I was recently quoted in a Financial Express story on social media “The virtual network”.
Here is the abstract of the Financial Express story –
Posted: Sunday, Dec 26, 2010
It started innocently enough. Thirty three-year-old Anupam Mukerji thought he was just sending a link of his blog on IPL-2 to eight of his Facebook friends. But within hours, his blog was inundated with thousands of visitors and within days, the blog was getting around 1.5 lakh hits a day. And, the fake IPL player was born. “The blog’s popularity spread like a virus. The big leap happened when newspapers and news channels started reporting about the blog. Their reportage lent credibility to the conspiracy theory that a Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) insider was giving juicy dressing room secrets,” reminiscences Mukerji.
Mukerji is now history, but the so-called social media is awakening to its new-found might. Might that was on display when the social media’s own IPL-2 was played out on Twitter. Minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor was forced to resign after a lot of mudslinging regarding IPL stake, which resulted in more skeletons tumbling out and unearthing of one of the biggest scams of the year.
Surprising, one would say, for a media form that is just about three years old and not even accessible to the entire country. Senior director (marketing) at Yahoo! India Nitin Mathur tries to explain the phenomenon when he points out, “Social media is a behavioural trend. India is ahead of the global curve and is growing fast. Indians like to share and are exhibitionists. In Western countries, people are more cautious.”
So, it would not be wrong to say that if this decade began with email services and search engines driving Internet growth in India, it is ending with popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and Blogger becoming a religion for active Internet users. The fever began in India in 2007, when Google social networking portal Orkut became the new fad among students. However, online networking gained mainstream status only recently, becoming a lifestyle statement, a platform for social activism, and even brand promotion.
Facebook’s director of online operations Kirthiga Reddy underlines the various ways social media is becoming an integral lifestyle tool. “The Union finance minister answered questions by Facebook users about this year’s Budget. Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai traffic police are using pages on the site to inform drivers about traffic issues and invite tips from residents. Celebrities like AR Rahman and Deepika Padukone are updating their pages to connect with fans,” she says.
No wonder then, that the social media is touted as one of the most powerful mediums in the ICE (information, communication and entertainment) age. In fact, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been named Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ for 2010.
Numbers, too, affirm this growth. Almost 80% of all Internet users today visit a social media site. According to 2020 Social, a social media consultancy, Facebook and Twitter’s India base has grown by 100% in 2010. Also, three out of four social media users visit a social networking site at least once a day and a discussion forum once a week. How effective networking or blogging platforms are can be gauged from an instance a marketer points out: once when a popular film director tweeted that he is having coffee at a coffee shop near his Bandra office, the sales of that coffee shop doubled in no time. That’s social media for you—fast, catchy and powerful in its own way! Understandably then, every brand wants to have a ‘fan page’ on Facebook today or a Twitter identity for upping its popularity and connect with potential customers online. More than 1.5 million local businesses have active pages on Facebook and corporates blatantly boast about their Facebook fan numbers.
That’s not all. Social media has given a new meaning and dimension to social activism too. Khadi-clad, outspoken activists have given way to net-savvy, peppy, but conscious online campaigners. Some of the latest innovative social campaigns were initiated on networking portals, like the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign (a non-violent protest movement against right wing religious groups beating up women going to pubs or wearing clothes they don’t approve of), ‘Bell Bajao’ (campaign against domestic violence and abuse), the ‘Bicycle Project’ (getting urban masses to donate old cycles to rural children), and more. Few of them like ‘Ek Jodi Kapda’ (aimed at convincing netizens to donate old clothes for the poor) have been pure online campaigns, while some others were slowly taken from cost-effective online platforms to offline media. Clearly, even non-profit campaigns are profiting from the reach of social media sites.
The inclination of web users towards these causes is only augmenting the trend. Ibibo, a social gaming website, which already has many members hooked to its social games such as Teen Patti,is now working on games around causes. “We are designing games around issues such as corruption and compassion towards animals, which will be launched in January next year. It’s a way web users can express themselves and it’s entertainment too,” says Rahul Razdan, president (products and operations), Ibibo.
The social media site numbers might not have increased exponentially, the way many marketers thought they would, but the medium for sure has caught everyone’s attention. Even politicians are not untouched by the bug and included the Internet as a campaigning tool in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. From LK Advani’s blog to Congress party’s ‘Jai Ho’ social media campaign, parties diligently made their presence felt on the social media platform.
However, chief socio-search architect at Ignitee (a digital media agency that also handles Congress’ social media campaign) Gautamm Mehra would like politicians to be more active on the net, the way corporates and celebrities are. “While social media did play an important part in the Lok Sabha elections, parties essentially used sites to broadcast messages and not really engage with the youth, though the trend is now catching up. I know of a Mumbai politician who extensively writes about his work on a social media website, engaging with youngsters and even taking their feedback,” he says.
Despite a powerful debut, social media still grapples with many bottlenecks in India. For starters, personal computers and Internet penetration is low, if not dismal, in the country, with Internet reaching to only 4.4% of the Indian population. The medium till now is also mostly restricted to the English-speaking population. “The problem with social media is that it is still very elitist. Language should now be paid attention to. We need content and communication tools in regional languages. Also, the next wave of social media explosion will come with 3G,” says Mehra.
Mathur of Yahoo! India also predicts innovation in advertising space. “Paid advertising till now on the social media has been largely display and search advertising. But new trends will come in as social media picks up,” she says.
The medium, where one can be truly democratic, is also exposed to cyber crimes and other legal issues. Mohit Verma of 2020 Social says, “Misuse of information and other criminal and unwarranted activities on social networking platforms have ensured that there will be a number of legal challenges that cyber law jurisprudence will have to tackle in 2011.” Fake IPL player Mukerji agrees that cyber laws need to be addressed when it comes to use of social media in the country.
Teething problems, one would like to believe, for a media that has taken the nation by storm.