The following article originally appeared in exchange4media’s Impact magazine. Special thanks to Pradyuman Maheshwari for finding the article worth publishing. Please note the’Top 10 desi Tweeters’ list in the article is my top 10 recommendations for Impact readers comprising media and marketing professionals. Hope you find this an interesting read.
The New York Times columnist David Carr, in a recent article titled “Why Twitter Will Endure” best describes what my own experience with Twitter has been. He writes: At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while. Much of what I need to know is in that cup: if it looks like Apple is going to demo its new tablet, or Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books at Christmas, or the final vote in the Senate gets locked in on health care, I almost always learn about it first on Twitter.
It has been almost a year since I started riding the Twitter train. In these months, it has helped me stay updated with the latest news; assimilate industry knowledge; aggregate opinion; share information; generate business leads; monitor conversations around brands and corporates; build my personal brand; and meet interesting people – both from the industry and outside. While I see increased interest in Twitter and the number of users swelling by the day, it surprises me that the medium has not taken off as much as it should have given its benefits. If I were to talk about my own industry, I still don’t see leading PR agencies and advertising agencies using Twitter – not even as an information dissemination tool. I don’t see enough journalists on Twitter. I don’t see many media houses, barring a few including the Hindustan Times, using it as effectively as they should. The government is not leveraging Twitter. In an era where business leaders extol the virtues of transparency and accountability, there is a gaping void when it comes to industry captains’ presence on Twitter. Anand Mahindra continues to be the lone ranger. The first mover advantage therefore continues to exist for those who want to seriously explore this medium. However, I doubt this would remain the case for long.
Those who are on Twitter would eventually enjoy a distinct advantage over the rest. With everything else remaining equal (or not in some instances!), Shashi Tharoor could well emerge the most popular politician in the future; Barkha Dutt could influence most minds; Pritish Nandy could have the largest army of marketers for his movies; Aravind Adiga could become the most celebrated author; Gul Panag could be the most sought after icon – all because they broke the walls that separated them from the masses and are now directly engaging them in conversations. Twitter is a great equaliser and this unique advantage enables not just individuals, but also brands and organisations to use this platform for greater consumer stickiness. However there are reasons why perhaps many are still wary of adopting this medium. Not everything is a piece of cake here.
Twitter is the biggest reality show that exists today. It is live 24*7; celebrities make their appearances; romance blossoms; fights happen; there are herds and mobs; there are villains, jokers and hecklers; and enough controversies to keep the masala factor going. Be it Shashi Tharoor and his cattle class remark which helped us include a new word in our day-to-day vocabulary – austerity or the current controversy surrounding Chetan Bhagat and the movie 3 idiots. Brands too have had their share of woes. Haagen Dazs, for instance, found itself almost boycotted on Twitter and the hashtag #hagendazssucks was born following news that they wanted to keep Indians out of their newly opened store (hashtag is used to discuss popular topics on Twitter and makes it easier for others to join and follow conversations). This is because Twitter is a fantastic amplifier.
Twitter also acts as a great binder. I have watched people not just debate and discuss issues, but also come together for a variety of causes. The Wall Project in Bombay saw overwhelming support on Twitter. Sachin’s knock of 175 at the India-Australia match of Hero Honda Cup was celebrated such with live commentary and cheering that Twitter turned into a virtual cricket stadium. When Michael Jackson died, the gloom spread to Twitter as well. Diwali, New Year and Christmas become reasons for people to come together. Just as Twitter has come to mirror real life in many ways, it is only a matter of time before brands’ presence on Twitter become as widespread on Twitter as in real.
In 2010 and beyond, I am looking forward to these ten trends:
- More agencies and brands will adopt Twitter: Even as many brands are flirting with Twitter, it could well become a viable test ground for campaigns and products. While Cleartrip is among the leading Indian ‘Twitter brands’, others like Kingfisher Airlines, Bournville, Channel V, Samsung and Docomo are also using it effectively.
- Innovation and explosion of creativity on Twitter: Many social media gurus are present on Twitter but only those brands that are truly creative can succeed in an open environment like Twitter where it is all too easy to get tempted to spam users. Presence alone is not enough. Those who get it right and use access responsibly will do well. A great example of such an innovative experiment was when Gul Panag was engaged by Wills Lifestyle to report the India Fashion Week on Twitter.
- We will see improved accessibility to, accountability and transparency from our gods – leading companies, brands and individuals.
- Opportunities for collaboration with other individuals and communities on campaigns and ideas will emerge on Twitter. I learnt the basics of Google Wave through someone on Twitter who moved our discussion on Murdoch and Bing from Twitter to Google Wave. Crowd sourcing would also get better with Twitter.
- More celebrities would try and become like you and me; and people like us would have opportunities to become celebrities. For those interested in Bollywood, many leading stars are on Twitter – Shahrukh Khan, Karan Johar, Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Priety Zinta and many more. Most of them however are far from real engagement.
- Evolution of news, news delivery and newer models in the Twitter era: People are no longer consuming news at appointed hours as was the case till sometime back. It is an ongoing process and everything is real time fuelled largely by Twitter. This would put pressure on media organizations to rethink their delivery and business models. Citizen journalism will also get more widespread.
- Government using Twitter as an information dissemination tool and a public service model: Discussion and interest around H1N1 on Twitter was something the government could have leveraged to a great extent. Twitter could well emerge a great tool of democracy.
- Evolution and integration of the social media landscape as a result of Twitter: It would be interesting to see how services and tools like Facebook and Linked in would change and how blogosphere would evolve in the era of instant gratification and immediacy brought about by Twitter.
- The balance between speed and accuracy will remain the biggest challenge for those enjoying high levels of credibility on Twitter. Ailing political leader Jyoti Basu was declared dead on Twitter recently by some twitterers in their bid to get the news out first and fast (Update: At the time of posting this article on this blog, he had passed away). At a large scale level however, this could present problems potentially leading to regulations being imposed.
- As Twitter becomes more ubiquitous, Twitter will evolve presenting newer opportunities. The shift from people using Twitter to convey ‘what are you doing?’ to ‘what’s happening?’ was a first step towards that. Monetisation of Twitter has also been a subject of debate and premium accounts could be on offer at some point as Twitter becomes more mass.
The Global Web Index created by Trendstream in partnership with Lightspeed research reveals interesting data on India’s web behavior and social media involvement. According to the index, in terms of the percentage of total online users engaged in micro-blogging activities, India (24%) leads the pack of 16 countries including the US (7%), UK (5.3%) and China (21.3%). We are also uploading more photos and videos online compared to these countries. This clearly presents a viable opportunity for marketers to explore alternate creative routes to get consumers closer to brands. For professionals, it is perhaps the best tool to strengthen their own online identities and be known to people who matter. After all, where else can you directly ask Vir Sanghvi about his favourite wine; debate with Barkha Dutt on a story; get Pritish Nandy to read your blog; or request Shashi Tharoor to support a cause.
My Top 10 pick for you from the desi Twitter scene:
Shashi Tharoor (@shashitharoor): Minister Twitter – He makes politics and governance sexy.
Barkha Dutt (@bdutt): The best journalist on Twitter. She not only uses the medium extremely well but also listens and responds to views.
Pritish Nandy (@PritishNandy): A master story-teller who is among the very few who responds to all.
Gul Panag (@GulPanag): An early adopter and a fire brand who can talk about any topic under the sun.
Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash): A veteran journalist with a whacky sense of humour.
Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats): Advertising veteran. Blogger. Word play. Humour.
Cleartrip (@cleartrip): The brand many twitterers swear by. Follow them to also know how brands should use Twitter.
Lakshmipathy Bhat (@bhatnaturally): Follow him to know what is happening in the advertising world.
Manu Prasad (@manuscrypts): Fun to follow punster who tweets on brands and social media. He even has his own Twitter shoes!
Venkat Ananth (@venkatananth): A bright young spark on twitter who can talk non-stop on Indian politics, Af-Pak, cricket and Manchester United.
Surekha Pillai (@surekhapillai) is a Delhi-based communications consultant.