That social media is central to modern India’s thinking and discussion is no longer debatable. But how effectively have we made it work for the larger citizenry? Are we connecting these social dots to empower ourselves for a more accountable exercise? As we celebrate Social Media Day, it’s worth looking at if we are indeed boosting the utility of this medium and making it solution-oriented. What will trigger the next round of action in this space?
This could be the next big frontier in a country where emergency services are invariably delayed by traffic, gaps in connecting the needy to the donor and the appalling speed of service. Just how can social media embed itself into a public service system that crowd sources the role of the health delivery systems? Blood donors, medical advice, international outreach, engagement around health knowledge are all very interesting spaces. I find it odd that most Indian hospitals are not yet using social media in a more result oriented way. Public services around health is a borderline opportunity and what lies ahead for governments is to encourage feedback, volunteering and citizen involvement through social media. Knowing our prime minister’s keen interest in social media could he make the government take the lead in greater citizen participation where the private sector has failed? Is India ready for a more involved citizen participatory model where the gap between those who need public service versus those who provide them can be bridged using social media? Today on Social Media day, can we hope and wish for improving government functioning and service delivery using the various tools available in the marketplace?
We still use social media as a mouthpiece, a megaphone to send out 140 letter press releases or PR campaigns. On Facebook, business houses line up pictures of their CEOs cutting ribbons. There is lack of understanding at many industry headquarters about what social media really is. How effectively can corporations engage on social media when they are under attack by organisations, activists, NGOs or even unhappy consumers? The Indian corporate remains shy and timid on social media without realising that a reputation risk can be significantly mitigated by just conversations and social engagement. And no, send a new ‘thought of the day’ every single day is not quite a strategy to add followers but a misguided attempt at just being on social media without knowing why your brand must be there. Companies need to tie their social media activities to their overall communications plan, they need to make it part of what they’re trying to do and not just what they are trying to say. Like the saying goes, you don’t ‘do’ social media, you just be social.
Narendra Modi’s entire campaign backbone was cast in social calcium. It used social platforms to mobilise, to showcase, to engage and to encourage participation by people to join his campaign momentum. Now this political messaging has changed to evolve into a communication platform which is updating Indians on the activities of the government on social media on a minute by minute basis. It is a huge change but not enough. What is more important is that many politicians who took to social media in order to reach out to voters in the run up to the elections have gone missing. This doesn’t augur well for those who think that social media can switch on and off based on how you view it. It is constant and continuous.
In conclusion, Social Media Day should also be a moment of introspection for those who participate only to check the pulse of what’s happening around them. They need to start using it to make it into a social marketplace where exchange of ideas moves to the next level. Social media based on the quality of participation by people can lead to significant value addition where transactions, knowledge sharing, innovations and most importantly life saving actions can play out. Social Media is about the shared economy, shared values and shared ideas.
Shaili Chopra is an award winning journalist and author of The Big Connect - Politics In The Age of Social Media