Insights - Brand & Marketing

Zomato’s Pranav Sapra on their ‘No-Dhanda’ Approach to Social Media

Tangible tips on how to get the most out of your social media accounts

Zomato is sure to figure high on any list of Indian brands doing a good job with their social media. When I spoke to Pranav Sapra, Manager Marketing, Social Media, Zomato he was in up in the hills, taking a well-deserved break.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Let’s start with the basics: What role does social media play for Zomato?

For Zomato, social media is a touchpoint to establish a long-lasting connection with our audience. We don’t look at it as a medium for driving leads or revenue. We aim to make it a place where people are comfortable talking to us without worrying about being sold to. It’s a place to get feedback about us, the category, what they would like to see, etc. We try to be entertaining because that’s the nature of the platform.

Too many companies have a transactional approach when it comes to using social media. They say, “If we do something, will it help us get ‘dhanda’? Will it help us get orders?” 

As a company, we do send push notifications and emails for revenue and clicks, but social media is not the platform for that. That’s the place for us to be friendly, to be ‘with the crowd.’ Ultimately, that helps the brand – that is our simple approach to social media.

That’s interesting. I myself have often thought of as Zomato’s Instagram as a meme page for food rather than a brand account. Could you elaborate with examples?

We are conversational, we try and establish a long-lasting connect. A brand must communicate that it values your opinion. You’ll see this in our posts and polls as well as our responses. If you want to learn what people think, there’s no better place than social media. Sometimes, this leads to ideas for a product roadmap.

For example, I remember we listened to people complaining about being broke every month-end. So we developed a campaign around it – we called it the Broke campaign and if you used the code BROKE, you were suddenly not as broke as you thought because your money went further on Zomato.

The Broke campaign was launched in response to hearing people complaining at the end of the month

We look for trends and add our opinion to them, pitching in food when we can. We try to entertain. The important thing is, we don’t try to sell. We want to build a trusted brand – the selling is best left to other mediums like ads.

Social media is a good place to find and amplify relevant causes. For example, we helped Baba Ka Dhaba (a small stall started by a Delhi octogenarian and his wife, whose plight went viral on social media). Our community alerted us to this, and we listed and created awareness around the eatery.

We also felt this was an opportunity to help other Baba Ka Dhabas around the country, so we asked people to fill in details of other stalls they think should be listed.

Any examples where product ideas have come from social channels?

We recently ran some ads on YouTube and we got comments from people saying they sucked. We turned a negative into a positive and asked people to create ads for us with their mobile phones. We had prizes going up to 25 lakhs. In 10-15 days, we have received around 2500 entries.

One of the YouTube ads that got flak. Zomato even titled it ‘Most Annoying Ad Ever’

But more than the entries themselves, we have got insight into what people think about Zomato. We didn’t give them a brief. Now that we have seen how they spontaneously present Zomato in an ad, we know more about how they are using our app. What could have been a social media disaster has turned into good brand evaluation exercise. It wasn’t planned. That’s just the Zomato way of working.

The Zomato team turned negative audience feedback on is head by running a contest, called #zomatoloot

Author’s note: All the user generated ads uploaded to YouTube can be seen here.

Organic reach has dropped across the board for all platforms. How has this affected you?

This has affected all brands and it has affected us too, but not much. I think people look forward to the content on our page and that automatically has a positive impact on our organic reach. For example, you said you consider Zomato a meme page for food. People want to be entertained on social channels. As a brand, we’ve always been able to do that and that has helped our reach.

I think if brands are suffering from a drop in organic reach, they need to have a good hard look at their content. Branded and ad-like content will always get less organic reach. It’s as simple as that. Brands have to adapt, or will get weeded out – it’s survival of the fittest.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that ‘following brand guidelines’ is in direct conflict with what social media demands?

Absolutely. I think it’s because many marketers come from the belief that bad news travels fast and they put up guidelines to minimise mishaps. That kills innovation or good ideas. I think on social media, brands should be more flexible and be nimble enough to reverse course if something doesn’t work out.

I see brands that fall in the trap of wanting to do something new, yet not want to take risks. “Give us something totally new, but here’s a reference” (we both stop to laugh heartily).

Let’s talk numbers: do you track metrics?

We do track metrics, but not obsessively. We look at what each post brings in, entries for contests, views, etc. But like I said before, social media is more a place where we try to be ‘with the crowd’ and you can’t put metrics to that. “Are we doing this well?” is something we keep asking ourselves and we try to be honest with the answer. It is easy to manufacture numbers to say otherwise.

Gone are the days where you could easily build a following on social media. What advice would you have for young companies, beyond just using social media for advertising?

It depends on resources and what stage you are at. At a very early stage, people probably want to know more when they search for you. Cater to that with a basic social media presence.

But more than creating content for the sake of it, which unfortunately most brands fall into the trap of, lie low and listen. I think listening is very underrated. Listen to what people are saying about you, your category, your competitors. And then when the opportunity presents itself, talk to them. Invite them to your office. Get them to use your product. Get feedback. Get evangelists. 

I really think that listening and participating is very important and social allows you to do that. So for a small company, rather than have a website with a chatbot, go to where the customer is. Find them in a context where they are considering your product or category and they will be much more receptive. What better place than social to ask questions? We have found a poll on social is much more efficient than sending a survey on email. Times have changed. We have to be where the customers are, rather than asking them to move somewhere else.

Interesting. How does Zomato use listening? Do you use a tool, or do surveys?

We do have surveys every now and then for specific things, but listening is not just a question asked and a question answered. It’s also keeping an ear out for what people are talking about on social, how they are behaving on the app or website and then using all that information to make things better for the customer. 

Listening, learning and applying has really helped shape our marketing and product efforts. We don’t have a dedicated team or tool to do this, We discover an insight and then discuss it internally and brainstorm about how to apply it.

Many great ideas are proposed by creative teams but ‘cannot be done’ by the client or management. What’s the right approach in case like this?

Then don’t do it! Don’t have those expectations of social media. If the guidelines of a company say you can’t do X, don’t waste your time and resources trying to fight it. You’re probably better off doing something else. Every company has customers – cater to them where they are. Focus on what you’re good at. At Zomato, we’re lucky to have management who understands that doing things this way is essential for us to maintain the brand.  

On social, many brands try too hard to get their own vision out there as opposed to addressing what people really want. How many of them actually talk to people or provide the right information at the right time? They treat social as another channel for putting their promotional material out. That’s not interesting and that’s never going to work.

Last question. Apart from Zomato, which Indian brands do you think have cracked social media?

Some that I feel have a good sense of the online pulse: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix India, Rajastan Royals, Amul, Durex.


  1. After going through the entire article, I found out Zomato itself started out with transactional posts when they rolled out their delivery service. Those posts are still live on their instagram channel. While I am not opposed to the thought that you present here but the point I am making here is, once any business becomes successful, everything that you do on social media clicks with the general audience. So for example, if a hyper local services company is showcasing how their contractors provide p2p services, that too attracts the consumer.

  2. I am a bootstrapped founder of a hyperlocal grocery delivery service, and even through all my target audience is on social media there is no direct channel to enable sales to my platform, despite the products being everyday essentials.
    Check out and do recommend some ways to put ourselves out there.

  3. This points to a basic problem – social media has no direct connect to sales (not talking about campaigns) so for a smaller brand, the investment seems like a waste, yet customers trust brands with big social media followings more

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