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The Telegraph
| Sunday, August 3, 2014 |
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Money talks — in 140 characters

Industrialist Harsh Goenka's announcement on Twitter last week of a multinational telecom deal cast the spotlight on businessmen who tweet. Varuna Verma and V. Kumara Swamy look at who tweets and why

  • Twitter happy: Harsh Goenka

Last week, Harsh Goenka did something unheard of in India's corporate circles — he announced a multinational telecom deal on Twitter. "MTN doing due diligence of a large Mumbai-based telecom company. Will this mega deal happen," the RPG group chairman tweeted.

It caused a buzz in corporate circles and financial markets, as conjectures flew about the identity of the Indian partner. Goenka usually keeps business at bay on his Twitter handle, and sticks to posting laugh-out-loud one-liners — such as "Who is Vaidik? Let's ask Sharapova". But this time, his account was on top of the corporate news pile. "I did not anticipate such a buzz while tweeting," he admits.

Twitter, clearly, is on the reading list of Indian industry — and not just a hangout space for the young SMS generation, celebs and journalists. "The social media are playing an increasingly important role both in business and our lives," Goenka, whose account has over 49,000 followers, points out.

The micro-blogging site seems to be taking on a second identity as a business tool. "Do a Twitter bio search for the keywords 'Indian CEO', and about 1,800 profiles get listed," says Sorav Jain, thinker-in-chief, EchoVME, a Chennai-based digital marketing firm.

  • Anand Mahindra

Yu Yu Din, head digital strategist at public relations firm Genesis Burson-Masteller, agrees. "CEOs are joining Twitter as they realise the power of the social media," she says. A 2012 B-M survey of India's 10 most influential tweeters had industrialist Anand Mahindra on the list. The chairman and managing director of the Mahindra Group has tweeted over 7,500 times and is followed by 1.29 million people.

Mahindra, one of the early business leaders to embrace Twitter, tweets on a host of issues — from reviews of Mahindra automobiles and mergers to personal favourite bungee jumping, films, photography and, of late, the Pro Kabaddi League.

It's not just all fun and frolic either. In December 2012, Twitter was abuzz with angst over the Delhi gang rape. Mahindra was participating in a conversation, when a user suggested that TechMahindra's app FightBack — that tracks a user's location and sends SOS messages to contacts — be made publicly available. "Within hours, the app was available as a free download on the company website," recalls Saugata Bagchi, regional head of the digital agency, Quasar Media, Mumbai.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw also has a say on many matters. Besides cheering the Indian cricket team, the Biocon chairperson and managing director's tweets cover health, civic issues, women's safety, politics and technology. "I tweet 10 to 12 times a day," says Mazumdar Shaw, who is followed by over 1.5 lakh people.

She believes tweeting CEOs lend a human touch to their companies. "The presence of company management on Twitter helps faceless organisations bring a personal touch to consumer interactions."

Mahindra's Twitter account also doubles as a complaint cell for his company. "He often responds to (complaints) and forwards them to the concerned business heads," social media consultant Kiruba Shankar says.

  • Vijay Mallya

Naveen Jindal, the chairman of Jindal Steel & Power, doesn't use his handle for business. "But I am open to feedback from my followers and well-wishers; the feedback is passed on to my team," the industrialist-politician adds.

India currently has 90 million smartphone users, 100 million people on Facebook, 30 million on Twitter and 20 million on LinkedIn — statistics that can hardly be ignored by market-focused businessmen. "Businesses cannot afford to ignore the social media anymore," says Uday Salunkhe, group director, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research. India is also the third-largest "tweeting" country after Germany and the US.

Not surprisingly, Twitter handles are fast turning into brand building tools. "A tweeting CEO becomes the brand ambassador of his company," Bagchi says. "With Twitter you bypass all protocols. Consumers love it," adds Daksh Sharma, co-founder of the Delhi-based digital agency Iffort.

For companies tapping India's burgeoning youth market, Twitter is the best way to go, believes Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults. "Young people don't want to process tidal waves of information. They want it quick, crisp and concise — the way Twitter delivers," he says. "There's no scope for harping on long-drawn ideas and fancy power point presentations," the CEO with 41,800 followers stresses.

  • Harsh Mariwala

With the boom in India's private sector, such savvy CEOs — industrialists and executives — have become the nation's new celebrities. And, of course, like film stars and politicians, business honchos are also building themselves into brands — with a little help from Twitter.

"The medium helps them connect with people at a whole new level — as they share moments with their family, colleagues, friends and pets," Yu Yu Din says.

So while UB Group chairman Vijay Mallya — with 3.1 million followers, the highest among Indian businessmen — tweets about his T20 cricket team and fleet of Sahara Force India racing cars, Ratan Tata posts pictures of his pet German Shepherds (when he is not bidding a fond farewell to Manmohan Singh, and welcoming Narendra Modi). Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry is a weather watcher. "His tweets often talk about the weather, like Mumbai's first shower," Bagchi notes.

Raymond chairman Gautam Singhania's Twitter page is dedicated to his passion for car racing — with pictures of his mean machines and racing events. "My tweets are a mixed bag of business, industry, family and cars," the Singhania scion, whose account is followed by 6.67 lakh people, says.

Sport is high on Jindal's Twitter agenda as well. "Had it not been for Twitter, people wouldn't know I'm a polo player," he says.

For those on the other side of the fence, industrialists make good Twitter reading. "They are on the inside track of India's power corridors. Being well-networked they often provide breaking news," public relations expert Dilip Cherian says. CEO twitter accounts, therefore, never lack a large following.

The legion of businessmen-tweeters is expanding. Among those who have jumped on to the bandwagon is Harsh Mariwala, chairman of the Rs 13,500-crore Marico Limited. He has joined Twitter, but is yet to tweet. "As someone who appreciates the power of the spoken and written word I am cautious about what I speak. Probably that's the reason for my delayed entry on Twitter," he says.

But Indian business heads have some distance to travel before "active twitterati" can be suffixed to their names. "Few Indian CEOs are personally active on the social media. Most of their Twitter accounts are outsourced to PR agencies which talk in officialese," EchoVME's Jain says.

But that is set to change. As Goenka stresses, the future is online. "We cannot shy away from the importance of the fourth screen — the mobile device," he says.

The social media world, he however adds, is a double-edged sword. "On the one hand it shortens the time lag for dissemination of news or content. On the other hand, negative press also gets amplified very fast," he says.

But the domain of 140 characters — the maximum length of a tweet — is now a veritable part of the Indian CEO's toolkit. And it's going to keep beeping.

International business icons on Twitter

Bill Gates

@BillGates

Founder, Microsoft

Followers: 16.7 million

Richard Branson

@richardbranson

Founder, Virgin Group

Followers 4.3 million

Warren Buffet

@WarrenBuffett

Chairman and CEO, Berkshire

Hathaway

Followers: 0.858 million

Tim Cook

@tim_cook

Apple CEO

Followers: 0.565 million

Eric Schmidt

@ericschmidt

Executive chairman & former CEO, Google.com

Followers: 0.842 million