Social Media from Shakespeare to Gandhi

M_AntoniusIn Julius Caesar, Mark Antony said “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  Perhaps this is the reason that the leadership inside so many companies is reluctant to engage in social media.  Often no good deed goes unpunished.

The Kiruba Incident is a case in point.  This incident that played out on Twitter last month involved a customer of Cleartrip – an online travel service based in Mumbai and established in 2006.  Last month,  one of their customers named Kiruba tweeted about Cleartrip.com failing to book his ticket to Malaysia properly and accused them of taking his money.

Quickly, Kiruba’s post was retweeted and people began piling on. Cleartrip has a presence on Twitter and considers itself a “customer-centric company,” so they immediately responded to Kiruba’s post, took ownership, got to the bottom of the problem and corrected it. Ultimately there were 40 negative posts on Twitter and only 5 positive ones, prompting the company to ask: “Why is social media such a hotbed of negativity?”  These kinds of incidents embody the main reason companies are reticent to wade into the social networking pool – FEAR.

In March, 2009, an India Social Media Summit was held in Mumbai and its keynote speaker, Suhel Seth suhel01likened social networking sites to human tribes.  He said ” Social networking sites also preset a very rabid view of the society.  So, advertisers have to be careful about where they advertise. Brands should be partnering with a media that is controllable.”  

His quote surprisingly contradicts what most say about social networking sites – they cannot be controlled. Companies are often unable to contain negative fall out from consumers whether it is deserved or not and regardless if  – like Cleartrip – they immediately move to be as transparent and responsive as possible.

Now is GoneGeoff Livingston, author of now is gone, who also teaches Georgetown’s Social Media for Social Good class, has addressed this barrier to social media in his blog, the Buzz Bin.  He cites fear of losing controlnegative feedbacklegal repercussions and utimately fear of change that keeps communicators from championing and winning the battle for adoption of social media tools inside their companies.

Perhaps as we study India this week, we will learn a lesson from Mahatma Gandhi who, according to blogger Esha Madhavan, was “the first person in India who had taken up social networking heavily for a greater cause.” As it relates to social media, we would do well to follow Gandhi’s advice and  “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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4 Responses to Social Media from Shakespeare to Gandhi

  1. Starla Stiles says:

    Great post Julie!

  2. Nice job weaving together several disparate stories into a simple post that reminds us of the need to put aside the fear and open up in our use of social tools. The first example of the “Kiruba Incident” that you talk about does raise an interesting point though, because by most accounts Cleartrip had already demonstrated a willingness to use social media and did not appear to be afraid of engaging, and yet they still had this negative experience. You posed the question well, asking rhetorically what they asked … why is social media such a hotbed of negativity. What would make this post great is offering us your take on what the answer to that question might be. (3)

    PS – congrats on being first! (+1)

  3. Misha Hutchison says:

    I loved how you tied in Caesar, Cleartrip and Kiruba. It made me want to do additional research on my own to learn more about those incidents. Nice flow.

  4. Alex Greenbaum says:

    I completely agree with Livingston’s assertion that fear of losing control and fear of change are barriers to adoption of social media. This is particularly true of companies that categorize themselves as “B2C”.

    The best way to overcome our fears is often to jump right in; it sounds like that’s exactly what Cleartrip did in this case study.

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