A dedicated site with large LCD screens displaying analytics and live streaming of social media platforms, global heat maps and people facing them typing hurriedly on the keyboards of their dual-monitor computers. It might sound like a war room, but we are talking about a social media command centre -- a dedicated state-of-the-art facility used by brands for monitoring conversations, customer service, tracking marketing efficiency, market research and much more.
The concept is not new and brands like Dell and Gatorade had established command centres abroad as early as 2010, but the trend seems to be catching up in India now. Recently, many FMCG, BFSI, telecom and hospitality brands in India have either introduced a command centre in-house or have outsourced one. "Can a brand afford to ignore chatter, whether negative or positive, on social media or digital platforms today?" asks Rajiv Dingra of digital agency WATConsult.
His argument is not without some merit as, according to a 2016 study by Internet and Mobile Association of India, 47 per cent of the people who access social media in the country post reviews of product and services. Similarly, Global Customer Service Barometer survey by American Express has revealed that 64 per cent of the survey participants resorted to social media to get response from companies over customer care issues.
Sula Vineyards, which outsources its command centre, uses it for attending to customer queries and gaining market intelligence. According to Cecilia Oldne, VP, Marketing, and global brand ambassador at Sula, the centre has helped them gain a better understanding of consumers. "We understand now what they like in which market," Oldne says.
The command centres provide diverse services to brands. While some - such as Sula - use it for customer care, social listening and market intelligence, others employ them for more complex functions including market research, competition analysis and online reputation management. Defining the objective of the centre is key to its success, as it helps in selecting the tools required and human resource planning, thus getting a sense of the investment needed. Most experts say that the annual investment required to run a command centre in India varies from `10 lakh to `5 crore. "If you want to use your command centre only for social listening and ORM purposes, the investment can be much less compared to setting up a full-fledged facility with data analytics and real-time creative support," says Swapnil Puranik, Head of Customer Experience Strategy - West, SapientRazorfish, which runs a centre for Madura Fashion brands.
But Zafar Rais, CEO of digital marketing company Mindshift Interactive, says that no one tool can fully meet the need of a command centre. "Every tool will be able to track certain data points and hence you need to mix and match," he explains. The most popular tools in India, according to Rais, are Radian 6, Hootsuite, Adobe Social and Socialbakers. Dingra believes that hiring the right personnel is very important for a command centre. "A tool is going to throw million results and who is going to sit through them and apply intelligence," he asks.
The big question is, do brands really get return on investments on these command centres? While tracking returns on social media is not an easy task, Puranik says the effectiveness of the command centre also depends on how well-defined its purpose is.
Even as the popularity of the command centres grows with companies, it remains to be seen whether smaller brands would find them viable when its difficult to track the return on investment.