Tag Archives: Hindustan Times

The Screenage – genesis; and, Twitter behaviour.

Sometime earlier this year when a large publishing company and I got speaking about a book, I was clear about what I didn’t want to write – a user’s guide to social media. I had received, and rejected, such an offer earlier. I came up with a concept note on a book, which I gave a working title – The Screenage (though that’s what I would finally want to call it too).

A contract arrived, and I panicked at the sight of it. Time-lines were tight and this was the year for Blogworks to become a business and and organisation (more on that in days to come). The contract was pushed deep inside the drawer.

However, the thought around the book was built has never appealed to me more - how consumers and brands speak (and behave) in times of the social web; or; interpreting people and brand behaviour, as seen through the prism of social media.

While the term Screenagers is typically used for the ‘digitally connected youth’, I use it for ‘digitally connected everyone’. As digital usage proliferates, the impact at a surface, and, at deeper concept level, is clearly visible. Do we understand all of it, or where all this is going to take us? Far from it, but it makes for an interesting topic  to observe, note and share.

I attempt to do that through my talks and workshops, and have been doing loads of those lately, but I haven’t been writing much on the blog and I think this series is going to help me discipline myself into writing regularly.

To begin, Twitter has been on my mind, as only a couple of days ago a journalist from Hindustan Times called regarding this story and asked me to comment on whether people vent out more on Twitter.

Naturally – it is a broadcast network. People are there to share opinions (unlike Facebook, where they go to enjoy and manage their relationships) and usually it means either they will have something positive or negative to say.  Even a mild negative would usually find vocal expression, whereas only an overwhelmingly positive one does. The scale is already tilted.

A large mass of people ‘broadcasting’ means, we are now in the domain of numbers, not quality- the words, the expressions are ‘mass’. A large majority have never really spoken with a mike in hand; they haven’t been heard before.

The ability to freely speak, and be heard by ‘anyone’ can be extremely heady and intoxicating. It becomes headier when you combine Twitter’s unique mix of identity, and, anonymity. It gives you the choice to retain your ‘real’ social graph (you-as-you engaging  people you know in real life, or are connected with through your real friends, or strangers who are real as you); or, start a parallel social graph connected with real people, but anonymously. On Facebook such anonymity would be useless, but on Twitter it makes the equation more empowering, IF your real world stature is not already high – you are anyway not well known; now you know who the other (real) people are; but they don’t know who you are.  You can now seemingly get away with a lot more without the answerability of identity.

Another irony that plays out nicely on Twitter is the powerful are the most vulnerable. Twitter brings people otherwise far from reach, within your reach – a national political leader; a senior journalist;  a best-selling author; a movie superstar.  They have the stature, the image, the reputation.

When you don’t have a reputation, you have nothing to lose. What you want is attention. Throw a stone at someone who has a reputation, you get the attention. Often enough others join in the fun; nobody verifies facts; soon enough even the context is lost. Why did this start? Few seems to know, but everyone has a comment. It’s live entertainment a la Death Race; The Running Man. The powerful are the most vulnerable.

Fairly normal people (read, all of us) seem to behave differently on Twitter.  It seems to bring out, in a highly  exaggerated way, ‘a’ dimension of our personality. Humour and wit; philosophy; creativity; activism; gyaan. Could be anything, but it’s heightened.  We are out to impress.

What do you think?

 

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Gurgaon Traffic Brigade: waking up to an idea come alive

I woke up this morning, smiling,  to news in Hindustan Times that Gurgaon police have managed to get over 50 corporate executives as volunteers to help them manage the worsening traffic situation in the sub-city. They are busy driving up profits of their companies. But they are so tired of the traffic situation in Gurgaon... Read more »
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2009 Trend # 1 – Bloggers Make Money, Via Mainstream Media

I have, for over a week now, been trying to complete my India Social Media Trends 2009 piece and not having succeeded in doing so, decided to write them one by one, rather than all at one go. They are NOT in specific order or priority based on impact so request that you read them so. Here’s the first one that I got prompted to write after reading this piece Difficult Days: low ad revenue, pagination by Ashish Bagga, CEO, Living Media India Ltd, in LiveMint’s 2009 Trend Predictions series.
Bloggers make money via mainstream media and micro-publishing.
Making money in print media is tricky business even in normal times. Advertising & Circulation contribute 65:35 average revenue respectively as cover prices are subsidized significantly in most cases. Advertising revenues have to keep pace with circulation growth, as you are losing money for each extra copy that you sell. A slowdown in advertising could make dynamics change quickly. The Mint article talks about the following as an outcome of this:

  1. Higher cover price, leading to lower circulation.
  2. Lower pagination – expect ad driven supplements to come less frequently; city supplements may get thinner; even regular pages may reduce.

The piece also predicts:

  1. Rightsizing of human resource will be another key trend. Both the number of employees as well as the cost of employment will be under review.

Effort would be to cut salaries and infrastructure cost. In this scenario, I would expect:

  1. More dependence on content generated by wire agencies.
  2. For some bloggers, this may clearly mean that over are the days of “loser generated content” – as my dear friend Narayan Madhavan of Hindustan Times refers to blogger/ user generated content, as s/he has hitherto not been paid; has mostly felt grateful to mainstream media if it has chosen to feature her content; in many cases the content has been plagiarized anyway – often, not just without permission, but also without due credit.
    In comes, paid – syndicated content, enhanced recognition & visibility for the blog writer/s. Experiments in this direction (the reasons may be different) have already begun with Kamla Bhatt’s excellent tie-up with LiveMint and ContentSutra drawing content from VCCircle.
    Expect more and more content from blogs to be sought by mainstream media as, even after payments to blog writers/ blogs the costs will typically be much cheaper than staffers. I have always said about blog credibility : credibility has nothing to do with the tool, but with the name behind the words/ voice. This one is a win-win for both parties involved and a trend likely to go North in 2009.

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HT Tech4U focuses on What Blogging Did Next. My piece "Micro-blogging, anyone?" – also the longer, unedited version.

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Today’s Hindustan Times Tech4U page focuses on “What Blogging Did Next” and features 2 main pieces on the subject.
In the first piece, titled Hum Blog, Twilight Fairy of Delhi Bloggers Bloc talks about the blogging scene in general and Delhi in particular, online and offline.
The second piece, written by me talks about Twitter.
You can find the newspaper version here.
My longer, unedited version, is below. Choose whichever, but do leave your thoughts:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the most viral of them all?” I asked.
“Twitter, O dear sir!” answered the magic mirror without doubt.
Twitter , the service that lets you stay connected with friends, colleagues and family through exchange of short message updates, sharing “what are you doing right now?” has achieved almost cult following among its users, many of whom are celebrity bloggers and internet influencers from across the globe.
So what really is Twitter?
I could tell you that Twitter is a micro-blogging platform (messages can contain a maximum of 140 characters) and a social networking site (connect with and friends and make new ones). I could also say that it is blogging on the go and lets you disseminate and receive messages using the web interface, an internet messenger/ desktop client or your mobile phone. All of these are correct.
However, think of it as a café, people keep coming, conversations are perpetually on, someone leaves, and someone else joins in. You chat with your friends and acquaintances regularly and ever so often you also meet one of their friends. You join into their conversations and make new friends in the process. Someone you didn’t know earlier reaches out to connect; you do the same when you want to reach out. This café is virtual, but the people are real and they do meet up often – at work, at parties, at Tweet ups (offline group meets of Tweople, or Twitter users).
Like someone said so beautifully on a Social Media Today podcast “Twitter is like talking to friends on way back home from school, reading their blogs is like reading their homework.” No wonder Twitterholics prefer Twittering over even singing ;).
But what makes Twitter so special, so viral?
To understand this, it’s important to understand the genesis of Twitter for the service is based on some powerful insights:

  1. The Always on internet environment has less dependency and focus on a web page and that the desktop, widgets, IM are gaining importance.
  2. Mobile is quickly becoming the ubiquitous converged device and is increasingly married to the internet.
  3. Bloggers, already addicted to posting, were/ are looking for ways to disseminate content quickly, on the go and without having to spend a long time in crafting it. That they were/ are also looking at ways to share their content across multiple platforms.
  4. Successful services will be those, which allows users to find unique and multiple uses for the service and that to do so, it would be important to:
    – Becoming the enabling layer
    – Allow other developers to use the Application Programming Interface (API)
    – Create a network but also use other networks to reach larger mass of users/ consumers

The result is a service that lets you use its web interface to push the message, but you could have easily have used your G Talk client or simply sms’d the message instead, using your handset to now an India short-code (5566511).
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The moment you did so, the message would be received by people ‘following’ your feed, on their preferred device – mobile handset, IM, or simply their Twitter web-page. You could, similarly, get their messages if you too were following them.
Powerful, you’d agree, but it doesn’t end here. You could display yours and your friends’ messages on your blog using a Twitter widget, let the message be seen as your status update on Facebook (which is where more and more of your friends are) and so on. Add to this many dozens applications and mash-ups developed by 3rd party developers (find them at here) and you have one of the most visible and sticky service on the internet today.
So how are people using Twitter? Honestly, new uses are coming up every minute. Here are a few:

(more…)

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So, where are you going? A piece I wrote for Hindustan Times

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Today’s Hindustan Times carried a piece written by me. You can read it on the HT epaper: 12 December 2007, Delhi Edition, HT2, Tech4U Page. In reverence to the editor, here is the final text as appeared in print:
So, where are you going?
A few day ago, I was chatting on the phone with someone from Mumbai, who had called to discuss ‘use of blogs and social media tools for internal knowledge management by organisations’ and the talk swerved “Is a blog is better than a forum or vice-versa?”.
I was reminded of times when – very young – my younger sister and I would often gather available pillows to create a square/ rectangle, which was our ‘car’ and using an imaginary steering wheel, made appropriate driving noises. Only, obviously our car shell was going nowhere, for, it didn’t have wheels or an engine for that matter.
So the question is: Now that you have got yourselves a car called social media, do you know where are you going?
As is expected with anything that’s surrounded with intense hype, as has been the case with blogs & social media, the focus is on the TOOL with relatively less thought on THE NEED. A mere shell (blog/forum/social networking site or whatever) is not enough. The car is surely not going anywhere without an engine and an ongoing supply of fuel! It’s also good to remember- the car cannot drive itself.
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Organisations/ marketers in India are finally beginning to look at adopting social media and blogs, but, given that the concepts are relatively new, the emphasis seems to be on continuing traditional marketing thoughts/ logic into the neo-environment. However, Participating in this neo-environment is not about following tradition, here the rules are different – the rules are being written by the consumer, the community. In fact, many believe that the moment you attempt to ‘sell’ on social media, you have lost the users attention – focus has to be on conversations, on adding value to the user.
Given all that, here are points to consider, which can act as a checklist for you to figure out what a blog can do.

  1. What is the need?
    No, I mean what is the REAL need that can be met by adopting blogs & social media? Just because another brand or organisation has adopted/ is adopting the tool is not a good enough reason for you to adopt it too. Remember there is a cost of engagement.
    Yes, many, if not most, of these tools cost very little themselves but as a brand/ organisation the costs to consider are not to the ‘monetary’. There are associated cost in terms of time, content generation, outreach & promotion and like there is a cost of engagement, even more importantly there is a cost to disengagement – mostly on your reputation. Think this through, for, an abrupt withdrawal may not be an option later.
  2. Message is your car’s engine.
    Which stakeholders are you trying to reach through your social media initiatives? Are they users of the Internet? Of course there is increasing indirect impact as messages get picked by mainstream media/ influencers but are your stakeholders ‘direct users’ of these tools, communities? Which ones?
    What is the message that you wish to share with your stakeholders? Figured your message? Now be prepared to let go of control, evolve the same, for, on social media, it is the user/ community that partly controls the message.
  3. Content is the fuel.
    What is it that you are sharing with users that will keep them engaged, keep them coming back for more? It’s important that you have clarity of purpose, and stakeholders, which in turn will help you determine content.
  4. So, who is driving?
    The initiative; the content – are you looking at a corporate blog written by many stakeholders or a CEO blog? Maybe set-up a community generating user generated content of interest to your customers?
    Who is in charge of content? No one/everyone doesn’t work, like we may have witnessed elsewhere.
  5. Look into the side mirror, often.
    Are you tracking what the competition is up to? While you are busy doing your own thing, the competition maybe close by (or ahead for that matter). Look around, but don’t copy their moves.
  6. Do you know the rules?
    Don’t get caught on the wrong foot. The social media space is a relatively new. It’s important to know the basis, but evolving rules.
    Punishment can be swift and severe, and witnesses have been… mighty giants & countless individuals, who forgot.
  7. Show some reverence, please.
    Sure blogs can be a free tool, so is uploading content on YouTube, as is setting up communities on Social Networking Sites… but hey, your brand/ organisation is very valuable! While adopting social media, do show YOUR BRAND/ YOUR ORGANISATION some reverence – your brand has a personality, an identity, an image, a reputation – so doesn’t your 360 degree apply to blogs and social media?
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