Twitter helps to break the breaking news mould

Recently, NASA used Twitter™ to break the news of the discovery of what appeared to be water ice on Mars by the Phoenix Mars Lander. Other NASA projects, such as Space Shuttle missions and the International Space Station are also known to provide regular updates via Twitter™. The portable platform in which NASA chose to “break” this news is slowly evolving to potentially assume giant proportions. The well worn term “social media” is now actively contributing to another conventional forum of “breaking news”.

“Breaking News” primarily has two connotations. The urgency and scale of impact being one and the exclusivity in releasing the information being another. The phenomenon started with CNN disrupting normally scheduled programming to convey issues of utmost importance; usually real-time. The recent dilution of this once-effective, eyeball grabbing tool however is not my present concern.

The points I want to talk about are:

1. Democratization of the concept.
2. Proliferation of Platform.
3. Portability of content.
4. Measurement of Merit.
5. An equivalent of Google proportions to opinion building?

CNN’s Tori Blasé is a regular “tweeter” and admits to receiving fresh news from her followers along with reviews and responses for her work. This gets translated into news but the source is no longer the “traditional” journalist. People are getting involved in the process of creating the content. Social Capital (a term associated with Twitter again) is slowly but surely gaining currency.

The platform of the Breaking News innovation was the TV. But now, along with provision of content expanding its sources; there is also a proliferation in platform. The Internet and the mobile phone are the most popular entrants. News at any time can be relayed to channels through SMS and updates can be posted for public viewing on websites like Twitter™, Jaiku™ and Yammer™.

The most important point I think is the portability of the content. The within 140 character posts on Twitter™ or short messages over the phone have more potential to maintain interest than long articulated discourses on blogs. Whenever, wherever you can post a short message on your account for your “followers” to mull over.

The biggest innovation in this respect and the reason why I became interested enough about this exciting prospect is the new tool on the API (Application Programming Interface) of Twitter™ – “twInfluence”. It gauges the reach of tweets and the people who read them. It analyzes velocity (how quickly you’ve gained quality followers) and social capital (how many high-influence people follow you) and a comprehensive listing is provided. It is sure to encourage creative competition and that augurs well.

Google is the messiah of our age. Delivering us from confusion in the rapidly expanding digitized information superhighways. But what sites like Twitter™ is doing is building opinion and packaging it in an effective way. Along with fresh content, it invites intelligent response and hyper-linking for substantiation of arguments made. Popular tweets recently have been “tweetsfromgaza”; a very opinionated forum about the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks tweet. No invasive red alerts of Breaking News when there is actually none.  But serious issues. Serious discussions. All with real-time updates. That’s the beauty of it.

Published on DNA Money, dated February 10, 2009 and

Social Media: A suitable supplement?

September 2003.Osaka, Japan.12 storeys above the ground, football is defying gravity. The highly creative campaign by Adidas was one of the first cases of viral recognition through the www. Social Media announced its presence as a new addition to the existing conventional field. India has recently warmed up to the brilliant possibilities of user generated content (UGC). Driven by enterprising efforts of insight-laden consumers, UGC showcases an emerging trend for the future. Social media encompasses several facets. From Social Networking sites to Wikis, Digging to Blogosphere, Marketing as we know is on the brink of undergoing a sea-change.

Let us look at what drives this exciting media. The single most differentiating factor is the neutrality of UGC. Unmindful of conventional media’s censorship UGC tells us what people really feel. Moreover as shown by media outfits recently, consumer participation thru blogging and SMS response can act as tools for opinion building. Take the Priyadarshini Mattoo or Jessica Lall case for example. The Singur controversy played in the public imagination thru ample media exposure as well as opinionated blogging. Social issues have received overwhelming response from the users and they have mostly yielded positive results. The neutrality factor is also very important from a marketing communication. Peer delivered content has immense ability to build opinion for branding solutions as well.

Surveys in Europe have shed light on growing distrust in advertisement. In contrast, people are much more willing to believe their friends. This phenomenon has been recognized and acknowledged by the giants of the industry. Chronic attention deficit has been attributed as the principle reason. Capturing a potential consumer has become increasingly difficult with the proliferation of media. UGC offers a solution. Blogging and relatively non-intrusive advertising on social networking websites is the future path to tread. On a flip side though, UGC can be deliberated through profit objectives by dummy bloggers. This is a fallout of the otherwise widely appreciated “no-control” policy.

But intelligent response and open debate also results in highly discerning consumer viewpoints to which the marketers should give credit. An unbiased understanding of the consumer is an essential feature, earlier not credibly captured. “CrowdSourcing” is fast emerging as a reliable metric. The Aegon-Religare KILB campaign featuring Irrfan Khan was according to Google one of the hottest debated topics at the time of launch. This PR angle is nascent and begs to be exploited. Awesome publicity can be achieved by the power of net conversation. Another recent example is the Idea Mumbai launch campaign.

Google Trends Chart showing the success of the Aegon-Religare KILB campaign
Google Trends Chart showing the success of the Aegon-Religare KILB campaign



The concept of mystery shrouded advertising is by no means an alien one. However what was lacking then was the consumer insight platform and hence suitable response from the Media. Lack of attention span meant attrition from memory. The emergence of Social Media and UGC in the spectrum, with its capacity for dialogue, is a potential alleviator. This vibrant, compelling and insightful platform is important for another reason. It targets consumers as individuals and not as demographic sectors.  In fact UGC or the loosely termed Social media is on its way to supplementing the myriad holes in the existing media fabric.

Published on October 2008