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The rise and rise of social media

Suddenly it is all over. In newspapers and on television. In parliament and in courtrooms.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2012 21:32 IST
Vivek Sinha

Suddenly it is all over. In newspapers and on television. In parliament and in courtrooms.

Families share photos. Friends exchange thoughts. Satire happens by the tonne. Sports administrators argue. Fans and groupies cheer and jeer.

Social media — epitomised mainly by social network Facebook, microblogging site Twitter and online video site YouTube (owned by Google) — collectively act like a perpetually busy railway station.

“Social media is perhaps one of the single most powerful instruments for empowerment of the individual. It gives us the right to speech, the right to make friends with whomsoever and whenever we want, and the right to learn new things,” said movie producer Pritish Nandy, who is active on Twitter.

Social media played a key role in the rallying of youths in the Arab Spring that led to the fall of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. In India, the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare last year for a Lokpal was an example.

The Centre has tried to impose regulations on social media content, resulting in street protests and courtroom battles against curbs on freedom.

Numbers tell the story. Around 55 million Indians are part of some social network (see graphics).

Around 60% of those on social media are now connected by mobile devices. India has more than 900 million mobile phone subscribers, and cheaper handsets championed by Google and Facebook are lowering the entry barrier.

Here is what it means:
For politicians, a chance to debate in front of the public

For bureaucrats and activists, a chance to spread awareness

For companies, an avenue to build their brands and tackle rivals

For celebrities, an opportunity for low-cost self-promotion

For students, corporate workers and citizens, a chance to interact with influential people and turn influencers themselves.

Various estimates suggest Indians on an average spend around two hours every day on social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan broke the news about the birth of his granddaughter “Beti B” on Twitter.

Former Union minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor lost his job after a tweet triggered controversial protests.

Tharoor incidentally faced a Twitter attack from the now deposed cricket administrator Lalit Modi.

However, there are sceptics questioning social media’s potential, especially for advertisers.

Media analyst Vanita Kohli-Khandekar said television, radio and newspapers have been surging in India.

"This is not a medium for everybody in India," she said of social media.

But social media may not just be a matter of simple advertisements.

“There years down the line social media will no longer be about reactive management rather it will be about proactive engagement of people and positive communications,” said Rajesh Lalwani, founder of Blogworks, which helps companies harness social media.