Organic, bought - what’s the difference?

Zohare Haider Regional Head of Digital, Wider South Asia, British Council

Posted on March 22nd 2012

Organic, bought - what’s the difference?

ImageThere are a few things that I truly focus on when considering modifications or upgrades to my corporate social media strategy. Although our process has significantly evolved since we first started our various profiles in 2008, the lessons I learnt from our group office centered around ensuring our online community was built using progressive, organic means.

For some who often ask the cost or process of acquiring a large fan base, often miss the point of developing an online community. The beauty of how social media grew to become what it is today is based on a single fact – you build it, they will come. Everyone’s heard “It’s a small world”, but have you ever considered how the 80’s predicted the 21st century for us? Steve Jobs is a great product of the 80s, although he got started much earlier. It was in the 80s that Apple (Macintosh) became an entity to watch for.

30 years later, apple has an app store, reported to have generated US $25 billion in revenue – driven by the evident need for a commercial platform that enables remote developer markets around the world. Their greatest weapon was patience and a constant desire to innovate far ahead of their time. It took us a while, but eventually we began to look past the overly futuristic appeal of the devices and instead turn it into the basis of our attraction. Either we were brainwashed by a giant apple-shaped satellite, or it is a true example of what it means to organically grow something from ground up.

Facebook is a super example of how a small idea of personal purpose can suddenly be the single most effective tool to penetrate the privacy of hundreds of millions by allowing them to volunteer details at no cost. All it really does is exploit our carnal desire to interact. Even in our individual being, we find it hard to live without self-perpetuated egos - and what’s the point if there’s no one to share it with? It’s simple really, the basic foundation of social networking is community development; a bi-product of our need to interact. It speaks to us in a way that we want to be spoken to. A platform built for us, by us. Or maybe just by a reflection of who many of us really are – show-offs, looking for a way to make lasting impressions.

But when you have the dilemma of the race to be ahead, leading the pack – that competitive spirit that feeds our ambition to get noticed – could it be that we ignore the fundamentals by herding people together, presuming to know what they want? Apple and Google did it right. Fortunately for the latter, the former had already begun to pave the way for innovation. It helps to have someone’s experience to learn from – should you choose to. These are organic communities that have really grown in the last decade and it’s great to see that a solid foundation can be built, if it’s nurtured well.

Coming back, social media development is not a race and certainly not at the cost of creating bigger communities with little or no rational engagement. Like any solid, well knit community any of us would live in, online communities also require some finesse that only comes from genuine communication. If you ever question buying fans and whether it’s ethically right or wrong, consider buying someone’s vote for an election – not very democratic is it? Same rule applies and the exception is, there isn’t one, unless we make it.

I’ve always believed that slow and steady wins the race. Sure, day to day living can be fast and sometimes impulsive, but if your eyes have sight on the distant goal, the small steps we take to get there can be quite educational and informative. We learn so much about our communities by always trying to find that thing that ticks with them. We dedicate increasing resources to focus on people you can’t see, feel or hear. Only interaction through an inanimate object, deciphering their thoughts and feedback, can cause us to sometimes wonder about how this came to be. This is the constant desire for innovation in our interaction. Yes, interaction has evolved.

The inevitable journey for online communication is one that will only reach saturation once an alternative is born. Just as social media became an alternative to offline engagement. Sure, it wasn’t meant to be so intrusive in our personalities, but it is and many of us embrace it, with relentless growth continuing. Oddly, we can’t grow to a point where resources to live on become scarce because we’ve literally turned into a global village, we’ll just balance it out with the new thing.

But like the great doers of our past did it, focus on the organic, engagement-oriented approach. It’s truly more customer-centric and adds far greater substance to your relationship with your fans. Make them fall in love with you, your brand and your product so the unity is binding and inseparable. Like the bond between father and son; it’s there, just takes years to reach it. When you do, it’s worth it. We have an expression in Pakistan – “Sabar ka phal meetha hotha hain” – meaning “The fruit of patience is always sweeter.” I wish we all still reminded ourselves of its value so that the race wouldn’t be to keep fan growth high; instead it would be to keep engagement high. Take coke for example, everyone else does.

So, like a plant, take the organic community growth approach and see a healthy community grow. Remember, it’s like any community you or I would live in ‘offline’. Only thing that’s really happened all this time is that we’ve just remixed “It’s a small world” for the umpteenth time since man landed (or whatever it is you believe) on earth. We create bigger communities to be the popular kid in school, find commonalities and thrive. If forced, the results would be a community with insuficient time to settle down, possibly causing it to become unsustainably overpopulated. Engagement leads to growth too, so let it.

Since the cavemen did it, so shall we engage to evolve. 


Zohare Haider

Regional Head of Digital, Wider South Asia, British Council

Zohare is the Regional Head of Digital at British Council. Previously, he was with Ooredoo (formerly Qtel Group), where he was program managing the build-up of a new Digital Innovation and Advisory services unit to support all of Qtel's Big global business throughout Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

A graduate of Bucknell University (USA), Zohare has extensive experience working with global leaders in Telecoms, Venture/Patient Capital and Social Enterprise. His key interests are to build strategic relations and partnerships,  believing strongly in the synergy between digital and offline consumer engagement strategies. He loves to try and demystify digital by making it user-friendly. 

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Saad Hamid
Posted on March 22nd 2012 at 6:12PM

Zohare, nicely written.

Although I believe the engagement-driven strategy does not work everywhere. Since we work in the same industry, in the same country and in the same field (PR and social media) so I have questions for you?

  • In Pakistan where most of the fans would just engage with your brand so they can win a prize or giveaway, do you think engagement-driven strategy can work for long?
  • Also, for the telecom industry, where 5 telcos are in competition and even the 'pricing' is no longer a competitive advantage for a brand, what do you think would value to the customer/user?

Google/Apple philosophy can't work for a brand in Pakistan because people don't go after what's best, people go after what 'looks' best.

Also, pressure from the brands to meet social media KPIs adds up to more and therefore social media teams need to resort to what you call media buying.

I believe media buying can help in targeting the right amount of recruits and is very essential too!


Posted on March 28th 2012 at 12:47PM

Hi Saad,

Thanks for your comment. This article is written in a global context, not specifically about Pakistan. That should broadly address your first two questions. Examples from the local experience contribute to the larger space that everyone is rushing towards without defining a structured approach (our industry is no exception).

Addressing your individual points: Giveaways are not always the key factor in engagement - in fact it's only categorized as incentive under your overall engagement strategy. If you take wi-tribe's example, small fan base, limited giveaways, extremely high engagement across the board (with your normal peaks and troughs). So, no, i don't think they are set to work for a long period, if that is the sole objective - to get more by giving more. With smaller budgets, you realize the value in finding smarter ways to engage audiences (even if it means no giveaways). If you talk about Pakistan's example, people are quite hungry to participate and get involved, even if there is nothing being handed out. Our current Discover Pakistan is a great example of that. Giveaways always help increase visibility, but that overshadows true/real engagement, which is more genuine in its function.

As for the industry space, it's up to the individual business to figure out their USP in the social space. If I had the anwser, I'd be the CEO of Pakistan's (or the regions) biggst and most successful social media/digital marketing business. But frankly, it's more than just competing over price. A number of international examples have shown that price exclusive, you can make your mark in the social space by being inventive, innovative, engaging and real. The facade of corporate appeal can be sheltered under a friendly brand appeal. That's more important to customers - along with good value for money or a reliable service. Even with services, reliability is subjective to individual experience and varies. All in all, a brand and consumer connect best when there are commonalities in interest and availability/presence online. You wouldn't go entering Pond's beauty cream contests for yourself, would you? Relevance is key. But since you speak of the Telco space, it's a tough sell. If you include ISPs in your telco coverage, you will see a much different picture. Competition over here is far more aggressive in terms of growth (vertical and horizontal).

Coming to your Google/apple point - I disagree thoroughly with the observation and you will see why very soon. Because the two have achieved global success, they are more apparent and thus more useful. This is also the case because there is no local alternative that offers the same commercial viability/success opportunity. Everyone has a paltform that is 'closed to outsiders'. 

As for your last point about social KPIs - please elaborte a few because most companies are still figuring out what the differences between social tools and ATL tools are. There are limited benchmarks, available because the industry in Pakistan has yet to mature. Media buying is a different ball game altogether and acts as a support mechanism for any promotion, be it product launches, raising community awareness, brand building or whatever it is that you need to push. I agree it is a very powerful (direct and accurate) tool, but so is any advertising method in its own right.

It's anyone's game and there is no such thing as first mover advantage here. At the end, we only have our own examples to share, which I have done in my article and this response.