by Lhendup G Bhutia & R Krishna
It was July 14, ’09 and looking out of his window, Asfaq Tapia seemed worried. It had been raining incessantly, offices were closing early and people were leaving for their homes. Reporters on TV were predicting that a repeat of the 7/11 Mumbai floods was possible.
Tapia logged on to Twitter. His first tweet was: ‘Take stock of the rains’. In a few minutes, his Twitter profile was inundated with tweets, from people who had read his tweet, telling him exactly how flooded or not, parts of the city were. He forwarded those tweets to his other friends who planned to take the road. In a few hours, Tapia had sent more than 250 tweets. “TV news is not instant enough,” he says. “A lot of exaggeration happens; many of the footages shown are of the worst-hit areas and of the times when the rains were the heaviest.”
Mumbaikars are swiftly discovering the new uses of online social media as a commercial or communication tool, or indeed as a way to gather people. According to estimates, in India, Facebook has around 70lakh users, Orkut 1.6crore and Twitter around 8lakh. “The number of people who visit these sites daily and the time they spend on it is far greater than what they do watching TV programmes or reading newspapers,” says Mahesh Murthy, CEO, Pinstorm, a digital marketing agency.
Companies have latched on to the possibilities. When Lenovo India was launching seven products this year, apart from the conventional launch, it decided to hold meetings with bloggers. Karthik S, Text 100 Public Relations’ account director, which handles the public relations and online communication of Lenovo India, says, “Earlier, PR would be done through mainstream media. Today, we have many micro-influencers online. It is essential for any brand to reach out to them”.
Not only are large firms tapping into online social media, smaller enterprises have been quicker to adapt to them. Blue Bus Tees, a Mumbai-based enterprise that sells T-shirts, shunned conventional modes by opting to sell their products online. Advertising solely through Facebook, they managed to sell 100 T-shirts in the first month. By the third month, their sales had tripled. They have a Facebook group page, fan page and a Twitter account.
“This helps us get the word out about Blue Bus Tees,” says Pranav Kapur who founded the company with his friend, Abhir Khanna, “We have hired a company to manage our fan pages. But it’s never direct marketing. For example, we have a Bollywood group on Facebook where we discuss tees that we would like to gift to our Bollywood stars,” says Kapur.
The social media is poised to be a bigger part of our lives. The best part is that once you start contributing, you get to play a role in shaping this medium as well. If you need help getting started, just tweet for it!