Social media can greatly enhance the effectiveness of traditional marketing.  World Health Advocacy's James Ward was recently interviewed by Sanjeev Sinha of the Economic Times of India.  Following is a transcript from that interview:

Why is social media so important for marketing?

Social media provides a context for your relationship with your potential customers. As content has been king for the past decade, context will be king for the next. By making the effort to engage your audience directly, you create a relationship where your customers become more personally invested in your brand. Brands which bridge this context gap will be able to leverage their social capital to increase brand awareness and loyalty. The competitive advantage of having an engaged and active online audience can provide huge RoI on existing marketing budgets. Social media will not replace traditional marketing, but it can greatly enhance its effectiveness.

How will social media marketing help in reaching out to the right target audience and engaging them?

Social media provides unique opportunities for understanding your target audience and identifying thought leaders within that audience. Through observation and analysis of the social graph, your online marketing and interactions can be targeted like never before. Building brand loyalty on the social web is not just about ensuring that your message reaches the relevant audience; it's about making sure you acknowledge their reactions and responses. In many ways your socially-engaged clients are marketing for you and it becomes your job to ensure they feel heard and appreciated. Understanding this dynamic from the outset can allow small interactions to create huge results with your target audience.

There is a convergence in the content that we can access through digital devices, but there's also a strong divergence in the way this content is going to be consumed. How can a marketer keep pace with all these new platforms and devices?

When the Wired magazine declared 'The web is dead' in August last year, they were only half kidding. The idea of all your users firing up a computer, opening a web browser and typing www to get to your online content is passe in today's world of smart phones, tablets, and a multitude of connected devices. In many ways, the rise of social media has taken the pressure off organizations to analyze and understand every available platform they may want to reach. Facebook will handle its own cross-browser compatibility and provides apps for every major Internet connected device. Twitter started as an SMS-based service and even a standard cell-phone is enough to interact with the site. All the new location-based services -- Foursquare, Gowala, Scvngr -- make the quality and diversity of their apps central to their corporate success. Instead of being focused on all the new devices and technologies available, a social marketer's job is to understand how to use the tools being provided. Your users will decide how they want to interact with your brand on the social web. Your only job is to show up for the party.

What are the trends in the international market and how is India same or different?

The Walled gardens of regional social sites are collapsing and all social media is becoming global. Alexa ranks Facebook as the 3rd most popular site in India (after google.com and google.co.in) and YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn all appear in the top ten. In this regard India is very much like other markets throughout the world. What is unique about the opportunity in India is the rate of growth. Facebook users increased in India by 36.4% over the 90 days ending April 2011 adding over 6 million users in those 3 months and Asia surpassed America in Twitter usage 10 months ago and continues to grow at an incredible rate.

What is amazing about these numbers is the relatively low penetration rates in India to date. It is growing at a break-neck speed, but still has a long way to go. This provides an opportunity for social media savvy companies to appear established and engaged to a relatively new social media audience. There is an opportunity for your online audience to grow with you. Acquire a loyal follower now and watch your following expand as their social circle gets connected.

What kind of companies do you think benefit from social media marketing?

At some point every company will have to invest in social media to remain competitive. As the consumers move towards the social web, companies will be forced to engage there or risk losing their marketing audience. The easiest example to illustrate this fact is the rise of the web in the 1990s. There was a time when many companies looked at the web and said 'We are not a tech company, we don't belong on there and it is not worth the investment.' Slowly but surely all of those companies, from the investment firms to the dog grooming services, set up websites. The same thing is happening today with social media. Like it or not, your company is going to invest in social media as part of its competitive strategy because your competitors are going to do the same... if they haven't already.

What are your plans for India?

These are exciting times for India. This seismic shift in the marketing landscape will provide opportunities for many companies to see huge gains in mindshare and global reach over their competitors through active engagement in the social web. We aim to help companies navigate the social minefield, through planning and analysis of their social space, and bring their digital marketing into the social era. We believe any company can benefit from a carefully-crafted social media and digital marketing plan and we feel that the range of expertise and experience we bring to the table can provide a competitive advantage to those seeking to enter the social space.