Just like Cricket and Tea, hailing tuks has become a part of Sri Lanka’s identity and culture. So, why are we always complaining about it? And if we do have a problem with the regular tuks on the road, why don’t we use traditional taxi-hailing companies like Kangaroo Cabs or OnlineCabs? First, the prices are over proliferated compared to the rates of those of ‘Metered Taxis’. Secondly, most of these services tend to refuse service for small trips, by either bluntly saying they don’t do short distances or by saying that there are no cabs available, where prior to that they had confirmed that there was a cab in your area. And haggling with a tuk tuk driver seems like a frugal and wise plan, than to waste your energy and time trying to contact a cab service, especially if you are on a tight schedule and a limited budget.
And this is why e-hailing apps like Uber, and PickMe has been able to successfully capitalize themselves in the market. So what do these apps offer users that they don’t get in tuks or traditional cab services? First of all the convenience of planning your trip just by simply typing in the location you want to be picked up from and your destination. Apart from this they offer a ride estimation prior to the ride so that you can figure out about how much it would cost for your entire journey (even though this is quite similar to asking a tuk driver on the road what the price is), and if the estimated price is way out of our budget, we can always ask a friend to pick us up!
E-hailing refers to application-based taxi and car service hailing systems. However, this not a novel concept in the travel industry as these have has existed since 2010, with the introduction of Uber in USA. Initially, we got to know about these services only through their association in movies, TV series, and books we watch and read, where they casually say that they used a service like Uber or Lyft during their conversations nonchalantly.
In Sri Lanka, the first e-hailing app to grab a lot of buzz was PickMe. Perhaps, it was the whole idea that we have something similar to Uber in Sri Lanka or the fact that it was providing Millennials with an easy channel to reserve a cab without going through the grueling process of hailing down a tuk or calling a cab company and being told to either hang in the line or be called back, to confirm the booking. But with PickMe, it seemed as if the only thing they have to do is enter the two locations, and viola it was almost as if you arrived at your destination. But how did this application get popular among Sri Lankans? The answer is quite simple, it’s social media.
Sri Lankans use social media as a connectivity tool and also as a information gathering tool. But how many Sri Lankans truly use Social Media? Well the answer to that is around 2.80 Mn active users. But how can a company like PickMe have thrived using Social Media? Well, for that they did what any social media savvy individual would do, they used Facebook and Twitter.
The first social media outlet through which they reached their customers through was Twitter. This can be seen as an optimum utilization of Social Media, as their first set of customers who are referred to as ‘innovators’ (in the Diffusion of Innovation Theory) are primarily interacting through this medium. They have been able to gain 691 followers within a period of 8 months, which can be considered a great feat as traditional cab companies like Kangaroo Cabs have not been able to create such a brand awareness through twitter.
When looking at their tweets, they have used them to retweet testimonials of customers, post images and articles relating to taxis and taxi-hailing, and furthermore they also used Twitter to inform users relating the applications’ bugs, fixes, updates etc. and even on application availability in different app stores.
They started their Facebook page soon after the launch of their Twitter account, and they tried to attract the remaining innovators, that don’t use Twitter through this. With their first post, they gave an inkling on what their customers are too expect with their business, implying that it is a taxi hailing company. Thereafter, they have used different types of posts like informative posts regarding their application, to cartoons and other material that is related to taxis, especially tuks to reinforce their image as a taxi-hailing company. Furthermore they have used their Facebook Page as a mean of presenting testimonials and addressing concerns that their customers have regarding them. And when it comes to their response to these concerns, they have managed to follow the cardinal rule of responding to negative comments, i.e. to take it offline, and they have chosen direct messaging through Facebook and emails, most of the time.
When looking at Uber, the new entrant to the Sri Lankan e-hailing application industry, they have been able to successfully launch their social media activity without a scratch, with their ample of knowledge on the industry from its operations across the globe. They started this thorough their simultaneous use of Facebook and Twitter.
When considering Uber’s Twitter activity, it can be seen that a rather interactive approach is carried out through this account, and this has made them gain a total follower count of 681. The interactivity of their account can be attributed to the various posts they tweet regarding promotional offers, tips on using Uber, articles relating to driving and a lot of retweets of customer testimonials to reiterate that they aim to provide a good service to their customers, as they do globally.
It can be seen that when it comes to their Facebook page, they use a Global Page to reach their customers. This may confuse an average Sri Lankan Facebook user when they stumble upon a verified Facebook page with over 2Mn likes, but Uber knows well that having such a number of followers on Facebook would reaffirm Sri Lankans with a sense trust and security regarding the business and its stability. However, they appear to be quite passive with relation to their interaction on Facebook. Much like their Global counterparts, they use Facebook as a channel of broadcasting, where they post regarding any ongoing promotion or an official press release, and not much going into an engaging level by asking questions open for discussion or using shareable media. However, what is distinctive of the Sri Lankan Facebook strategy from the Global one is that they are comparatively more responsive to comments and concerns of their customers, which needs to be recognized as their global equivalent has often either ignored such concerns or completely blocked the visibility of such posts.
When comparing these two e-hailing application companies and their Social Media interactions, both seem to be in par with the norms of using Twitter for business activities. While, when it comes to Facebook, PickMe utilizes a more personal level of interaction with their users by means of posting shareable and relatable material, and have been able to carry out a conversation through their page successfully as oppose to Uber and its Global page used for broadcasting.
However areas both companies have fallen short are Instagram and Snapchat. It is surprising that PickMe even with their presence in the Sri Lankan market for so long, they have not been using Instagram effectively considering that they have a high number of followers (for a Sri Lankan start-up), closing in on 400 followers. PickMe adds their post quite sporadically on to their Instagram account, while Uber has only merely started their activities on Instagram. It is important for companies to start using these mediums of Social Media, as their future customers (those who are in the ages of 18 -20 years) are using more and more of Instagram and Snapchat than any of the other mediums, so it’s wise for Uber and PickMe to consider these two channels as well the next time they chose to carry out a marketing campaign.