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India Inc wakes up to social media

From Facebook to LinkedIn, Twitter to Orkut, corporates are beginning to use various forms of social media to reach out to consumers, employees and partners, writes Kushan Mitra.

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: July 12, 2009

Cleartrip.com, an Internet travel agency, thought it had a sound online social media strategy. The company ran a blog authored by company Director Hrush Bhatt, had a Twitter account and also maintained forums where users could air their differences. However, on the evening of June 9, when Bhatt peeked in to see what users were talking about on Twitter, he found a link to an irate forum post by blogger Kiruba Shankar. Shankar felt that he had been given a raw deal by the company after using its services.

Hired over social media

Kaushik Ray, Senior Director, HRD, Dr Reddy’s Labs

Kaushik Ray, Senior Director, HRD, Dr Reddy’s Labs

Ray, an alumnus of Jamshedpur’s XLRI, got an invite to join the LinkedIn network of fellow XLRI alum Prabir Jha who happened to be the Senior VP and Global Chief of HR, Dr Reddy’s Labs. The two started exchanging messages over the site and five months after the two connected over LinkedIn, Ray found himself working with Jha. “My link with Dr Reddy’s started with LinkedIn,” says Ray. “On the verge of completing one year in the company, I look back at how it all happened, and all I can say is that it is pure serendipity.” Today, he spends at least an hour on the weekends on LinkedIn and is in the process of joining Facebook. He feels that apart from networking and building contacts, it is a good medium that allows professionals to share knowledge.

“We have got some profiles from LinkedIn and maybe we will formalise this as a channel (for hiring) now,” says Ray.

So Bhatt swung into action, anxious to douse the flames of a disgruntled blogger before it became a conflagration. On June 16, Bhatt posted the entire affair on Cleartrip’s blog in an effort to come clean on the entire issue. “There is no point claiming that you are customercentric, doing something about it but not letting the world know,” says Sandeep Murthy, Chairman, Cleartrip. “We live in a world where people have the ability to be heard instantly and brands can be built or destroyed very fast thanks to new media. Business has to learn to adapt.”

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical printing press and shook the foundations of the earth, as news and ideas—contained in books and papers—now began to fly around the world like never before. Gutenberg’s press led to the Renaissance, the scientific revolution and the Protestant Reformation amongst other things. The world was fundamentally and irrevocably changed. Today, a different—but ultimately similar—revolution in the form of the Internet has transformed the way you and I interact, through informal online networks of friends (Facebook, Orkut), artists (MySpace), visual junkies (YouTube) and professionals (LinkedIn).

However, the ultimate transformation that is taking place today is within the business landscape, worldwide—and increasingly so in India—where companies are beginning to leverage informal social networks to engage people, mollify customers, strengthen their brands and even hire people. For companies in India, the reasoning is simple: While Indian PC and Internet penetration rates are relatively lower than the West, India has one of the largest Internet population in the world—some 60 million regular users (not including mobile access).

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