In Conversation With Aditya Rao[Interview]

In Conversation With Aditya Rao[Interview]

Aditya Rao is the first Indian who influenced me with his thoughts on Indian social media. It’s been a year now that I know him virtually and I consider him to be one of the thought leaders in the industry. His thoughts on harnessing conversations, building engagement models, etc. made a mark on me in the year 2010. Meeting him at last over lunch at Lingeron was really exciting.


Aditya Rao


The first five minutes it was my interview where Aditya asked me couple of questions regarding my work, why social media, etc. Believe me, this was like an ice breaker that also set things for the next hour of healthy discussions.

Aditya, let me start from your Superchooha days. From co-founding Superchooha to working as the Product and Marketing Manager at YourNextLeap. How has it been and can I say you have witnessed both sides of work life.

I am a mechanical engineer by degree, when I was in college I did this six month on campus project for Mercedes Benz in Bangalore. I worked here on a internal knowledge management system, it was more of a wiki system where the office was in Bangalore, production house in Pune and the corporate house in Germany and this system was a knowledge sharing for all the people located all over the world. While I was working here, I had also started working at Superchooha with my other founder Ankita Gaba. We both started working here and after Superchooha ended YourNextLeap happened. So I don’t think I have been with very large companies and seen both the sides.

But if I can add on to the question then both the sides should also be services versus product. So I have been on the agency side where I have worked for twelve different clients simultaneously and I have been on the product side in YourNextLeap. While I was in Superchooha, we were building a product on the social CRM side but it never really worked out. Right now while I am working in YourNextLeap, I am focusing on one product. Personally I love working on the product side as you can do many more things which you can’t do when you work in agency. At an agency,  you need to get permissions, then convince the client and then somehow things would work. Situations were really bad during our time two years back as we had to convince lot, then pitch for the money, then the idea and then the client might say yes. I personally enjoy quick implementations so out of the two sides I enjoy being at the product side more.


It’s good to know Aditya that you are doing what you are passionate about at YourNextLeap. I think it’s close to a year that you been associated with YourNextLeap. So can you share what kind of changes you brought to the table?

I joined two months after the company’s inception. I was brought into to kickstart the marketing initiative in YourNextLeap. The one thing I brought into the company was thinking more about the social stuff, thinking of what goes viral, what people will like or dislike, etc. We implemented the campus ambassador program for example and it has shown great results. We brought students online and we acted as the facilitators. We also focused on creating good content and spreading on our social networks. So if I can answer that question in one line then I would say I build the social content. So for example if we now build any product then we will also go and do a social research to find out what people are talking about, do a survey on LinkedIn, forums. So today all our researches related to product, design features, etc. are incomplete if we don’t do it on social media.


The work you did at Mercedes Benz and then simultaneously taking Superchooha to new heights are the credible justifications for your knowledge on how to build a community. Another point that you mentioned about research is very true. In fact at our end, whenever we write insightful posts we make sure that we get feedback in terms of polls from our fans. It really helps and business should look more into this.

Aditya let’s talk about the social media strategies that you have implemented in YouNextLeap. Can you share what were they and also the objective?

As I said before the campus ambassador program with which we have brought together lot of students, built one single community and students have helped us to spread the word. I feel the important part in social media is to find one story that connects to your community. So for us all these students are connected together for making a better career for themselves. Whenever we think of any strategy we think of what would be the things that would connect with my audience. Suppose if I am thinking of starting a campaign on Facebook, we think what would be that one thing which will connect to my audience.

The second thing that has really worked for us is implementing social media into the product life cycle. So there are so many companies like Groupon which is inherently social. For me to get that deal I will ask my friends to buy that deal so that I can get the deal and I can get lot of discount on it. So deal products are inherently social. In YourNextLeap we have a product that can help you make better career decisions for your higher studies abroad. By using this product you can share with your friends that which university you are getting admitted to, etc. So as soon as someone gets admitted to a certain college I show a prompt that would you like to show it to your community. We have got a brilliant response as people love to show to their friends what one has achieved. Tell me if you get an admission in Stanford wouldn’t you love to show to all of your Facebook friends. Once you enter the product you are also provided with lot of graphs and insights. Our suggestions are based on three things- 1) admission pattern: we look at your past academics and according to that we can give you suggestion. 2) we look at psychometric evaluation: here we look into interests, personality, aptitude, etc. and the 3) social analytical which we haven’t tapped completely.

So for us, the first two points are the biggest things which are not the conventional social media strategies like contests, etc. but these are the two things that have worked for us. So if you visit our Facebook page you won’t see contest, no landing page, etc. apart from corporate branding. For us forums have worked more than Facebook because it is the forums where I find my community. So what we should do is that before jumping into social media, we should make sure where our audience lies. So do this basic research on Google and find out what are they talking about, what do they need, etc. and then think of making strategies.


Well said Aditya, a brand needs to brainstorm on why it should be on social media first, then try to find the community, listen what are they talking about and then build strategies. I think this plan works rather than just creating a Facebook page just because the whole world is there and my competitor is also there.

Social media presence is the coolest thing today. You will find every brand at least having a Facebook fan page or a Twitter page but it’s very hard to find an active blog. I was happy to see an active blog of YourNextLeap. How helpful has been the blog and what has been the response so far.

It’s very helpful. Lot of companies like Zomato, Flipkart, etc are using it very well for recruiting. We still don’t want to be like them, our blog is more of an editorial stuff. We want to remain a product based company which gives you lot of good suggestions. So we provide lot of content that our community is looking for. The blog has been lot of help in marketing. Apart from selling the product again and again we share this tips and lot of SEO has also come from the blog. So at our end we make sure that we create very high quality content which is SEO optimized as people coming to our blog understand that these guys know the stuff that they are selling to us. So this is very important for our industry. People will never completely trust an online thing for career guidance and they will look for some manual guidance. So our blog is also helping to change this thought process. A blog can be used in lot of ways.


Aditya, you would agree that being online is cool but it also has its own challenges. For YourNextLeap being a service provider the challenges become more. So how do you handle a situation when it goes bad or when people are bashing your product online.

If a product is good then you will find very few people to say that it is a good one but if one person says that the product is bad then ninety people out of hundred will stand up and say your product is bad. We can’t help it as it’s the way our society is build.

One has to be very cautious and do not let it stay idle. Get into the conversation and make sure you say that we try our best but mistakes do happen. Accept it and do an honest effort in sorting out the problem. On the other hand if some user puts a bug in front of me which is again a very good sign of product research. At the same time we make sure that we be very honest in accepting and looking that it is quickly resolved. So be honest, don’t worry about trolls and lurkers but make sure you address all the problems that have been raised.


We are all humans and mistakes do happen but when we try to cover it up that is when things really go hay wire. So all those brands and social media managers out there reading this interview make sure you be honest. If you are not then the damages will be more.

Aditya, do you tie up your online and offline events or do they run parallel. How does it work at YourNextLeap?

Correct, we do! If you look at our campus ambassador program which is a huge offline community, we have built this offline social network for us which is spread to a lot of colleges in India. This network has been great help to me in terms of connecting to people. Apart from this whatever offline events we do, we make sure that we promote it online.


Finally Aditya, I am aware that you keep a close eye on the social media industry. In 2011, we saw the true powers of social media. Whether it was the people’s movement guided by social media or brands increasing their marketing budget for social media. So how do you see this and where do we go from here.

I think every new media industry matures over a period of time. There were times when the digital, print, etc. were not perfect but over a period of time, it kept on excelling. So I think we are at that stage where people are finding and they are trying it out. There are some brands that have cracked it and doing amazing work. Some who are still experimenting and some are thinking whether one should take a jump or not. So moving ahead from here is quite exciting. With 3G lot of companies will think of mobile social network. For example, don’t spend too much of time in creating a Facebook app as it anyways doesn’t work on mobile. Plus these days apps are being hidden by Facebook. So this is a huge market that will be tapped in and within two or three years people who have a budget for marketing will be investing on social media.


Thanks Aditya for your time and I am positive that 2012 will see lot of growth in social media. We also wish that YourNextLeap keeps growing and spreading its wings in all parts of India. We need to have a strong community for students that plays the role of mentor.

My takeaways from this conversation were:

1. Build strategies later, first find your community.

2. Try to think what will be liked or disliked by your community.

3. Use social media research extensively.

4. If something goes wrong, accept it and try to work on it. But don’t try to cover it.

These are mine but I would love if you can share your thoughts on the conversation in the comments section and if you would like to add something to my list, then do share it in the comments section or drop a note at connect[at]lighthouseinsights[dot]in