wore multiple hats!

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~ by jyothiprakash on August 26, 2009.

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