PR Oh – it's not what you think!

January 17, 2010

For Twitter or For Verse

Filed under: Twitter — Surekha Pillai @ 1:06 pm

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.

For starters, try this set of great Twitter tips and examples put together by Sree Sreenivasan (@sreenet) of Columbia Journalism School at

Surekha Pillai (@surekhapillai) is a Delhi-based communications consultant.


January 4, 2010

simplifying strategy

Filed under: PR — Surekha Pillai @ 9:52 pm

this post is dedicated to @Frank_Strong who is one of the two key reasons why i shook myself out of my slumber to revisit blogging. when my blog was dormant, Frank liked my post on Twitter and included me in his blog roll (not sure if i’m still there now!). when i pointed to him that he might be laughed at for including a dead blog, his response was: “so what if they do? doesn’t mean what’s there isn’t good. besides maybe you’ll pick up you pen again! ;-)” so, frank, you did it. here i am.

my disclaimer and some background first:

there are two things (among several others) i cannot do:

i cannot jargonise – i don’t even know if that’s a word – and i can offer no impressive-sounding, complex that-makes-me-look-like-an-expert opinion on matters that anyone could actually gain from.

when i started exploring the blogosphere reading communications blogs years back, i often wished what i read could somehow change the way i worked or lived. what i got instead were opinion and ‘insights’ many of which only added to my confusion about certain issues. let’s not even get into the why of this, i am sure i didn’t do everything right.

what emerged from all this is that when i worked with my colleagues in agencies, i tried simplifying things wherever possible. presentations became story telling, elaborate plans became simple checklists, paragraphs became bullet points.

there are several thought leaders out there who stimulate minds, there are very few who trigger action. i believe we need more ‘action leaders’ out there. since there aren’t many, perhaps what we could do is share simple practical tips, our secret sauces that helped us deliver results better. i hope to do a bit of that here. i also hope communications professionals, particularly the youngsters, find it useful in their daily work.

the first in this series is a communications strategy check list.

two words i see most abused in the communications field are strategy and insight. any activity, tactic and sometimes outcome miraculously become ‘strategy’ and simple facts and observations are presented as valuable ‘insights’. it is particularly frustrating when seasoned professionals often replace activity with strategy in their plans and presentations.

here is a quick definition of strategy from wiki for those interested:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. The word strategy has military connotations, because it derives from the Greek word for general.

Strategy is distinct from tactics. In military terms, tactics is concerned with the conduct of an engagement while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. In other words, how a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy. Military strategy is the overarching, long-term plan of operations that will achieve the political objectives of the nation. It is part of the four levels of warfare: political goals, strategy, operations, and tactics.

in order to get some of my colleagues familiarised better with strategy, i had developed a strategy check list. without getting into a preachy mode, i am sharing the list with you here. i hope you find it useful. a pdf version of the checklist is available at for download and easy reference.

A communications strategy check list:

To ensure you deliver the Extra Mile Initiative (EMI) to your clients and new business pitches, have you:

Primary research – Perceptions

1)    Gauged perceptions among key target audiences?

2)    Spoken to at least two senior journalists/analysts to understand the industry and the company?

Secondary research – Data collation

1)    Identified the latest news on the company through

2)    Visited the company website? Visited the press room to get an idea of recent announcements?

3)    Gone through news on competition?

4)    Done a search on the company on the google web page for old news?

5)    Identified the top industry bodies relevant to your client?

6)    Zeroed in on at least three events in the near future that you could recommend to the client?

7)    Identifed five key journalists who write regularly on the industry?

8)    Created a sample database of influencers and opinion leaders such as industry analysts, columnists, industry experts, celebrities, etc.?

9)    Created a sample media list across geographies and categories for the client?

10) Identified blogs that are relevant to the client?

11) Monitored conversations around the company and its brands on Twitter?

Information analysis

1)    Done a SWOT analysis on the company?

2)    Done a PEST scan on the environment?

3)    Gone through industry related information to identify the top three recent developments in the industry?

4)    Identified top two trends in the industry?

5)    Spotted an area of growth in the near future for the industry that is relevant to the client?

6)    Identified at least one policy issue that will impact the industry?

7)    Compared the company spokesperson vis-à-vis competition spokesperson on “pet subjects”; industry quotes; policy involvement; etc.?

8)    Done a profile of target audiences and the key drivers?

9)    Understood peculiarities if any of geographies that are important to the client?

Pitch/plan elements

1)    Incorporated elements from the above in the pitch/plan?

2)    Done a situation analysis and positioned client in the overall industry landscape?

3)    Identified top four objectives for the client?

4)    Zeroed in on key challenges and strengths?

5)    Developed three key messages that you think are important?

6)    Created a communications plank that would help in achieving these objectives and deliver the messages, and at the same time helps in differentiating the client from other players?

7)    Spent enough time on finalising the COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY – the backbone of your campaign?

8)    Recommended at least three tactics that support the strategy?

9)    Suggested routine and creative activities under each tactic?

10) Evaluated if crisis preparedness is relevant for the client? If yes, have you incorporated these elements in your plan?

11) Included a plan for internal audiences?

12) Suggested at least two big non-media activities?

13) Given a sample of story angles that you would explore for the client?

14) Included an integrated communications approach?

15) Created an activity calendar spanning the first quarter?

16) Touched about processes and modes of measurement to gauge effectiveness?

Points to note

1)    Not all of the above would be relevant for all pitches

2)    Bigger the pitch, more the timespent on all of the above

3)    You run the risk of giving it all away to another agency to implement – so take a call on how much you want to put down. Large professional companies don’t need to steal ideas.


Please send your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Thank you.

December 31, 2009

happiness in 2010, my twitter friends

Filed under: 1 — Surekha Pillai @ 6:47 pm

another quick post to thank some people who have made twitter an interesting journey for me in 2009.

i joined twitter to build a personal brand which i thought might help my consulting work. it helps to be known in the industry. i’m not sure how far ive succeeded in that mission, but i have “met” some people here who not only helped me understand the medium better but also interestingly, myself. people who have made me think, change my outlook towards certain things, discover new realities and make peace with certain facts. so here’s to you all.. hope you have a meaningful 2010.

@startonomics who knew me from my initial days on twitter. leo continues to be extremely special.

people i truly consider to be friends here – @thecomicproject and @manuscrypts. manu is perhaps the only one here who pushes me to think. tcp perhaps knows me the best here.

my best conversations on PR have been with @beastoftraal and with @codelust on media in general.

communications and marketing pros who engaged with me @Anita_Lobo @jessie_paul @Frank_Strong (hmm just noticed they all have underscored their id!)

rockstars who were more accessible than i imagined them to be initially @twilightfairy @rajeshlalwani.

@prolificd whose nicest follow friday showed me a side of myself i had not paid attention to.

at times when i seek sanity on twitter, i look at @argus48 and feel all is well with this part of the virtual world.

one person who makes me feel guilty each time i see his tweets because i could not live up to the trust he placed in me when he included my first post in his newsletter – @chrisbrogan

the first conversation on twitter was with GM’s @cbarger he helped me understand social media slightly better

someone i am extremely fond of and have very high hopes for @venkatananth

the one and only @softykid who continues to charm me with his child-like innocence.

@SachinKalbag who (unknowingly) helped me take one of the most important decisions of my life. he also made me change my opinion about journalists in general. as did @nixxin @SmitaPrakash @rohind @ananthkrishnan and @KanchanGupta

i am thrilled that @abhi2point0 continues to light up my timeline with his dazzling smile. i am also happy that i have finally started talking to and learning from him.

the superstars @aravindadiga and @jhunjhunwala who were always nice to me. @jhunjhunwala is the only ‘star’ here who does not act like one at any level.

@Netra and @ashumittal, two people i have personally met. there’s no one more talented than ashu and nicer than netra.

the PR trio that gives me much hope for the industry @mad_nad, @timepass, @Elizabeth_Chen

one group that never failed to cheer me up even in my darkest moods – @amitvarma, @krishashok, @bigfatphoenix, @prempanicker, @rameshsrivats – i am truly in awe of each.

two classy ‘internet marketers’ ive observed and learnt from @ashokbanker @flyyoufools

@nithinkd the only one i speak to on and off about absolutely random stuff.

i have learnt the most on the communications industry through links from @rjauhari @bhatnaturally @vijaysankaran @parthajha and @vedantvarma

my twitter guru – @sreenet he has patiently answered some of my weirdest questions.

@2xyada – perhaps the least known of all has helped me with his reality checks.

finally, if i could just follow one person on twitter, it would be @b50. he is responsible for slowly shattering almost all my ideas on what not to do on twitter. somehow when he does them, it always makes sense.

i have shared some magic with almost every single individual (barring @GuyKawasaki!) i follow on twitter. and those who engage with me. it’s my inability to keep track and keep up that stops me from following more. but i have come to realise there is so much goodness here. and it is wonderful to know you all.

wishing you a great year ahead. cheers!

July 23, 2009

Sach ka Saamna – had I been Star Plus’ consultant

Filed under: PR — Surekha Pillai @ 12:56 pm

This is a quick post – to make up for the previous epic of a Twitter post.

I have been following with much interest the buzz around Star Plus’ ‘Sach ka Saamna‘. The latest is that the I&B Ministry has sent a show cause notice to Star Plus over the serial. If you haven’t read the contentsutra article, here it is.  “The parliamentarians claimed that the reality game show is broadcasting vulgar values and it is a threat to Indian values and morality,” according to this article.

While I haven’t watched even a single episode of the serial, I am familiar with the format as I have had the voyeuristic pleasure of watching a few episodes of ‘Moment of Truth‘ on Star World.

One of my favourite ‘timepass’ is to consider what my advice to an organisation in crisis would have been. This is an area of interest.

In this case, while one cannot call this a crisis situation, I still couldn’t resist sharing with you what I would have advised Star Plus had I been their Consultant. Of course I am refraining from expressing my opinion on what I think about politicians spending time on this.

Dear Star Plus, Issue an invitation (which could be made public subsequently) to all the politicians raising objections and seeking a ban, to face their moment of truth on the show. Assure them no privacy would be invaded and that all questions will strictly pertain to their work, and there would be no questions on their personal lives.  Promise them the format of the programme will be changed basis acceptance from them.

What do you all think? What would your advice be? Let me know.

July 19, 2009

My tryst with Twitter: 35 tips for beginners

Filed under: PR,Twitter — Surekha Pillai @ 2:30 pm


(a) This is a fairly lengthy post; please read when you find the time;

(b) This post is primarily meant for communications professionals (particularly in the Indian PR industry) who would like to use Twitter as a professional networking tool;

(c) This post would make sense in entirety only to those who have already spent a few days on Twitter and are familiar with the basic workings of it.

When I set up this blog sometime back, I didn’t think I would have an opinion anyone could be remotely interested in, or say anything that one could actually learn from, and I certainly didn’t want to add to the cacophony that already existed out there.

But as Twitter gains more influence in the communications space, there would be many more like me entering this world, and I believe some of them could gain from my experiences and learning here. Since Twitter is what prompted me to get a WordPress account, I thought it is only appropriate I open my innings here, sharing an account of my tryst with Twitter. (For those who want me to cut to the chase and are not from the communications/PR/media industry, please skip the following three paragraphs.)

Social media has been an area of interest for long, but unfortunately in the 15 odd years I spent at agencies, including almost 8 years at IPAN (now, IPAN Hill & Knowlton), I neither had the opportunity to work with a client on a social media campaign – at least none I could truly call a social media campaign – nor the opportunity to observe and learn from a social media agency in action. However, I continued watching the social media space with much interest. I was among the first few to follow @palinn’s  India PR Blog and I interacted with him extensively during his “Hobbit” days when not many knew his identity. Through India PR, I also got familiar with @rajeshlalwani’s work (didn’t interact with him until Twitter happened) and I had also heard of other early adapters, with Mr Srinivasan (PR Point) and @kiruba’s name popping up almost in every discussion on social media in India.

Given my interest in social media, when my dear friend and former senior colleague at IPAN @RakeshThukral, with whom I have also undertaken some work at Comma Consulting, informed me of a social media session he was planning to hold with an expert, I offered (read invited myself) to undertake the first session. I figured I might be able to de-gyan the session and share some practical knowledge based on case studies and what I had observed. With my own PR background, I knew that if I wanted to attend a similar session, I would prefer someone with PR/journalism background to talk to me. The session was highly interactive and I had some interesting discussions with @Elizabeth_Chen, @parvathiom and @19am81 among others. There was one executive who was so super excited by SecondLife he couldn’t wait to jump right in! We also learnt though a quick poll conducted that Rajiv Desai (if I had to pick one great mind in the industry, it would be him) was the most social-media aware in the group!

At the end of the session I realised even if I didn’t have the opportunity to work for a social media client, I could conduct my own experiment on Twitter. I had read about the fascinating world of Twitter but talking to a bunch of people about new media (even with the disclaimer that I knew nothing much and that the chat was essentially to get them started thinking on social media) without having a single noteworthy experience of my own, went against my own belief that those who don’t get their hands dirty have no right to tell others what to do. That’s how Twitter happened.

I selected Twitter for three primary reasons:

a) I wanted something purely for professional networking minus the inanities that “I” often found in facebook. Nothing against facebook, but I clearly couldn’t relate to it. I also believe facebook is perhaps better suited for personal networking and I realise it is an opinion which could be flawed. Finally, facebook is also for the friendlier and more socially-adept. Twitter, with its open-door policy made engagement easier.

b) Alright, there’s no roundabout way of putting it. I wanted to be known among those who mattered in this profession, without having to really “network”. I maintained a low profile all through my career and realised there is merit in being known.

c) I wanted to see if Twitter could be used to regain respect for the PR industry. Clearly, the profession today isn’t what it used to be 16 years back. Ironically enough, while agencies are doing better work, the image of the profession itself has seen a rapid decline over the years. The curve is definitely moving up a little now, but the fundamental problems still remain. More on what I feel about the industry and its problems in a comment here (sorry the comment is longer than the post. I just got carried away. The author must have wondered what the heck happened there!)

It has been an amazing journey, and here are some lessons learnt along the way (in no particular order):

1. Identity: I started tweeting as @surek since I figured this would allow me more characters to play with. Soon I realized, if one wanted to be recognised, there is no better way to do it than by using your own name. So it’s @surekhapillai now.

2. Timing: While I tweet a lot more early in the morning (I tweet while I do my morning dose of reading and browsing websites of interest), I realised that was not the best of times to get widely read and RT-ed. I often see what I tweet coming up much later in the day and being RT-ed several times over. This, however, hasn’t made me change my habit, but there could be a learning there.

3. RT-friendly tweets: If you don’t want people to make a hash of your tweets, when you are sharing something interesting that you believe may get a RT, do allow for the one RT-ing to accommodate your id and perhaps a word or two of his / her own. Keep it short.

4. Don’t flood: Avoid a barrage of tweets as I normally do. It is always advisable to space out your tweets for more people to read you. Chances are if they find you interesting, they might check out your last tweet, and miss few others. Finally, if you tweet too much, which I am guilty of doing, you end up monopolising others’ time, which is not desirable.

5. You are as good as your last tweet: Remember your last tweet shows up in a follow list. So when someone is browsing through the list, you ideally don’t want them to read “shooting peas from my nose”.

6. Twitter is easily addictive: The initial high you get from people connecting, engaging, responding and commenting can become an addiction, and you could find a stage where Twitter is controlling you and not the other way round. I have experienced it. Use discretion in the amount of time you want to spend here. Read this if you’re still not convinced.

7. Ego trips: Get ready for some big ego games. They are mostly amusing. Just sit back and enjoy.

8. Following: You don’t HAVE to follow everyone who follows you. A healthy followers ratio is one of the criteria for people to quickly decide if they should follow you. I prefer to follow only those that I want to professionally network with and can gain from. I also prefer to follow those who regularly tweet – either flag articles of interest or share opinions on relevant issues. To me, Twitter has been a professional networking tool and I prefer not to use it for idle chitchat. Similarly I don’t un-follow those (and I don’t mean the public figures) who don’t follow me. (Except once, just to prove a point to someone from the industry who followed me and un-followed after couple of days in a huff. If you’re reading this, let’s do it again sometime.)

9. Thick skin and small mouth help: During initial days, get ready to be snubbed, ignored, dismissed. I escaped much of this basically because I did not engage too much during the initial days and focused more on observing, listening and learning. This helps.

10. Who to follow: I was guilty of “stealing” some contacts from @palinn’s @IndiaPRBlog follower list when I first started here. I figured he was the only social media expert I had some degree of comfort with and I could rely on his judgement on the people to follow. I did not blindly follow all, visited some profiles, read their tweets and followed those I thought might be interesting. I nosed around a few others’ lists as well. From there, I built my own. While it is an extremely uncomfortable thing to do (to me it was and feel there should be an option where the contacts are protected and one could seek permission from the person before looking up their list. But I suppose this free-for-all model is one reason why Twitter is so successful), this is a good way to begin. Please start with my list if you’re from the communications industry. Let me also know if anyone interesting you know is missing in my list.

11. Contrarian views: These help stimulate good conversations. But do not disagree without a sound argument to back it up.

12. Intelligent provocation: I accidentally realised intelligent provocation often helps in eliciting a response from some of the “superstars” you would find on Twitter. @ShashiTharoor responded promptly to my question on why he was on Twitter and whether it was for instant gratification or real engagement. This question genuinely stemmed from my observation of him tweeting about everything he did without really engaging much with people. However, I have seen a shift in recent times. Similarly the first response from @chrisbrogan came when I found it amusing that he went on about his decision not to choose his name for the facebook vanity url (his name had been already taken). I asked people what was his point; he answered. We recently had an interesting exchange and he even ‘gifted’ me an RT! None of this happened because I set out with an agenda to provoke. But when you have a strong point to make which is not always favourable, you get noticed.

13. Questions to experts: These give them an opportunity to showcase their expertise; this also sometimes gets you noticed and helps you engage better. I have not tried flattery so far but I doubt it would take you far.

14. Twitter can be incestuous: You cannot survive in isolation on Twitter unless you are Buckingham Palace @BritishMonarchy with 0 followees and nil engagement. I have learnt that sometimes those who RT your tweets expect the ‘favour’ to be returned. You will suddenly see that someone who was so enthusiastic about tweets is no longer even looking in your direction. Though I don’t see why it should be even seen as a favour. You RT something you find interesting and want to share with others.

15. Comments: It helps to comment on blogs and stories alongside rather than just be a link pusher. This gives people insights into your mind and how you think. Some of my comments, for what they are worth, are here and here.  It is even better if you comment on posts of those who engage with you on Twitter.

16. You take the lead: Do not expect people to engage with you just because you are following them. You need to talk to them a few times, ask them intelligent questions, get their attention. If they like you enough, they follow you. If you’re funny, use that to your advantage. Avoid cocky. However, sometimes with those with ‘attitude’, it helps to let them take the lead. They usually do if you tweet something relevant or interesting.

17. Pretence: I have realised you can make the most out of Twitter by being yourself. Do not pretend. Do not be someone you are not. Do not try to be an expert in every subject. Stick to your areas of interest; it helps in being part of communities. You cannot fake it for long.

18. Putting up a display picture helps: It is even better if it’s your own. Then people know they are talking to a real person and not some fake id. Include your blog/linkedin/website links in the profile page. When someone finds you interesting, chances are they would visit your profile page to know more about you.

19. Hashtag: When you are commenting on an event or big companies, it helps to hashtag. Chances are when someone who wants to search on what Twitter is talking about #infosys and find your tweet interesting, it becomes yet another way of connecting. I found a few people to connect with during #Cannes09.

20. The real you: While I prefer to stick to business on Twitter, I do like to get an idea of the personality behind the Twitterer. Personal tweets are not all that bad, provided they don’t dominate the timeline. Done in the right measure, it adds an extra dimension to the person, and makes her more human and interesting, and not just an inanimate id on the monitor. Discussions on common interests like movies and music, for instance, can get you more friends.

21. Be as coherent as possible in your tweets. Avd sms lang. if psbl.

22. Twitter clusters: There are always some closely knit groups and people that you would see you can never really get through to. Don’t fret. It’s a big ocean out there. If most are responding and some constantly ignoring you, it’s their problem not yours. Don’t waste your time on them.

23. Indian media: The journalists on Twitter are mostly nice, some with a dash of attitude. Twitter is a great equaliser. My strong recommendation is not to hound them with your pitches and press release/conference follow-ups till you know them well or your announcement is so important that they would not like to miss it. Engage with them and see if it works; don’t force yourself on them. I once said something to someone that could have been construed as being familiar, and was immediately snubbed.

24. Be prepared for inexplicable hostility: I have had instances where a few were extremely friendly in the beginning and subsequently turned hostile. It remains a mystery. Do let me know if you experience this.

25. Celebrities: I personally don’t follow any celebrities. Most of them are from the entertainment world and I don’t watch TV or movies. But some of them, from what I hear, are great to engage with. I hear @gulpanag and @mallikala are both very amiable. I follow @PritishNandy and find him absolutely delightful. One can see that he enjoys engaging with everybody.

26. Godfather: I don’t know if the concept of a godfather works on Twitter, but I guess it helps to have a popular Twitterer recommend your id for followfriday. I have had no such luck. The two times I was recommended, it was because they thought I was a Malayali, and I felt sorry they couldn’t undo the action after I told them I was actually a Tamilian with roots in Nagercoil near Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. So if you’re a Bengali, try getting a recommendation from the @greatbong. Wait. He too is Buckingham Palace. 0 followees.

27. Friends and Brotherhood: There are some genuinely nice people on Twitter. You might feel a little secure with people like them around when you get started. If I had to nominate two from the list, it would be @thecomicproject and @startonomics.

28. More on RT: Do not blindly RT without reading the stories, checking the links. We are not journalists and we don’t have to pretend we are. By that, what I mean is we don’t have to be the first to break the news. Take your time, read, absorb and RT relevant stories with succinct comments/opinion. Also, always give credit to the source of the tweet.

29. DM: Just because someone is following you, do not start DM-ing without building familiarity first. Similarly, be prepared to receive DMs from those who don’t follow you. I usually respond – if I have to ― with a message followed by “I apologise I am unable to DM you.” I prefer this to “Oh thank you for DM-ing. I cannot DM back ‘cos you need to follow me first you see” unless the other person just doesn’t get it.

30. Numbers game: Finally, as much as you’re tempted to, do not fall for the numbers game. The number of followers is not money in your bank. As long as your purpose is not to make money out of Twitter (if it is, I am sorry you wasted your time reading this rather rambling post), learn to engage with people who are truly interested in you rather than wasting your energy getting the attention of those who don’t give a fork.

31. Politeness: Twitter is not the place to be extremely polite. It is OK not to respond to a response to your response with an OK. It eats into others timelines and you need to respect that. Sticking to the subject, given that communicating over the internet with a stranger can potentially cause misunderstandings; it is advisable to use smileys when you’re joking about something in response to something someone says! I don’t use it and I may have lost a couple of “friends” due to this.

32. Tweet-ups: A great way of connecting on Twitter is through tweet-ups, where you meet other twitterers. I have seen @prolificd and @b50 (his latest is the hilarious shrikhand tweet-up named #blista!) organising/attending many and have always thought it is a wonderful way of bonding.

33. Tweets don’t make a person: Do not make the mistake of judging a person based entirely on his / her tweets and followers’ list and numbers. I know of very interesting people falling flat on Twitter and zeroes becoming heroes on Twitter.

34. Twitter application: Using a desktop application such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic helps in organizing your tweets and seeing all the responses /mentions you get. Follow @Twitter_tips for some great tips.

35. Finito: Know when to end a conversation. Quit while you’re ahead. Or you will end up boring others no end, like what I am doing to you now.

This is my personal list of some recommendations on Twitter (on the basis of what I have observed), to help get you started. I am sure I have missed out many helpful tips and recommendations; you might learn more from others. See the list below:

o Social media and brand (International) @chrisbrogan @guykawasaki @mashable @jowyang @thebrandbuilder @guardiantech @sreenet (each tweet is pure gold!) @Gauravonomics (Gaurav has recently moved to India to head 20:20Webtech)

o Social media (India) @rajeshlalwani @vijayasankaran @SMMPRO @palinn (who unfortunately hasn’t been spending much time on Twitter)

o News (India) @HeadlinesIndia @msntoday @HTTweets @TOITopStories @the_hindu

o News (International)@BreakingNews @nytimes @WSJ @Economist

o PR (India) @Text100India

o Writers @aravindadiga, @samitbasu (check out his interesting #novelrace) , @soniafaleiro

o Media @nramind (I never imagined that there would be a time when N Ram would personally select news articles for you to read every morning!), @PrabhuChawla @virsanghvi, @govindethiraj (he appears and disappears. But don’t miss him. Some great posts around #amic), @sidin, @SachinKalbag @kushanmitra @rohind

o Tech media @nixxin, @rajivdingra, @pluggdin

o India blog @blogadda

o Current affairs, International affairs @nramind, @acorn, @muladhara @Retributions

o Some laughs (and great insights) @b50, @tremendousnews, @tenalirama, @sidin, @rohind

o The page 3 of Twitter (barring those who have been already mentioned in some of the lists above) – @twilightfairy @gulpanag @kiruba @mallikala ..umm actually I don’t know many in this category.

o My other favourites – @vsengupta (Vivek Sengupta, who was also my boss at IPAN. The most well read individual I have known. One of the very few people I feel dumb in front of. ), @ashsingla (I wish Ashwani Singla would tweet more often!), @RakeshThukral, @manuscrypts@beastoftraal, @indianomics @parvathiom, @vijayanands (a great resource on start-ups – am hoping to learn much from him), @NairArun @parthajha (a dear friend), @Patrix, @gkjohn, @TIME, @LIFE, @dina, @prolificd, @PritishNandy (he is absolutely great at engaging with people. I sometimes worry he will lose his celebrity status this way – which is a good thing!)

o Twitter tips @Twitter_tips , @MrTwitter

o Finally, “Minister Twitter” @ShashiTharoor

Please note: Do not try to earn anyone’s follow from the above list by telling them that I recommended them to you. Many don’t even know I exist. I am not even a speck in their universe.

Please leave your recommendations for people to follow in the comment section. And/or tell @surekhapillai whether this post was of any use. If you prefer email, I’m at surekhapillai(at)gmail(dot)com

Thank you for staying with this post and hope you enjoy your experiment with Twitter.

Update 1: Thank you, @argus48 (Sanjoy Narayan) for this mention in the HT Blog.

Update 2: Dear @chrisbrogan, the fact you mentioned this post in your newsletter says much more about you than me.  Thank you.

July 18, 2009

Hmm..step one complete.

Filed under: 1 — Surekha Pillai @ 12:58 pm

No idea where I am headed with this blog. I have some ideas – they are hazy still. Interviews, case studies, idea exchange, columns…Let’s see. Making no tall claims now, time and people from the industry will tell where I go with it.

Blog at