Thursday, July 24, 2014

Match Makers go Social by Breaking Stereotypes

[Ed: The tradition of arranged - as opposed to "love" - marriages has been practiced in India for
centuries, and is still a thriving and commonly accepted practice on the sub-continent. A relatively recent proliferation of matchmaking sites is bringing the tradition in step with the tech age.]

Most of you reading this post have, or will go through, a phase in life where it seems the only goal of your friends, family and strangers is to get you married!

Image: Weddingsforaliving.com via Google, CC 4.0

That’s when you get anti-social, run away or hide from family get-togethers, parties and weddings. People around you suggest uploading your profile to matchmaking sites, so as to find the best fit in a potential life partner. But little do they realize or understand that it’s not just about finding “a suitable boy” (or girl).

It’s about finding someone with whom you’re so compatible, you can imagine spending the rest of your life with them.

Recently I came across TrulyMadly.com, a modern day matchmaking service that claims to effectively use science and psychology to find suitable matches. The website offers a new way to connect with like-minded individuals who are looking for serious relationships.

At first, I wondered how different it was from other matchmaking sites like Shaadi.comMatrimonialsindia.com or Jeevansathi.com (which I personally have very little experience of). But my perception about such sites in general changed when I came across a unique and very promising campaign by TrulyMadly called #BreakingStereotypes.

It made me think that, perhaps, matchmaking sites aren’t such a bad way to meet your dream boy/girl after all.

What makes TrulyMadly stand out from the rest of these sites, is that it matches people’s profiles based on who they are and what they are looking for, instead of the traditional matches based on caste or location. The campaign was aimed at disproving stereotypes, thereby supporting compatibility and personal interactions among individuals.

#BreakingStereotypes
The campaign introduced 10 fresh stereotypes a week. Each stereotype was illustrated using photographs, articles and tweets, which also frequently used humor. And what they did was to refute the cliched opinions we form of people, based on superficial elements such as the colors they wear, and the work that they do.
Check out a few #BreakingStereotypes which created quite the buzz:

 

  



#BreakingStereotypes ran for five weeks. Over this time, 53 different stereotypes were posted about, which reached over 1.1 million people through social media. According to reliable sources, 90,000 people engaged with the brand on Facebook and over 9,000 interactions were recorded on Twitter by 375+ participants. And, most interestingly, a 330% jump in unique users on TrulyMadly was observed over a span of a month.

It’s fascinating to see how social media is taking over every aspect of our lives.

There was a time in India when people didn’t believe in such sites, and the only way to find the right fit in a bride or groom was through suggestions from extended families and friends. And what TrulyMadly has done is to get a step ahead of the competition, as people have become more tech-savvy and started using matchmaking sites, taking advantage of the way we live our lives in and through social media.

The #BreakingStereotypes campaign gained a lot of attention in the virtual world. What do you think it will take for it to gain traction offline in what is still a fairly traditional society? 

Images: Breaking Stereotypes via TrulyMadly, CC 4.0

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Have You Heard of the #CoolestInterviewEver?

#CoolestInterviewEver
Disclosure: HCL is a client of my agency, Six Degrees PR. However, the campaign partners are ITSA Brand Solutions and FrogIdeas. I thought this was an interesting campaign, and wanted to share my thoughts with my readers.
Have you ever been to an interview where you don’t have to speak at all, yet are expected to answer whatever the interviewer asks?
Image: HCL via Google, CC 4.0
Sounds weird? Think again. Because India has been buzzing over the #CoolestInterviewEver, where one of the country's largest companies wanted you to be "cool" enough to work for them.
Recently HCL Technologies (NSE: HCLTECH), India’s fourth largest software services firm, started a global recruitment campaign on Twitter. Here's how they said it would work:
  • Respond to questions on Twitter: Over a two-week period, participants were to respond to various questions posted on Twitter (this round closed on Feb. 21, btw). One hundred would be selected to participate in the next round, which was ...
  • A two-day TweetChat: this would be held with with HCL Technologies' HR and Recruitment Office, where participants would be asked (and could also ask) further questions related to their areas of interest.
  • For the final round, five candidates from the semifinal round were to be selected to visit their nearest HCL office, and answer the final round of questions on Twitter.
In the third and final week (that's this week), the company will select a winning candidate for one of the “cool” job profiles featured on the site. The winner will also receive a US $75,000 prize and have access to an HCL leadership mentor in his or her particular field.
The buzz that shook the IT industry
  • The initial buzz started through videos and banners. As of this writing, the promo video has more than 74,000 views.
  • According to Campaign India, as of Feb. 17 the campaign had received more than 110,000 replies, tweets, re-tweets and favorites.
  • #CoolestInterviewEver trended in India on February 18th (Tuesday), 21st February (Friday) and 24th February (Monday) for more than 12 hours.  
It has been interesting to observe a big brand experimenting with a different recruitment strategy altogether. HCL and its agencies have gained a lot of attention for this campaign, and many Indian online influencers have been talking about it. As a Millennial in the workforce, I’m probably not alone in hoping that many other IT/Non-IT companies will soon follow suit, and start to look for - and hopefully, find - new talent through social media platforms.
But... how authentic is social media recruitment?
When I first heard about this campaign, I felt it was the most innovative recruitment campaign ever. After all, it takes a lot for a big company to invest in a campaign like this. However, I had a few questions about the authenticity of getting to the final round.
If all the preliminary - and even second-round - interviewing was on Twitter, I could get someone to help me with the answers, couldn't I? After all... who would know? So technically at least, I'd be able to make it through at least the first two rounds, right?
I remember the days my parents would tell me how important it was to look smart and confident at a job interview, how important that “first impression” was on the interviewer. But in this situation, it really wouldn't have mattered whether I'd showered or not, or had messy hair, or food stuck in between my teeth. In this instance, if I were "cool" enough, then I'd be able to crack the interview from the pool, or from bed, or the couch... right?
While there's been a lot of buzz around the campaign, it's also been noted that:
  • A reliable source mentioned that "more than 80% of the participants for #CoolestInterviewEver were either very irregular Twitter users, or created accounts simply to participate in the campaign" 
  • The requisite spoof page goes by "Coolestintervieweeever" (it's funny, but not that funny)
Online meeting offline
Perhaps crisp, to the point, and quick communications are now the "first impressions" we should be concerned about. And while it remains to be seen if/how the winner (and even the finalists) lived up to their online "conversation," kudos to HCL for an initiative that will hopefully help job seekers  understand how to communicate well via today's social platforms and stay ahead in the competitive landscape.
Do you think that a 140-character tweet can land you your dream job in the near future? Will digital interviews replace the traditional method of one-on-one interviews? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment below.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

How Social Media Impacted the 2014 Indian Elections

This year, Election Day in India (for the legislative assembly elections in which the Indian electorate choose Vidhan Sabha (or Legislative/State Assembly) fell on a weekday (December 4th). The first thought I had – and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone – was, ”Thank goodness, we get a day off from work!” Isn’t it? After all, what’s better than a mid-week day off?!

But a day off work – even if it’s for something as important as exercising our franchise – can tend to blur our focus. Our priority becomes how we’ll spend that day off with family and friends, rather than the importance of the elections and choosing the right candidate and the right party to govern our country.

Image: aamaadmiparty.org  via Google, CC 4.0

Most of us get laid back rather than step out of our homes to vote.
This year, social media played a very important role in encouraging the citizens of India to vote. A few months ago, I wrote about how Indian Politicians were using Google+ Hangouts to reach out to Indian youth and a wider audience to connect with them.

The efforts Indian politicians have been making to reach their audience through social media was clearly reflected in this season’s election results. For years, India has seen only two parties realistically compete: the BJP and the Congress Party. This time around, a third party was formed and became a viable competitor: the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). [Ed: "aam aadmi" translates to "common man."]

While the BJP and Congress have been in the political system for an eternity (at least, it feels like it!), the new party, AAP, and its founder Arvind Kejriwal brought a breath of fresh air to the whole political scene in the country. Not unlike President Obama in the U.S., Kejriwal did what so many politicians dream of doing: he enthused the youth of the country to vote.

I have never before felt so strongly about the elections and my personal ability to effect change in our country.

And while social media has certainly changed the face of political campaigns, it has not replaced other traditional forms of communication. That said, the issue of funding often poses problems for smaller campaigns or new candidates. After all, it takes money – a significant amount – to produce and run expensive television or radio ads, which are still key in reaching audiences.

But that’s when a smart social media campaign comes into play.

AAP did not restrict itself to Facebook and Twitter, but used Google+ and Linkedln in a big way; in fact,  the latter proved to be a major source of donations. Mr. Kejriwal didn’t just use Google+ Hangouts to expound his philosophy; he actually used them to raise funds. Using G+, AAP reached people not only here in India, but the Indian diaspora in the U.S., Canada, and Hong Kong, answering their questions, gaining their support, and raising clean (i.e. not illicit) funds.

AAP’s use of social media was not just integrated, it was fascinating. It urged NRIs (Non-Resident Indians, a critical audience and source of investments in India) to leave video messages of support for the party on YouTubeQuora too had a lot of threads where people spoke about AAP, and the party ensured that these threads were kept updated. The supporters of the party were very active on Twitter, making sure to provide answers if anyone had any questions or needed clarification.

Interestingly, when the party wanted people to stop donating money for the elections, they announced it on Twitter.

According to an article in Business Standard, “… the campaign raised approximately Rs. 20 crore [Ed: ~$4.6M] through marketing, and most of that money was raised through online marketing. Mind you, it wasn’t email marketing in the form of a daily blast to millions of faceless Indians, it was digital marketing, tested and clearly targeted.”
That’s a lot of money!

Engagement and amplification

While politicians believe that in-person support lends credibility to their campaigns, the same holds true for social media campaigns. It’s about more than having a lot of followers. It’s about getting them to amplify the campaign’s message as well.

On Election Day, I saw my Facebook timeline swell with pictures of people in my network with ink on their finger (the sign of participating in the elections). A few of them updated their status to inspire people to go out and vote. This surely showed the sense of pride that each felt after voting. 

The AAP is clearly the first political beneficiary of the social media revolution in India. Today (as of December 10thwe have a hung assembly (in a two-party parliamentary system of government, a hung parliament occurs when neither major political party – or bloc of allied parties – has an absolute majority of seats in the parliament, i.e. legislature).

There is no clear winner, but AAP has managed to emerge as a strong and respected opposition party to the BJP.

Building such credibility among Indians in such a short span of time and beating Congress is praise worthy.

Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi (VP of the Congress party) has zero social media presence. He is neither on Twitter nor Facebook. In this plugged-in era of engaging in social conversations, sharing opinions and stories online, and building connections virtually, a politician’s strong showing in social media does tend to have a positive impact on votes. This is exactly what the election results showed, with the AAP blowing the Congress party out of the political race!

More and more young Indians are getting on the social media bandwagon, and this will increase with time. According to a recent report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International, the number of Internet users in India has reached 205 million in October this year. And by June 2014, India will have 243 million internet users, at which point of time, it is expected to overtake the U.S. as the second-largest Internet base in the world.

These data indicate that even for “the rest of us,” social media, online sites, and live streaming are now a new way of life. While it may have a long way to go, Indian politics has come a long way, and social media is a large part of that. I can’t wait to see what happens next.


What do you think? Have you seen social media impact government and politics where you live? If you voted in the Indian election, did social media play a part in getting your vote out? Do share, I’d love to know!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

With fall of Media and Advertising, will India see a rise in Digital PR?

61! Yes, the rupee is 61 against the dollar (as of September 20, 2013). It looks like the dollar is
on an escalator and the rupee is on a ventilator!

The falling rupee has indeed hit the citizens of the country professionally and it seems to have caught up with the Indian media in the past few months. Apart from the usual layoffs, cost reduction and restructuring, we have observed newspapers and magazines getting thinner, TV channels cutting back on programming and several publications and channels are on the block. Due to tight marketing spend, even advertisers are shortening their commercials while maintaining or increasing the number of times they are aired to ensure maximum spread for their ad spends.

That said, few examples below will help understand the changes that the Indian media industry has been going through in the past few months:
  • In May, NDTV Profit cut back on all non-market-hour programming which meant the channel only needed a handful of anchors and reporters.
  • In August, the TV 18 group laid off around 500 employees including many people responsible for its features programming.
  • In July, Outlook Publishing (India) Pvt. Ltd discontinued the publication of three foreign titles, Marie Claire, Geo, and People—around 130 people were laid off—and also converted its personal finance magazine from a fortnightly into a monthly.
  • Business Standard sold its motoring magazine to Delhi Press.
  • Bloomberg India TV laid off 30-40 people.
  • HT Business  and HT Shine (Supplements of The Hindustan Times) discontinued and became a part of the main paper – The Hindustan Times
  • Bengal Post paper in Kolkata discontinued and all employees were laid off
  • Business World was sold to exchange4media
  • CRN, UBM Channel Unit was sold to Management
  • In September, Mint announced that they will be reducing the number of pages, from 28 to 24, four days a week, Tuesdays through Fridays. The Monday and Saturday papers will remain unaffected.

It is rightly said that PR and journalism are interdependent. With the economic slowdown, we are observing slight difficulty in traditional PR activities along with the rate at which newspapers/magazines are shutting down, number of pages getting reduced and broadcast channels cutting back on the hours of programs/news.

With the ever increasing competitive eco-system and never ending client demands, traditional PR is surely set to face challenge in India.

However, I believe that the PR agencies should take this as an opportunity than a challenge. With such alterations in the media industry, the PR agencies get a window to get more creative and embrace newer avenues. It gives an opportunity for both the clients and traditional PR agencies to explore social media platforms more aggressively than before. India now has nearly 74 million Internet users, according to ComScore report and it’s time for the next big leap in the way PR agencies work in India.

Getting Digitally Evolved

The current alterations in the media industry can surely mean a faster move into the digital domain in the Indian marketplace. Sooner than expected, many media houses have started looking at digital as their next step. Kasturi and Sons Ltd, publisher of The Hindu, has, in the last six months, launched iPad and mobile apps for its general and financial newspapers.

In the past one decade, there has been a steep fall in the number of those who prefer thumbing through the newspaper with the sip of morning tea. Now, checking news feeds on smart phones, scrolling through one’s tweeter handle, checking updates on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other online networks have become part of the urban lifestyle.

Interesting statistics from Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) states that:
  • The size of the digital advertising market in the current fiscal year is estimated at Rs.2,260 crore and is expected to touch Rs.2,938 crore by the end of the next year
  • Ad spending on social media has shot up from Rs.94 crore in FY2012 to Rs.300 crore in FY2013
Also, estimates by media buyers states that video advertising on the Internet has been growing at a rapid 40% over the past one year and is expected to speed up further to 60% in the next few months.
Considering all these statistics, we surely are seeing a faster shift to the digital platforms and are expecting digital PR to catch up the trend sooner than expected.

PR evolution in India

Persuading and pitching to journalists via phone calls, e-mails, and SMSes for publishing stories in newspapers are not the only way of building brands anymore. Holding events both online and offline is now part of media management. Debate/Discussions on Hangouts and live chat on Facebook or Twitter have become a new promotional trend.
But what will be interesting to see in the coming months is how many brands are really willing to jump on the digital bandwagon and dedicate proper marketing budgets to it. Today, getting the news release online is of not much value to the clients compared to a good spread of print coverage. However, with the changing media landscape, it will be fascinating to see if the clients start to value the online promotional mediums as much as they value the print medium. What are your thoughts on it?

This post was first published at Vikypedia.in

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Elevator Pitch or Twitter Pitch?

PR professionals are usually seen as the facilitators of news and stories. With changing technology and the
advent of social media, the way we  communicate with the media has also changed to some extent.

Image: Rhinowrites via Google, CC 3.0

While I believe most journalists these days are using Twitter, the PR industry, at least in India, is still catching up to that platform. From what I have observed since I started working in this industry, practitioners and agency heads still place more emphasis on traditional methods of communicating and facilitating news and story ideas to the media.

There are some common myths about PR professionals, regardless of where they’re based, that include:
  • We love calling journalists after disseminating a press release.
  • We love following up with them after pitching an interview/story idea.
  • We love doing things the journalist may hate us for, such as call, text, follow-up, and chase them constantly.
How about we stop doing all this, and maybe engage with them differently, keeping both the media and PR professionals happy?

An intense debate

Recently at my workplace (I work at a PR agency in India), I gave a presentation on the importance of social media for our work. This statement led to an intense debate.

I said, “Often PR professionals are heard talking about the ‘elevator pitch’ – a short summary of the story we are trying to sell the media that we can describe in a span of a few seconds.

“Now that we have social media, how about replacing that with a Twitter pitch?”

With the increasing use of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, communications professionals like us can also explore pitching stories to the media on Twitter in 140 characters, right?

No longer a matter of choice

However, PR agencies in India are still not ready to manage an increasing shift towards online influencers aka digital journalists. Most agencies in the country tend to focus heavily on media relations and do not understand how to engage with an online community. And while sharing offline pitches/briefs with the media has been the approach by the PR agencies in India, I believe hybrid briefs will soon start making their way in.

During the presentation, my co-workers pointed out that most of them are still not comfortable with the idea of pitching media on social networks. They are afraid of being exposed online, much more so than offline.

One of said, “A bad pitch can make the journalist slam the phone down on us! However, the equivalent of the same on a social media platform can be much more embarrassing for a PR practitioner.”
We all have seen the good, bad, and the ugly sides of social media. Some of us have seen journalists exposing PR agencies and professionals who have not dealt with them well or have irritated them so much that, ultimately, they have badmouthed them on Twitter, Facebook or other such social platforms.

Therefore, what we say and how we communicate a message to the media is very important – be it online or offline.

Going digital is no longer a matter of choice for PR professionals. Just a few years ago, we did not have all these platforms to communicate on; the only way we could keep in touch was through telephones or personal meetings. However, now that we have various platforms to communicate online, why shouldn’t we capitalize on them?

On the media side of things

A while back, I was scanning a few newspapers at work, and saw that in one such outlet, the journalist’s byline was followed by his/her Twitter handle. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume that for the employees/journalists working at that publication, being active on Twitter might be compulsory.

In my opinion, journalists in India are open to a change in way the PR community reaches out to them. However, the PR industry in India is still undergoing its own digital shift, and will take its own sweet time to accept this change completely.

In my opinion, forward-thinking Indian PR leaders will encourage their peers and protégés to engage with the media as much online as offline. And who knows, after laying the foundation for a firm relationship, we might be able to make those Twitter pitches to them more easily.

What do you think about pitching to journalists via social media? Yay or nay… and why? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Monday, May 6, 2013

How social media is aiding mobility and not the other way around

A lot has been written about social media, mobility and their relationship to one another. In this piece I want to make the argument that social media's power is that it enables mobilization.

In his famous paper, "The Strength of Weak Ties," Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter discusses how weak ties (contacts of your closer friends) may be more useful to a job search than your closer circle of friends. This paper is commonly cited in articles about social media, and is often referred to as "weak tie theory." Another famous researcher, Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, proposed that 150 social connections is the maximum number of people that we can maintain stable relationships with. This is often referred to as "Dunbar's Number," (and is the premise of upstart social network Path).

The reason I mention Granovetter and Dunbar is that their combined work gives a glimpse into the increased mobility and reach that social media provides its users. Consider that the average number of friends on Facebook is about 245. If we use Dunbar's number and say that 150 of those people are "close ties," and each of those people  have 150 Friends who are now "weak ties" to you - your extended network would be greater than 20,000 people (although with duplication it's probably more in the range of 10,000) plus another 100 weak tie connections that you personally maintain.  If you are active on Google Plus or LinkedIn, the extent of your effective network increases further. This network of people may have theoretically been in place before, but it was effectively unreachable. Social media has enabled our "weak tie" networks on a historically unprecedented scale.

But that's not all. For each of us (at least so far as Facebook goes), our network is typically divided into four clusters of no more than 100 people each. So, our weak tie networks could easily extend our effective reach into two or three social communities that we're not acquainted with. And up until about age fifty, our Facebook networks consist primarily of people of similar age.

For a typical user, social media has enabled a "weak-tie" network of at least 10,000 people of similar age but varying social circles. But how many connections would we otherwise have? The New York Times just wrote a piece estimating that each person knows about 600 people. Assuming that number is correct for pre-social media times (it probably isn't), that means that social media has given us access to thousands more people than we would have had before.

Consider Granovetter's example of a job search. When he wrote his "weak-tie" paper, each person may have known 600 people. But if I was looking for a job, I probably couldn't mobilize all 600 people that I knew and rely on them to mobilize another 600. Now, I can go into LinkedIn, find a job that I want and see exactly who I know that can introduce me to the hiring manager. Or I can search for a hiring manager using Facebook's Graph Search and see who in my network may know them. Thanks to social media, I can effectively utilize a network of ten-thousand with a few clicks.

The benefit of social media isn't realized by an increase in mobility. The benefit of social media is the accessibility to that pre-existing network of weak-tie connections.

What do you think? Am I understating the power of personal networks prior to social media? Overstating them now? Does mobility enable social media, or do you agree with me that social media perpetuates mobility?

About the author: 
Jim Dougherty is a writer at leaderswest.com 


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Post Publish Optimization SEO Case Study - Tweet After Death


Blog posts are tricky. Sometimes, writing a well-optimized post will land you views for many years down the
road. But occasionally, even a very well thought out blog post can be knocked down the rankings long term.

In June of last year, I wrote a post on how to schedule tweets after death. I was really happy with it. The picture was custom-designed by the honorable Steven Rosenbaum of SR-Graphics. The topic was fresh. 

The post was well-written. Livefyre’s interns shared it in their own feed. Death with Dignity had me as a guest for their live Twitter chat. And best of all, I got to share thoughts with interesting people about an interesting topic: what social media can do to help us communicate and what that means for our mortality and experience.

Out of curiosity, I Googled “tweet after death” last week to see where it came up. Articles from CBC, CNN, ANC, CBS, RT and a wealth of other media with strong sites essentially wrote the same story and knocked my article to page 2. (To be fair, one of them had quoted me).

I was grumpy about it. Here I had this innovative idea months before any major media and I was getting shoved to page two. I wanted to climb back onto the first page and stay there.

So I started sending out tweets with the post. I circulated it again in Google+, Facebook and chat boxes. I sent it on to colleagues, hoping that a little traffic would help push the thing up. And it did.

Exactly two ranks. Yay!

I realized that what I was doing was the last element of SEO for blog posts. While most people optimize their post before publishing, very few people optimize down the road and see if they still have their spot in the search rankings. Everyone PRE Publish Optimizes, but nobody POST Publish Optimizes (PoPO).

Here was an opportunity, and not just for regular monthly SEO campaigns, but for true strong outreach for a new concept. PoPO is a chance for SEO firms to rerun old blog posts in a chance to boost them in the rankings and retake ground in strategic fashion so as to own concepts in the mind of the blogosphere.

And when a post becomes too old to be relevant, the internet will have seen an era when old posts become less relevant and algorithms knock them down a peg or two. Then, PoPO will become even more essential, as the only way to control key SEO ground will be to swim through a sea of content and prove the relevance of your own over others.

From here, the water remains murky. How do traffic bumps and links to previous posts affect the long-term search rankings? This is the first mystery of PoPO. Without any data, it’s hard to know how you can help or hurt your blog and by how much with each action.

And, even more importantly, the Google algorithm is subject to updates that rearrange search rankings. To that end, PoPO’s future is uncertain. On the other hand, what is fairly certain is that reminding people of past posts as a way to keep traffic stored up may be an effective way to boost visibility.

What I like best about the concept is what I like best about most effective, worthwhile business tactics: finding resources others aren't using and capitalizing on them. PoPO is a chance for you to get amazing results while leaving your competitors in the dust. 

About the author: 
Daniel J. Cohen is the Founder and Lead Writer at RedShift Writers, a Houston-based content writing firm. RedShift Writers prides itself on creating content that is friendly for both search engines and customers. They offer a wide variety of message strategies and content writing services and specialize in web writing for product launches and energy companies.

To find out more about PoPO and how you can get the sharpest PoPO tacticians working on your SEO strategy, email RedShift Writers today.