Dr. Ranjit Nair, CEO, Germin8

Before the lockdown, social media usage was on average 150 minutes per day. However, in the first week of lockdown, the figures jumped to 280 minutes per day, says Hammerkopf Consumer Survey. So, what brands can do on social media during lockdown to engage their audience? “Brands should be thinking about how they can be compassionate and useful to consumers during this COVID-19 period,” says Dr. Ranjit Nair, CEO, Germin8. As a digital intelligence company focused on using data analytics and artificial intelligence, Germin8 helps companies become more customer-centric. In an email interaction with CXO Outlook, Dr. Ranjit talks about the importance of digital media intelligence and how brands can leverage social media platforms for branding purpose during COVID-19. Excerpts. 


Why is digital media intelligence important for today’s brands? What business questions can social media monitoring tools realistically help companies with?

In today’s times of lockdowns and social distancing, there are severe restrictions on travel, face to face interactions and physical transactions. More and more people are turning to online avenues for satisfying these same needs, which translates to more social media, virtual meetings, online shopping, digital banking, online education, and many more. This increased online time of users has meant that marketers are also investing more in digital advertising compared to traditional advertising. Furthermore, traditional market research that relies on field surveys is virtually impossible. All this underscores why digital media intelligence is especially important for brands today.

Social media listening, a crucial part of digital intelligence, can be thought of as understanding what top of mind for consumers is.  People will only write about what they feel the most passionate about, so you can expect to get feedback from engaged customers on company news, product experience, service experience and campaigns. This can help answer questions for companies relating to their brand and marketing communication, on how their products and services can be improved, what new product or service they should launch, and how their campaigns should be modified.

More people are turning to social during this lockdown time. How can brands leverage social media platforms for branding purpose during COVID-19?

Brands should be thinking about how they can be compassionate and useful to consumers during this COVID-19 period. If they are an essential service, they should be thinking of how they can ensure that their supply chains are working and focus their communication on helping consumers find their products. If they are a service that is deemed as non-essential, they should be thinking about how they can continue to engage with consumers even though their products are not accessible right now. Just because a product is deemed as non-essential, it does not mean that consumers do not need it. This would a good time for brands to connect with consumers on how they can temporarily make do without those products (e.g.  a salon brand could put out daily beauty tips for consumers that they can do on their own at home) or how the brand is preparing for a “social distancing” world( e.g. a hotel chain could share how they are preparing their hotel for social distancing after restrictions are removed).

This is also an excellent time for brands to get their act together in terms of figuring out what kind of brand they want to be once restrictions are lifted. Many times there are important things that brands should be doing like being more data-driven that get put to the back burner because there is plenty of demand and they don’t have any bandwidth to spare on things that are not crucial. Now that there is likely to be more time at hand, brands must use this time to plan. This includes figuring out what new products and services consumers will need once restrictions are lifted but also in terms of making sure that they have a robust back end.

How can social media analytics and insights help drive differentiation? How are Germin8’s clients using social media analytics to improve their business or marketing strategies?

Social media listening helps brands to understand what consumers think about their brand, campaigns, products/services, and competitors. In contrast, social media analytics helps brands understand how well consumers are engaging with the content put out by the brand.

Germin8’s customers use insights from both social media listening and social media analytics to answer questions relating to the 4Cs of marketing – Consumer needs, Communication, Cost and Convenience. Germin8 help companies understand consumer needs, how well they are getting addressed well and where the gaps lie. We also help brands understand how well the brand’s campaigns and content are faring vis-à-vis their competition and whether the content strategy needs to be modified. Finally, we help companies know what consumers are saying about their experience across the entire customer journey across all touchpoints on factors relating to cost and convenience. All of this results in brands that are most customer-centric and hence more competitive.

How can brands leverage technologies like AI, machine learning, blockchain, and others to improve their social media insights?

As the amount of data available in social media about a brand and its competitors increases, it becomes more and more difficult for manual or traditional analysis to deal with the scale. This results in the company’s focus on just high-level metrics which are rarely insightful or actionable. A lot of the analysis tends to be descriptive and rarely predictive, let alone prescriptive.

By leveraging technologies like AI and ML, which are sometimes available within sophisticated social media listening tools like Germin8, brands can move beyond mere numbers to get to the meaning behind the data. This enables brands to get actionable insights relating to when to act and how to work in different situations.

When social media data is coupled with other internal data, relating to customer transactions, brands are able to derive sharp insights relating to upsell, cross-sell and churn, which would not have been possible by analyzing both types of data in silos.

Because of the influence of social media, are companies today more customer-centric? What are your thoughts on it?

The attention that social media gets has meant that most companies pay attention to what is said on social media about them. However, many companies are incredibly reactive and tactical when it comes to social media. This means that they focus on each case as it appears on social media without changing their strategy based on the big picture. I would call these brands as reactive and not customer-centric because they are driven more by the fear of reputation loss rather than wanting to learn and adapt based on customer feedback.

From your experience at Germin8, what are the top three things companies need to have in place to deliver a more seamless customer experience?

The top three things that companies need to have in place for seamless customer experience are

  • The ability to understand customer feedback in the form of unstructured text and translate it into an action related to some aspect of the customer journey that will improve customer experience
  • The ability to quickly determine the identity of the customer who they are communicating with and the issue they are facing without a lot of back and forth communication
  • The willingness to communicate with the customer across social media platforms openly without diverting the customer to some different channel, e.g. asking them to call the call centre
What are the limitations of Digital media Intelligence? What types of business questions cannot be answered using social media data?

The biggest limitation when it comes to social media and digital intelligence is that the data pertains to what is top of mind for the customer and not necessarily what is top of mind for the company. For example, people will only write about what interests them, while the company might be seeking feedback about some aspect of their product or service that the customer is not interested enough to write about. This suggests that questions about things that the consumer does not experience directly and does not deem as important enough will not get answered.

The other challenge is that the data is not always authentic. This arises because sometimes, organizations and individuals might deliberately seed false information about themselves or others. While this may seem like a huge challenge, an experienced analyst is able to discern such fake posts quite easily.

What would be your word of advice to companies who are still reluctant to use social media listening?

I honestly cannot think of any good reason why companies do not use social media listening. Some are reluctant to respond to customers because they do not have a team or processes in place to respond to all customers and feel that if they start responding, they will not be able to stop. But regardless of whether they choose to respond, it cannot hurt to listen. One excuse that comes up is that brands claim that they do not need to listen because they are too small and not being spoken about. This again is not true because you can always listen about your product category or your competitors. My advice to any company that is reluctant to use social media listening is: Do not be an ostrich sticking its head in the sand; listen, learn, and make data-backed decisions.


More About Dr. Ranjit Nair and Germin8

Dr. Ranjit is passionate about artificial intelligence, innovation, and the analytics to generate value for both companies as well as individuals. He completed his PhD in Computer Science with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Southern California in 2004. His thesis focused on decision making in multi-agent teams involved in collaborative tasks in uncertain environments, like robots tasked with rescuing people in the aftermath of natural disasters. Post his doctorate, Dr. Ranjit worked as Senior Research Scientist with Honeywell Labs in Minneapolis, where he continued his work in developing algorithms for planning and decision making in the face of imprecise and incomplete information.

He returned to India at the end of 2006 to be a tech entrepreneur and to fulfil a desire to see India become known as not just as an exporter of IT services but also for world-class software products and innovation. With this goal in mind, he founded Germin8 along with his father, Raj Nair, who is a successful strategy consultant and serial entrepreneur. Today, Germin8 helps many large companies across sectors like financial services; automotive, FMCG and pharmaceuticals to use analyze their customers and become more customer-centric.

Apart from Germin8, Ranjit serves on the India Advisory Board of the University of Southern California and is the past President of the Alumni Club of Mumbai of the University of Southern California. In his spare time, he enjoys advising young entrepreneurs who have just begun their startup journey. He also serves as visiting faculty at several institutes like MICA and NMIMS.

Outside of his professional interests, Ranjit spends his time with his family and is the father of a precocious three-year-old. He spends the little time that remains on reading science fiction, running long distance, and experimenting in the kitchen.

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