The Telegraph
| Sunday, November 17, 2013 |


We 'like' to spend

From food and clothes to jewellery and travel, everything is on sale on Facebook. Reena Martins on how social media savvy entrepreneurs are laughing all the way to the bank

  • Hot stuff: A cake from Ipshita's cakes mamma bakes; Pic: Anamitra Chakladar

A marzipan peacock is perched demurely atop a round alabaster-smooth cake, its feathers cascading like the train of a bridal gown. The picture prompts oohs and aahs accompanying 200 comments and 700 likes.

The real world may like to be loved, but Ipshita Chakladar, the hand that shaped the peacock, is one of many creative professionals — some of whom gave up well-paying jobs — who find it more profitable to be "liked".

Two years ago, Chakladar quit her television job to pursue her dream of turning into a fulltime pâtissière. And like many young entrepreneurs today, she chose the social media site Facebook as a virtual store for Ipshita's cakes mamma bakes.

These days, Indian businessmen and women are crawling out of the woodwork on FB. From food and clothes to jewellery and travel, everything is on sale on this social networking site. After all, there is a captive clientele there, and the overheads are low.

That's why Angeline and Rituparna — a banker and graphic designer duo — have been selling jewellery made out of waste on FB.

  • Vasundhara Sharma and a kettle from her online store Nukkad Art-Scribbles

The idea came to them when they were wracking their brains over their daughters' "art from waste" school projects. That led to the birth of Silver Nut Tree, a name inspired by a textbook poem.

The first ring they crafted out of a plastic bottle (they regularly scavenge the southern beaches for bottles) was born out of a fan's query. "Our customers think we can create anything," Angelina believes.

Graphic designer Vasundhara Sharma created a whole new kettle of fish when she painted a funky mix of paisley, floral and abstract designs on an aluminium kettle, sold through her online store, Nukkad Art-Scribbles, and promoted on FB. "Each time I show my work at an exhibition, the number of likes on my page increases," she says.

On the other hand, Vanmala Jain, who quit her job as a teacher at IIT, Mumbai, to start a flourishing pottery enterprise, believes that more people see her products on FB than attend art exhibitions. Her concern, called Kuprkabi, Arabic for cup and saucer, sells ceramic products.

Sites such as FB are great platforms not just for zany products but for food as well. Mumbai-based Perzen Patel serves up homemade Parsi food from her page, Bawi Bride, which she set up in June. The FB page brings alive chilli and turmeric coated prawns marinate, while creamy mawa cake batter swims in silicone muffin moulds, jalebi flavoured caviar froths in a bowl, and the good old pizza waits to be devoured.

Most of the products are couriered to clients. There are also marketing agencies run by individuals on FB that deliver products for a 15-30 per cent commission.

But of course setting up a page is not an easy task, as Chennai-based Peter Claridge, global manager of a social media benchmarking company Unmetric, warns. "The budding entrepreneur should spend time observing what makes other entrepreneurs successful on Facebook," he says.

Claridge, however, stresses that for individuals and entrepreneurs, using Facebook is perhaps a better alternative than just using a website. "You have a potential audience of 1 billion users just a few clicks of a button away.'

"The individual is able to set up a community page, which if properly managed and regularly updated with great content, serves as a fantastic platform to get enquiries about their products and services," he says.

Alex Fernandes, a Goa-based photographer for 30 years, popular for his black and white portraits, agrees. He says he finds it easier to market his services through his Facebook page — Alex Fernandes Portraits — than his website, for the interaction and instant feedback that it generates.

Patel, however, believes that Twitter makes more business sense. "Twitter is far more useful than Facebook because it has its close-knit community of foodies and food bloggers, who in turn share your links with their followers," says Patel, who decided to promote Parsi food when she was hit by the dearth of community recipes online after getting married last November.

FB, which has the reputation of sniffing out a business proposition even before it has taken shape, has come up with suggestions for would-be businesspeople. It proposes that they work with Facebook representatives to determine promotional activities. "Get access to best practices of increasing awareness through engaging images and videos of your products. Get help setting up targeted, promotional campaigns to drive traffic to both your website and your store," it says.

But some of the clients are not happy with this. "Facebook has become a very tough platform," rues Prasant Naidu, founder of Lighthouse Insights, an Indian social media news portal. "It wants you to spend and does not show your content to all the fans of your page."

  • A Rainbow Bunting product.

All the entrepreneurs stress that to have a successful page on FB, they have to regularly monitor and update it. "You have to constantly engage your followers, respond quickly to their queries and serve up small bites of your work through photographs, rather than the whole chunk," says Swapna Namboodri, who quit her job as a software engineer in Bangalore over a year ago to paint on glass and ceramic. Her online store glassydreamz received over 2,000 likes over the last two years.

The likes don't always translate into business, but most point out that displaying ware or services on FB pages is rewarding. Sharma says a "very good week" could bring three or four orders for kettles, coasters and painted bottles. "Online orders come in fits and starts. There are months when we make Rs 50,000," she says.

Rituparna of Silver Nut Tree stresses that businesswise, FB has been "very good". "It has become even better these days with the introduction of its 'boost post' and 'create ad' features," she says. Boost posts and promote posts appear higher on an account holder's page for a fee.

But money is usually not the driving force behind many of those whose businesses are on FB. Saritha Ashok of Rainbow Bunting, which sells colourful little knick-knacks, says she would have earned double as an IT professional. She quit her job when she was pregnant, and then started toying with beaded jewellery and crocheted works. "I enjoy my work, and especially the flexibility it offers," she says.

Many of the entrepreneurs also seek to give something more than the products on sale. Patel's page shares some of her recipes — including "grandpa's kheema kababs" and "mamaiji's (maternal grandmother's) red prawn curry". Chakladar offers the occasional baking tip, while Namboodri posts tutorials in recycling waste and photographer Fernandes offers technical insights on the latest in digital cameras.

It may not be business as usual on FB, but it's sure raking in some moolah with goodwill.