The India Social Summit 2012 – journalism is social ? tweet in 140 words !?!

A print journo @ India Social

It’s THE media… or medium, depending upon how you look at it. It’s the future, though statistics assure me that it is not the only present. I can breathe a sigh of relief. Being a journalist who loves the print medium more than online (there… I’ve said it!), it was reassuring when it was collectively agreed upon by the experts of the New and Social Media domain in India, that print and long-form writing is not dead (yet… but then that’s a distant yet). I currently do not have to look at a career change. Yay!

It’s not easy being part of the cusp generation that has grown up having seen the old-world print-centric journalism and is currently living among the New Age Twitter-savvy, information super-highway kids. My heart is in print, while it’s expected to be connected online. Especially so, if one is cooped up for two straight days in two rooms filled with mostly (and ironically) middle-aged media experts and amateurs who’re discussing the all-important future of media and this ubiquitous phenomenon, or even parallel universe if you please, that is social media.

The India Social Summit 2012 in New Delhi was a conclave of people who live simultaneously in the virtual world. It’s the kind of place one would imagine a Marshall McLuhan or a Claude Shannon or a Warren Weaver, had they been alive today, sitting around much-less-fancier tables discussing the “hows” and “whys” of (social) communication media and methodology. Akin to most of those present—in the audience or part of the panel—they too probably wouldn’t have known where this Social Media was headed, how would it impact our lives—and by that virtue, the world—but they would have all agreed in unison that this proverbial change is definitely looming large… Honestly, put it in that perspective and one suddenly feels all important! I might have been in the presence of greatness!

The questions, though, remain…in an economy-driven world, how do we monetize this social media? And, in a more sotto voce kind of a way, how do we manipulate people to our benefit?

Although the first question was raised over and over again, just one (whom I managed to hear) actually went ahead and called out the elephant in the room by referring to the latter.  The always-entertaining-yet-thought-provoking chief belief officer of the Future Group, Devdutt Pattanaik, went out and said it in a non-sugar-coated fashion: “Communication is manipulation”.

Yes, indeed. No matter how many times everyone spoke about “being relevant”, “reaching out”, “engaging”, “conversing” with one’s audience/followers/fans, the bottom line was—how do I “manipulate” them to choose me over everyone else?! And, as a corollary, how do I make money out of that?

So, quite unsurprisingly, the second-popular buzzword (phrase?) at the summit just had to be ROI. Return on Investment. “I know I have to put in money in this Thing. I know I can’t ignore it. But what do I get in return and how soon?” Commerce. Monetization. Simple.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the way the world works. The interesting thing, though, was that after three days (of which I attended two) of intensive brainstorming by media experts, I don’t think anyone had quite figured out the answers to those questions. No one could say WHY Kolavari di had gone viral. No one could figure out HOW one Aakar Patel column could make four out of 10 words trend in India. No one could stand up and confidently say THIS IS HOW it’s to be done. No one knew WHERE this phenomenon called social (as the medium is called by the “cool” people) was headed. And every time anyone mentioned a social campaign or idea that they’d tried, the almost immediate question was: Have you monetized? If the answer was a rare yes, those around would just have this look of concealed envy as they mentally debated whether it would be inelegant to ask “how?”, or in the case of a more Proletarian “no”, everyone would just slowly drift away seeking those answers elsewhere.

So, as a print journalist who had recently been introduced to this strange, intangible world, I tried desperately hard to crack this formula of how to make the “relevant” people “listen” (one’s editor did, after all, mention making it a criterion in the appraisal system of our integrated newsroom!). As I cluelessly wandered around a world where referring to each other by one’s Twitter handles rather than by one’s real-world name was more natural, trying to absorb everything that came my way, and live-tweeting (I actually went as far as downloading the Twitter app just for this) the event, at the end I still walked away with a general feeling reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Multivac: Insufficient data for meaningful answer.

Having said that, there were still quite a few quotable takeaways from the event. Here are a few:

First, some good laughs:

  • It used to be “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”. Now it’s “You like my Facebook page, and I’ll like yours”. — Rohan Jha, Sony Music
  • Narad ke bina marketing nai kar sakte (Without the spirit of Narad, it’s hard to capture the essence of marketing). — Devdutt Pattanaik, Future Group
  • Shopping malls exist to give us aukat (significance)…it’s a social service industry. — Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Tata Nano…it’s the cheapest car for the poor people. I don’t earn money to be poor. Rs1 lakh to buy poverty!? — Devdutt Pattanaik

On a serious note:

  • Social media is almost like “The Opium” that makes you forget the crushing isolation of contemporary India. —Anisha Motwani, Max New York Life
  • For a person engaging through social media, escaping and seeking cushion behind false identities gives a sense of empowerment to share his enlightened opinion to the world.
  • 4Cs model for effective scale up in social media: content, conversations, community, commerce.
  • You are not alone: A live event is a virtual stadium. — Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Social Wavelength
  • No one can predict what will go viral, virality is relative. — Rohan Jha, Sony Music
  • What works (in the social space)? Content that is honest, unexpected, original. — Rohan Jha
  • Sponsored tweets are yet another form of advertising. — Samir Pitalwalla, Disney
  • Communication is manipulation. — Devdutt Pattanaik
  • The journey from I don’t care to I do care is what’s the story today. — Shivnath Thukral, Essar
  • The future of reputation is all about listening and then engaging. — Shivnath Thukral
  • If in social media you’re unidentifiable, unapproachable, unsociable, then why are you on social media at all? — Shivnath Thukral
  • It’s not about how many people “like” your page. It’s about the FP (followers vs people who talk about you) ratio. An FP ratio of 0.03-0.05 is average, need to do better; 0.06-0.08 is decent, can do better; 0.09-0.3 mean you’ve done a good job; and if it’s 0.4 and above, I’d be interested in the brand! — Arun Nair, Mahindra Holidays
  • A “like” is an opportunity. — Karthik Nagarajan, Group M
  • If your idea’s good, people will share it. — Sandip Maiti, Experience Commerce
  • Internet blurs the lines between amateurs and professionals in content dissemination. — Gautam K. John, Akshara Foundation
  • There is democartization of content, and we have to reintegrate (strategy) according to that. — Madhavan Narayanan, Hindustan Times
  • Content is king, but Attention will be empress. — Madhavan Narayanan
  • A brand is really a brand, an inanimate object, until enough people start caring about it. — Gitanjali Sriram, Naked Communications Media
  • (In the social space) invite interaction. Allow people to share control. Be brave! — Gitanjali Sriram
  • Over time, media will be driven by technology and not by content…(which is) the biggest casualty of all this. — Suhel Seth, Counselage India
  • Social Media is actually a chamber of hollow echoes. — Santosh Desai, Future Brands
  • Social media amplifies and accentuates what traditional media puts out. — Santosh Desai
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