Mumbai goes Social – Day 1

24 Sep,2013


By Fatema Rajkotwala


Does social media contribute to socio-economic growth of the economy? Of course, it does, or so it emerged from the audience’s response to a debate held on Day 1 of the inaugural Social Media Week currently on in Mumbai.


The week-long Social Media Week took off in Lower Parel’s tony gigspot Blue Frog.  Brought to India by New York-based strategy firm, Crowdcentric, Social Media Week is organized by Bengaluru-based marketing services firm R Square Consulting. Co-founders Rohit Varma and Hemant Soreng kicked off proceedings with a keynote =that highlighted the day’s agenda, the process of putting together the event, the speakers and partnerships fostered and the key takeaways for the public.


Ben Shiem, Director – Social Media Week, Crowdcentric spoke about the global theme of SMW 2013, Open and Connected and how India and specifically, Mumbai was chosen as the logical destination to host the event, he said. Crowdcentric believes that India, with its strength in terms of democracy, population and increasingly mobile market, is an exciting place to be for social media. Talking about the company’s approach to expanding SMW worldwide, “We allow the local organizers to collaborate, for people to connect and build community. Our goal is to find teams world over to bring SMW to different countries and markets.”


Verdict: Social Media does help socio-economic growth

In the debate organized by the India Chapter of the International Association of Advertisers hosted by Gul Panag, the panel comprised Jawhar Sircar, Chief Executive Officer, Prasar Bharti, Suhel Seth, Managing Partner, Counselage India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, MP and senior BJP leader and Kiruba Shankar, digital entrepreneur and author. The topic was Social media does not contribute to the socio-economic growth of the economy’ and Messrs Sircar and Seth were for the motion and Dr Swamy and Mr Shankar against.


Mr Sircar opened the argument with facts about India’s current economic change in terms of the fall in GDP rate and the devaluation of the rupee. He argued whether even though the number of broadband penetration and smartphone users has risen to about 50 million, in a population of 1,300 million people, is social media proving to be effective. “As a postal service of a very high order that helps connect us to our friends, social media helps as a medium. But to assume that social media has picked up from 2003-4, given the fraction of people availing it, where has this contributed to socio-economic growth? 22 per cent of our population in 1981 was below the poverty line. While China has changed the number for itself, at 2011 we are now at 33 per cent. There is no empirical proof that tweeting or posting on Facebook is going to change the world. It may connect businesses but the disparity of wealth continues. To the exception of certain bright examples of socio-economic change with a political flavor such as in Egypt or during the Delhi rape case, where is the change? ”


On his part, Mr Shankar also quoted some hard facts and statistics with real examples such as Kalyan Varma (who spoke earlier in the day), NGOs and more stories of people that have reached out and received help and success via social media. As a teacher, he said, “If every student or entrepreneur can become a better learner and be more successful, it would lead to contributing to the economy as a whole.”


Mr Seth took stage next and put forth an explosive argument on why social media, though beneficial in many ways does not contribute to the socio-economic growth of India today. Citing examples of citizens being arrested for posting a message on Facebook , he argued that this shows us out to be a more regressive race than we already are. “In today’s India, given the limited penetration, usage and familiarity with the tools of social media, social media is great for awareness, for reading about blogging expertise or professing one’s undying love to an actor – but it doesn’t allow people to make people accountable beyond that. We are in the throes of a social media evolution like many other economies. To say that we have arrived at a stage where Twitter or Facebook power the engines of growth, keeping in mind economic parameters of growth, is incorrect.” He went on say that as far as penetration of social media is concerned; we are talking of an India that does not have access of drinking water, leave alone mobile handsets. Apart from an erudite set of the population and the country’s journalist intelligentsia, the political bosses remain undisturbed despite of repeatedly bringing issues to the forefront. “Social media, in fact mocks the socio-economic growth of the country. It shows us that India runs by numbers; it does not necessarily run by intelligence. We don’t deny that the role of social media is important but by saying that today it has contributed to the socio-economic growth of today’s India, we are doing two things – minimizing the real impact, of real people of a real country and over emphasizing the limited impact that limited usage has on a country of our size and diversity.”


In his closing argument, Dr Swamy argued that more than once has social media been instrumental in bringing about social and political change on many occasions. He pointed out that social media helps brings about awareness, helps educate, promote political thought, transparency and more and if there is no concrete evidence to substantiate that yet, the media should make it our business to find evidence to support these facts. “If we agree that theoretically social media does contribute to India’s growth, then it is all the more reason to encourage and develop it in our country.”


With sharp rebuttals and counter arguments, the audience did shift its loyalties to small extent but the verdict fell in favour of a majority that believe that social media definitely does contribute to the growth of the economy.


Sharing his views on social media today, Alex Oberberg, Global Head of Markets Engagement, Social Media and Digital, at Nokia said: “It is no longer the rebellious teenager and is not just restricted to the ‘cool kids’ or marketers anymore. At Nokia, we are a social business and social is a focal point of our business.” Deepak Taneja voiced Nokia India’s angle by elaborating on how brands are embracing the social medium now, “Over 60 per cent of most brand’s total traffic comes from India, not just for Nokia. That’s why social is the future.”


To bring in an artist’s perspective on how social media helps build a personal as well as professional brand, successful wildlife photographer and filmmaker, Kalyan Varma shared his story and experience with social media. Varma left the corporate IT world at Yahoo! to pursue his passion. Through his personal experience, he urged the audience and Indian artists to be unafraid to share their work online and use it as a platform to brand and distribute their work.


Next followed a panel discussion on “Social Media: Global platforms and local cultures? Perspectives from different regions” moderated by Madan Sanglikar, digital media specialist and founder, AD2C. Along with Ben Shiem and Alex Oberberg, the panel also saw Unni Radhakrishnan, Head of Digital, South Asia Maxus Global, and Max Hegerman – Managing Director, Edelman Digital India. The panel shared some interesting anecdotes on various countries connecting via different platforms, how marketers and sales people can look at social media from a new light, keep their target audience in mind while choosing a social media platform, concentrate on community building and social influencing and insights gathered. From an Indian standpoint, the panel agreed that the future of social media for India is mobile, which presents many challenges and opportunities for marketers and advertisers who can keep their eyes and ears open and create content in the cultural context.


As a mobile data and services platform company, IMI Mobile’s Alex Campbell presented on the company’s product and offering, the DaVinci Platform, a multi-channel customer management platform. He took the audience through a power packed slideshow on “How the world’s most social event in 2012 became a little more social” where he highlighted “being inclusive, knowing your audience, staying relevant and planning” as some of the main takeaways for SMW.


The highlight of Day 1 of the Social Media Week Mumbai was the debate conducted by the India Chapter of the International Association of Advertisers.  The topic was social media does not contribute to the socio-economic growth of the economy. Hosted by Gul Panag, the panel comprised Jawhar Sircar, Chief Executive Officer, Prasar Bharti and Suhel Seth, Managing Partner, Counselage India,  in favour of the motion and Dr. Subramanian Swamy, MP and senior BJP leader and Kiruba Shankar, digital entrepreneur and author arguing that social media, in fact, does help enhance socio-economic growth.  At the end of the discussion, on the basis of a show of hands in the audience, the team of Dr Swamy and Shankar won the debate.


Examining social media from a purely woman-centric perspective, the next session broached the topic, “Women’s health and fitness: Is social media helping the cause?” Part of the discussion were Milind Soman, model, actor, film producer; Gul Panag, model, actress, fitness enthusiast; Devika Bhojwani, social activist and cancer survivor and Dr Sudeep Gupta, professor of Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital. Moderated by author and journalist Geetika Anand, the panel discussed how the Anna Hazare protests and the gangrape in Delhi are examples of how social media brought people together for a common cause and what are the challenges and possible solutions to addressing the issue of women’s health in India today.


Soman spoke of why he decided to be a part of Pinkathon, which was started last year to involve women to take time for their health and fitness and to spread the message on breast cancer awareness. “The overwhelming response from Pinkathon has inspired me to be a part of Mega Pink, which is a social media experiment for me, to encourage runners across the country to come together, form their own groups and we can then, facilitate and support them,” he said.


Gul Panag added by saying that there is an increased conversation on wellness today, and pointed out that there is a perceptible trend in social media of being topical but when it is the topic of health, all conversations contribute in spreading the word.


Bhojwani spoke of her challenges and triumphs in putting together the ‘Women’s Cancer Initiative’, where a traditional outdoor campaign by creative agency Lowe Lintas, amplified in impact when it hit social media by causing a controversy. The panel discussed ideas and agreed that to amplify the effect of social media campaigns and sustain them, one has to add catalysts, add conversation starters, instead of bursts of activity, so that the message keeps getting underlined and repeated.


The evening concluded with an interesting discussion on music and the social media as well as performances by Ayush Shrestha and the band Coshish.


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