Jaldi 5 with Sanjay Mehta: 1 billion users strong, Facebook can influence elections

08 Oct,2012

Sanjay Mehta

When Facebook gently proclaimed that it now had touched the magical one billion users figure, most of us just dismissed it as a milestone. But it’s an accomplishment that cannot be ignored by not just individual users – but also marketers, sociologists, governments and all those who need to reach out to the masses.


We asked Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength some very fundamental questions on this achievement including whether there is any reason to fear the platform being abused of destabilizing nations.


1 Would it be right to say that a good reason for the Facebook users reaching 1 billion would be thanks to the growth in recent years in India?

LOL… no. We cannot take too much credit considering the Indian userbase, at this time, being a nominal 50 mn in FB’s total of 1 bn. So while the Indian user base has contributed to the overall numbers, it has been a nominal percentage.


Would you say that Facebook is the single biggest marketing development of the 2000s?

Well, I would say Social Media is the single-biggest marketing development. And Facebook is a key player in that social media space. Also though, I would also not claim this to be the greatest development of 2000s. That is a long period, and we have had other key developments including search engine advertising, which have been impactful. But in the last 2-3 years, it has been a clear emergence of social media as a marketing platform, and Facebook is its most significant component!


With one billion users, Facebook users constitute the single largest community of individuals after China and India? Do you think it’s right for it to be seen like that?

Well, yes, sure. So let’s take that analogy ahead.  What does a single group – be it citizens or China or India, or registered users of Facebook – mean?  That they do share some characteristics (citizenship in case of countries, Facebook in the latter case), but there are enough differences amongst them too. All citizens are not the same kind of people, nor are all registered users of Facebook. Likewise, there is no easy way for a marketer to reach “all Indian citizens” (wouldn’t THAT be a dream?!), and so also, there is no easy way to reach the billion Facebook users.


Except perhaps, for the governments and for Facebook!! But the citizens and Facebook users do constitute a ‘group of sorts’ and there are opportunities built in there, for marketers.


2 Do you think marketing in the present day can be done without a Facebook strategy in the media plan?

All marketing plans may not need Facebook. So there IS a possibility for a few marketing campaigns to not include Facebook However, Facebook is making constant changes to become interesting for more and more brands and perhaps over time, most campaigns will have a Facebook extension! Or a Facebook core!


But is there a lot of abuse of Facebook – fake likes, fictitious users and various strategies adopted to alter perception by marketers. Is there reason for skepticism when people refer to success thanks to ‘Facebook marketing’?

The scepticism is with a few people only, and it is also misplaced. The number of fake accounts or fake likes is a small percentage again, and the matter has been exaggerated. There is also an extent of click fraud in Google ads. But due to good algorithms, this is controlled to a small level. Same is the case with fake profiles and fake likes. It is a small percentage. Facebook does not like these. Recently it identified about 80+ mn fake accounts and went about deleting those.


Can Twitter be put in the same basket as Facebook for marketers?

Well, it depends on what you’d call the basket. So yes, it is also part of the social media space, and in a sense, the marketer will reach the social media active user, via Facebook or Twitter. But within that framework, there is a difference between the two platforms. Not just that, within Facebook or Twitter usage also, there are different patterns of usage and user profiles. So marketers cannot just “go to Facebook or Twitter”. There is a further science in terms of what they want to achieve, whom they want to reach, etc., and based on which campaigns are planned and executed.


3 Just as Orkut was a rage once upon a time and faded out eventually, do you think Facebook could see the same eventuality soon? What do you think is the next big idea?

If I have learned something in the last 10-15 years observing the tech space, it is that, ‘nothing is permanent’ or ‘no platform / brand / service remains on the top for very long’. Facebook could be the exception to this rule, or it could also fall out of favor in sometime.


However, at the present moment, stock price apart, Facebook is extremely well-entrenched as a powerful leader in the space.


If something or someone can displace it from its position, I do not have the crystal ball to gaze into and tell you, what that may be! It could be a platform that is currently present and becomes larger, or it could be something that is being developed in some garage or lab in some part of Silicon Valley or Israel or even Mumbai or Bangalore!


Let’s keep watching the space and discover when it happens!!


4 Do you see social media like Facebook being used by politicians to influence public opinion?

Absolutely! Politicians are also brands that need to be sold, no disrespect meant here! So like any other brand that uses the medium to influence its target market, a politician also needs to do the same, for their communication messaging.


Whether social media will impact an election result or not, just yet, it hard to say. But it will definitely influence few votes!


5 Can there ever be a fear of Facebook being misused to destabilize countries… just as there is a fear of various media vehicles?

We live in interesting times. Many of us are logged into our Gmail accounts all day. There is a decent amount of our web behavior that Google knows about.


We use applications like Whatspp or Truecaller, and we share our contact lists with these applications. And a lot of us do so, and the applications then, know a lot of our cross connections and relationships.  Likewise we use Facebook, where we share our relationships, we talk about our vacations, put our photos and videos, and let people know our political preferences or movies that we like.


There is truly a lot of information about us, out there.  And this is with a variety of sources, whom we consciously trust, or sometimes do not realize, but end up giving our trust!  Just as data stored and flowing through electronic pipes is always susceptible to leaks like Wikileaks, so also our personal data is always susceptible to being abused.  Either by means of hackers exploiting some holes, or worse, if the sources that we trust, turn rogue!


We live in hope that these guys don’t turn rogue, and there is no major abuse of our privacy. Each morning, along with the prayers for your health, wealth and prosperity, you must also pray that Google, Facebook, Whatsapp and other such applications do not turn rogue ever!!


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