Reaching India With Twitter and SMS
The big “revelation” of Twitter, which has been frequently discussed by those anti-tweeps among us, is that nobody cares what you had for breakfast this morning (yogurt, a nutrigrain bar and some oatmeal for me today, if you’re curious). This is undoubtedly true unless, of course, you are famous. The power of this double-standard for twitter content couldn’t be much more obvious, particularly recently as LeBron James (@KingJames) picked up more than 400,000 followers in his first week on Twitter with 11 tweets, including the compelling:
“Good Morning everyone! Just got up so I can get ready to head down to my B-ball Camp”
Not all celebrities pass up on their opportunity to captivate the masses, though, which does add some humor to the Twittersphere (I personally enjoy @rainnwilson and @OGOchocinco). Looking to India (with help from Guaravonomics), despite being on the otherside of the world, its interesting to see Indian celebrities beginning to take the same approach. Although India contributes less than 1% of the total tweets on Twitter, it is 4th in Asia behind Japan, Indonesia and South Korea, and Twitter saw Indian signups grow nearly 100% from January to April 2010.
Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt), an Indian cricketer, is embracing this growth with an audience roughly the same size as Lebron. For the most part, he tweets responses to his fans, but occasionally he points out something personal, such as the fact that his most prized possession is one of Bono’s guitars signed by each member of U2.
Other celebrities from India’s sports and entertainment industry have a similar impact on Twitter, and I think the reason for their popularity is obvious. By interacting with their fans, and letting their personality show through, they’re giving their audience the “t-shirt and jeans” view of their lives. The lesson here, which has been widely-shared since the Cluetrain Manifesto, is that your audience wants to hear your human voice, your personality, and if they don’t, they will move on. Which is why I would guess that ultimately LeBron will have trouble growing a Lady Gaga-esque following, and that Sachin will continue to keep his following happy.
Although these celebrities are able to reach a large number of followers in India, what about the rest of the population that’s “stuck in 2G”? According to Forbes, “globally there are 1.8 billion Web users and 4.6 billion mobile phone subscribers, double counting some multiple SIM cardholders.” This is just as true of India where 500 million people have cell phones and just 52 million have PC internet access. The response to this is SMS-based GupShup.
GupShup, which is Hindi for chitchat, essentially gives users the tools to build communities to send text messages to. My first reaction when I saw this, without doing much research, was it probably wouldn’t be that popular. Reading through Guaravonomics take, I saw the value with news updates of many kinds and how popular it has been in the early stages of its existence. Still, with my limited experience of trying to send group text messages, or signing up for sports score updates, I’m hesitant to feel great about using SMS to reach an audience.
Even though GupShup can reach out to these “tier 2 and tier 3” towns, intuitively there is something very impersonal about mass text messages, even compared to Twitter. Maybe it’s because each Twitter user gets an picture, includes a personal bio and can make their own profile background. Finding a personalization strategy with text messages is very difficult, and I feel like thats a major hurdle.
Which brings me to a troubling question. If social media is the key to connecting with an audience, one to many, in a meaningful way, is the opportunity to find that meaningful connection a luxury only afforded to those with access to these tools? Or, does GupShup give it’s audience a good alternative to more content-rich social media tools? Let me know what you think.