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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Life in a Rectangle: Believe me, your life will come full circle!

Anurag Hira

For someone who spent eight of his almost 25 colourful years at the very same 55B Mirza Ghalib Street that is the epicentre of Sujit Sanyal’s Life in a Rectangle, his candidly written memoir is a trot down the characteristic advertising grasslands of Calcutta’s yesteryear.

An easy-going and highly entertaining book, it is about how Calcutta nurtured and shaped some of the finest minds of advertising and how those wonderful people then outgrew Calcutta. Some left the city for greener pastures, while others, sadly, left us for another paradise. Mr Sanyal’s book is largely anecdotal and the stories he so vividly captures are all about the good times and the bad, the really fun times and some, quite sad.

early, he chose to make this a rambling all-over-the-place kind of book without a proper path in place, but at no point does it make the reader feel unstrung. A free-flowing string of entertaining stories, they have been told as any advertising person would when you catch up after a long time. It leaves you with a montage of images and a potpourri of memories, mostly nice. Clarion, though — as anyone knows — had more ups and downs than all of Free School Street’s and Ripon Street’s potholes put together! But that’s another long story for another time.

Getting back to the crux of my piece, the truth is I heard about Life in a Rectangle from my brother Mohit, who was invited to walk the audience down Calcutta’s advertising journey at his book launch in Delhi — from his ‘Contract’ed, but unlimited point of view.

Incidentally, Mohit, the last shishya of Subhas Ghosal, has seen a lot more of our largely-fun-but-lately-dirty advertising world than I have; he is one of the four pillars who gave my career a rather solid structure.

I’m not sure what implications Life in a Rectangle holds for even a generation after me, but clearly it is a well-travelled, beautifully told series of short stories by one of the last few gentlemen in our business. I had to, quite unfortunately, give Mr Sanyal’s book launch and the panel discussion a miss, owing to work and social pressures (in that order), but snacking voraciously on it over the first few nights and having made a wholesome meal by the end of it, I have to admit that he has a vivid storytelling ability of a typical advertising man.

This book is nothing but a hard-cover adda session that has every character of those days mentioned lovingly and realistically — something all of us do even now, whenever we meet old colleagues who have turned friends, over the years. Clients and some iconic brands, client-agency relationships way back then, the ethics of conducting business, encounters with legends and all those wonderful, real people who crafted such memorable communication in between living mad lives, are all strewn across in abundance. Clearly, through all his experiences, Mr Sanyal possesses the rubbed-off pedigree of Mr Ghosal and to an extent, professor Subroto Sengupta.

Life in a Rectangle is a must-read for anyone from that bygone era and is, perhaps, the only ‘advertising reunion’ in print that I have laid my eyes and hands on. We all remember our beginnings and lovingly like reminiscing our glory days among wacky characters of rare talent, combined with a sense of acerbic wit and dry humour. It is a book that dwells on strong human relationships and lifetime bonds made while conducting business, above all.

Advertising was, as Bill Cosby put it, the most fun you could have with your clothes on! So if you’ve been a part of the people’s business from the ’70s through to the ’90s, please pick up a copy of Life in a Rectangle.

Believe me, your life will come full circle!

(The author is the co-owner of One by One Design)

HARD-COVER ADDA

Sujit Sanyal at Crossword to launch his first book Life in a Rectangle: The World Around 55B Mirza Ghalib Street, in association with The Telegraph.
Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray

Crossword Bookstore on Elgin Road boomed with laughter on the evening of March 30 as the dadas and didis of Calcutta’s advertising world caught up with one another after years at the launch of Life in a Rectangle: The World Around 55B Mirza Ghalib Street (Fingerprint, Rs 395) by ad veteran

Sujit Sanyal, held in association with The Telegraph. Oindrilla Dutt and veteran actor Jagannath Guha read excerpts from the book.

“It is not an autobiography. It’s the Clarion story, the story of everyone who was a part of Calcutta in the 1970s and ’80s,” said the author, tall and energetic in a rich navy blue kurta.

From adman Ram Ray to evenings at Oly [Olympia on Park Street], the book which was released by Dilip Chatterjee, former president of Advertising Club, Calcutta, gives the readers a sneak peek into the lives surrounding Clarion McCann Advertising since 1976, when Sanyal joined the firm as a trainee.

“I just had to download those memories somewhere, and while sitting and staring at the laptop, the words came naturally to me,” laughed Sanyal.

The event also saw Sabyasachi Ghosh, the current president of Advertising Club, join the bunch of ad people as they swapped memories of hilarious client presentations to the familiar last-moment adrenaline rush.

“This is an insider’s book, but for people who are not insiders it gives rare glimpses into the circumstances in which the advertising world grew in Calcutta,” said Guha about the book, written by one of his first students at Bhawanipur College and later a friend.

Sreyoshi Dey