I reluctantly registered for a two day conference in support of Akshaya Patra and Anant called Social India. There were significant talks by experts in social media marketing from India and North America. For me, as an entrepreneur and a user experience designer, there were lessons to learn. What did I know?

Social media is a strong influential channel that can be leveraged by brands and businesses to work in tandem with traditional media. Enterprises should include them in the larger communication or marketing strategy to strengthen it. In India businesses have woken up to this fact recently and are working with digital agencies to create a strategy.

Most of these social media agencies have evolved from traditional web marketing or customer relationship management. So there is very little or no creative leadership to put together contextually correct, multi channel, strong campaigns that impact. I personally do not believe that silos of facebook contests make for a social media campaign and most of the solutions were that. The quality of destination content could be better with decoupages that involve photographs, videos and critical user contributions. Most brand case studies were counting heads as metrics.

The North American agencies were more evolved. I was impressed with the case study for Knorr Sidekicks presented by Eric Weaver of Ant’s Eye View. Salty is a salt shaker character who tugged at the heart strings of women who put dinner on the family table and he had them ‘following’ him. Take a look at this television commercial introducing Salty.

There were similar insights and case studies of Shashank Nigam from Simpliflying, an agency that focusses on social consumer connect for airline businesses, on Spicejet introducing Bombardier viral video. I should also mention Jim Long, a photojournalist at NBC and his insights into a new publishing paradigm. His talk was over Skype from New York. Fabulous!

The spirit and energy of independent publishers, bloggers and other participants engaged me. Particularly Prasant and his Lighthouse Insights. I cannot forget Kiruba, a TEDx representative in India. He is from Pondicherry and works out of Chennai. Kiruba is an energetic compère with a penchant for interacting with people. Good to connect.

Unlike a design conference, there was humility, participation, camaraderie and free exchange of ideas. I am ditching those black tee chic design junkets and sticking to honest ones like this. The closure with Sean Moffitt of Wikibrand fame was apt. This was a valuable weekend of new connections, lessons and possibilities.

Apparatus is now armed to create informed extensions of user experience design that weaves itself well with the social media world. We will create cohesive products and communication that engages to acquire new users or retain them.