Mar 232014

… yes if you have content worth charging for.

And, this brings me to a conversation i had a decade ago, while a channel was in the process of being launched. The channel was meant to be free to air and was designed for maximum reach. A few days before the launch I was asked if we could charge x per month (x was a figure greater than 10 – a lot in those days). The problem was simple, will someone pay Rs.X for something that was meant to be free – thank fully the promoters appreciated that perspective.

Will quality pay for itself ? It is anyone’s guess, because quality itself is a relative concept. Unfortunately – quality in content is often mixed up with esoteric, unreadable, stuff. And when you tell people you want ‘quality’ content – it conjures up visions of turgid academic writing , closed fonts, design from the 1940′s (where it looks like it is a manual typeset), no pictures, and the dryness of a tender announcement.

Offer for subsciption

Offer for subscription

Which is why this is such an interesting experiment. NYT has used the drug dealer’s methodology of hooking customers. Catch them cheap (99 cents for 12 weeks) and then some $8 a month.

With content, i think it is important to get people to start thinking about paying. You may not charge – but if you are giving it away free, it needs to feel like a favour to the user. The sense that they are privileged in getting what your are putting out, for nothing.

As a consumer, I like the idea of free content. As a producer, I need to think of ways to make it pay – be it ticket sales, paywalls, monthly subs – whatever.  As someone who has produced content (in what ever form) for the best part of two decades if there is one thing i know it is this – someone has to pay for it – Either the advertiser, or the subscriber or Santa Claus. Given that the advertising pie is finite, and Santa Claus does not exist – that leaves the subscriber :)

Needless to say, i have purchased a subscription to the NYT. Let us see if i will renew it :) 

Mar 202014

My column in today’s DNA

It is election season and, therefore, it must be the time for rhetoric, more rhetoric and even more rhetoric. Each party and its supporters are trying to pitch themselves to us, the voters, and each trying to get us to vote for them. While political leaders and party workers are traversing the length and breadth of India, trying to woo the masses in the blistering heat, their more privileged keyboard warriors are using their fingers to good effect, drumming up support on social media. And, it is social media, especially Twitter, with its concentration of journalists, editors, film stars, politicians, would-be politicians, policy makers, industrialists, media magnates, bankrupt tycoons, cricketers and the rest, that makes for the most entertainment. Because there is nothing as funny as serious, sanctimonious rhetoric in 140 characters, especially when you sneak some time to yourself to look at the phone on a tough working day. It is the sheer chutzpah in the pronouncements, the dauntless confidence with which people mouth inanities, the gumption with which inaccuracies and factual errors are put forward as ‘truth’ and the sheer pizzazz of the entire thing that makes you wonder if Twitter has taken its place in the sun as the provider of multiple streams of live commentary for what promises to be the greatest show on earth — the Indian elections. If only one could charge entertainment tax on the proceedings, the current account deficit would probably be wiped out.
So what are they fighting for? Politicians and political parties are fighting for power. They — especially the BJP and Congress — would prefer absolute power — 272 seats all to themselves, without their allies spoiling their party. Will they get it is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t prevent them from projecting the confidence of being able to make that figure. But, to keep their options open, you do occasionally hear murmurs of a ‘larger NDA’ or “UPA III”.
While it is easy to figure what the politicians want, the role of their supporters on social media is slightly more complex. Their aim seems to be less about converting neutrals or voters who have not made up their mind into votes, and more on keeping the faithful gathered and motivated in the days leading up to the elections. It is a vital role that they play — the social media warriors — in terms of fact-checking, repudiating, muddying the waters, creating a ‘what if’ scenario in the mind of the public. While BJP supporters had the lead in the utilisation of social media for rallying and attacking, more recently the Congress and the AAP have joined in. As a result social media, in general, and Twitter, in particular, have become a battleground of ideas, allegations, innuendos and camaraderie. In my mind, the role of the partisans on social media is interesting because of the space that they occupy between the media and the party. They take corridor-level gossip from the party and drawing room chatter and blast them into a somewhat public space dominated by the traditional media, and when traditional media picks up this gossip, it gets carried back into social media for further conversations. Recently in a media conference, a point was made about mainstream media watching its audience (us), monitoring them via social media posts on shows and news, and using this instant feedback and chatter to fine tune content offerings But, a far more interesting phenomenon that we are observing in these elections is that a part of this audience, realising that it is being watched, are indulging in a sort of behaviour that feeds content to the media only to promote the former’s agenda. For a media professional, it’s a fairly fascinating phenomenon.

The other thing very clear in these elections is this: The mask of media neutrality has finally fallen off and is being left for dead. Journalists do not even pretend to have a lack of bias. When leading anchors don the political mantle, and prominent journalists push the agendas of political parties without joining them, then you cannot help but wonder, how much of the content that they put out is biased and how long ago did this begin? This is not about voting preferences. You can still vote for who you believe in and try and be balanced in content. It is about pushing political agendas in the name of journalism. In an ideal world the bias should impact ratings. But, as recent studies in the United States show, it is the ratings of those seemingly unbiased platforms that are falling when compared to those who take partisan views. Research also reveals that audiences are more and more looking for views that dovetail with their own. They don’t want the bland neutrality of Doordarshan. They much prefer the fire and brimstone of the evening news anchor who demands answers on behalf of the nation.

Way back in 1964, Barry Goldwater, the American Republican Party candidate for President, in a speech declared: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”. It seems that our media — mainstream and social — have taken this speech to heart. Except that liberty and justice are no longer absolutes but relative to whom they support. For example, outrage on suggested curbs of freedom of speech is not universal but defended by party supporters and opposed by detractors.

We are in for fun ride where truth is falsity, and falsity is truth. So who do we, the people, trust? The answer, surprisingly, is each other. According to a recent Zee Media Taleem Poll on the state of the nation, while 54% said that they relied on electronic media for their views and opinions, 30% still rely on friends and peer groups for ‘truth’. In a world where truth becomes an elusive commodity, it is little surprise that we are getting back to a more traditional way of making up our mind: our own personal social networks.

Mar 092014

There are only two kinds of interviews that i had conducted in the past – the first was job interviews and the second were interviews in camera, for shows. So when i got asked if I would like to interview Rahul Sood, GM Microsfoft ventures, for @DNAi kind of went overboard on the conversation. It was done TV style without the recording on tape. I had recorded the interview on the phone, and it had to be transcribed. A half an hour conversation i s a fair number of pages of typed material :)

Large organisations give you stability, smaller organisations give you innovation. How do you combine out-of-the-box thinking and the ‘get ready to go’ mode of innovative entrepreneurship into a big company?

When I joined Microsoft, I spent 11 months figuring out what I was going to do there. As an entrepreneur, you’re always trying to find something, and that something is a problem to solve. In a company full of brilliant people where everyone is smarter than you, how are you going to find problems to solve? Also, you need to be able to inspire people and lead them in a direction they believe in.

How do you get things done? There is a lot of collaboration in big companies. You have to bring people along, get them to get behind your ideas and buy into them. The way to do that is by finding people who know how to get it done within the company. I looked for people who had been there for a long time, and was able to get them to tell me how to get things done. That’s how things started moving.

We launched the first ever incubation fund at Microsoft, which had never made investments in small companies before. And we were told Microsoft had never done something like that before, that it wouldn’t be accepted. But we were able to find a way to make it happen. We listened to people and found out why they said no. Just because they say no doesn’t mean you have to give up. Once you find out why they said no, you figure out a way to make their no a yes. You’re trying to find the quickest way to get from A to B, and there are ways of doing that within a big company. You find people who are frustrated (with the way the system is going) and know how to get things done, and you try and short circuit the problem as quickly as possible. If you short circuit it right, you and the team are going to be successful.


Is the reason why Microsoft is looking at ventures is because it missed the bus on Search or on Social Networking, both of which grew out of garages?

There has never been a time in the history of the tech industry where the barriers to entry have been so low, and the accelerants so high, that you can put five people in a garage and they can create something really disruptive. If you look at the types of companies being created right now, the ratio of the people in the company to its value or the revenue it generates is completely lopsided compared to what it used to be.

It used to take years and years to build a big company. Now the accelerants are much higher, so you can build a company a lot faster. With access to incubators, accelerators, VC funding, angel investors and other entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, it is easier to go out and attempt to be an entrepreneur. So we’re noticing that trend.

The other thing we’re noticing is that entrepreneurship is starting out at a much younger age. Students in grade school are thinking, “We must go out and start our own company.” This is a really interesting trend. Because of these phenomena, there has been a billion dollar company created every month for the last 84 months somewhere in the world. And most of these have been funded eventually in Silicon Valley.

When you look at these developments, you ask, what are Microsoft’s biggest strengths? Besides the fact that we are a big technology company, we’ve got amazing software, and some incredibly smart people, what is our biggest strength? It is our footprint in the Enterprise. We have so many people in the Enterprise who rely on us to be successful so that they are successful. They build on our platforms, they depend on our services, on our Cloud. They use Exchange, Office and our other products without even thinking about it. Microsoft has many, many customers in the Enterprise.

Knowing that today’s start-ups are the Enterprises of tomorrow, we need to engage them at a much earlier stage. This is not about us missing the boat on certain things, but about us helping to create the next generation of billion dollar companies. And by helping to create them, they become our partners in the long term. We are investing in ecosystems around the world, not just in Silicon Valley. We’re investing everywhere so we can help develop ecosystems, bring in entrepreneurs and create a more entrepreneurial culture inside Microsoft, and get people on the outside to think of how they will partner with us.


Is it also because it is easier to think out of the box, and be disruptive outside a large organisation than inside? 

It certainly is easier. You can think disruptive anywhere – inside a big organisation or outside. The question is, can you actually be disruptive inside a big organisation? The whole point of being disruptive is you are disrupting what big companies do. If you are inside a big company and being disruptive, then ideas may start getting difficult. For example, if you worked for a bank, and suggested they converted all physical branches to coffee shops, it would be disruptive, but it will also be difficult to sell the idea. It is hard to be disruptive inside a big company, when you are not disrupting yourself and when you cannot think about disrupting yourself.

Microsoft is such a big company that does everything from consumer to enterprise, that everyone is disrupting us. So we need to think more disruptively. Internally, we need to think about how to disrupt our own business. Ventures is interesting because it gives us access to interesting disruptive innovations that we can potentially acquire or partner with. But, I think in any large organisation, there has to be a team whose job it is to think about how to disrupt your business.


One of the areas in which technology has tremendously disrupted is media. Why?

They (technology start-ups) went after things that consumers cared about instantly. Music, media consumption, reading – people care about these. They read books, newspapers, consume music. If you are able to make their experience that much better through technology, you’re going to create something disruptive, because it is driven by people, not corporations, not by government interests. It is being consumed by people, and therefore the people are creating a movement by saying they want this.

When you take a big problem space like media, you have disrupted it through digital means. Napster was possibly one of the original disrupters. Piracy was a big problem the media industry was dealing with. At the same time, making it easier for consumers to consume was a big problem space. With this perfect storm of making piracy legitimate, and making media easier to consume, people just grabbed on to it, and it became a big deal.


Education, which should have been disrupted, was not? Why? 

The reason education is not getting disrupted is because there is a lot of protectionism here. The government isn’t allowing people to be disruptive. Education should be free to the masses. If you could make education free to one billion people in India, and make it accessible to them in ways hitherto not possible, you could create a bigger emerging middle class. You can reduce poverty, and help bring in more than engineering thinking into the mix. Therefore, you need to do two things. First, you have to make education accessible to everyone, through MOOCs (massive open online courses), through online means where education can be accessible to people who cannot otherwise afford it. Second, you have to stop thinking engineering and producing that many engineers. We need more creative thinking and creative people here, and combine that with engineering. When you do that, you bring design thinking into the mix. We also need to teach entrepreneurship at school (college).

Here’s the thing with education, in India in particular and other markets like it. India produced 1.5 million engineers last year. That is absolutely insane because we don’t need those many engineers. There are schools (colleges) coming up with accredited programmes. Many of them prey on the poor to send their kids to these colleges so that they can get a degree. To what outcome? The outcome should be a job. Some of these colleges are promising jobs, and the jobs the graduates get are pretty much at data entry operator level. So why do they have to do a four year programme for that type of a job?

You actually said “online education is like the Wild West”. Why? It should be a no-brainer that online education should work. Yet there is a problem. Why?
It is the Wild West because there are no standards at the moment. Every market and ecosystem is different. Different markets have different types of needs. Education is the Wild West because, if you try and create something disruptive here, you can get shut down by someone else. Education is a big policy issue. You need to think about the big problem spaces in India that need to be disrupted. Education, policy, infrastructure – there are so many different areas that need disruption. But it needs government support. The government has to say enough is enough, let these entrepreneurs go out there and solve problems.


Does formal education itself need to be disrupted? 

Universities are dying institutions. Unless you are going to be a radiologist, a doctor or a lawyer. MBA programmes, for instance, need to change. We put our companies through a four-month accelerator programme. 850 people apply to get in, and we only accept 10-15. It is harder to get into our programme than it is to get into Harvard. And, in four months, you learn more than you do in a typical MBA course. You learn everything, from taking an idea, turning it into a prototype, doing customer validation, marketing, strategy and branding. You learn pitching, how to tell a story, how to get funding, and how to structure your company. You learn all of that in four months. So the question is, are we stuck in a 19th century mindset? Four-year programmes, eight-year programmes, get your degree, go for your masters? Absolutely, we are.


How does India compare to the rest of the world for start-up ecosystems? 

The top start-up ecosystem is obviously Silicon Valley. The second is Israel, and it is higher by quite a bit. When I went to Israel, I looked around to understand why it has a strong start-up ecosystem. There are only 7 million people there. In Israel, they don’t focus on local issues, because it is too small a market. They are focussed on global problems. But they are also big risk takers. Entrepreneurship is encouraged by the government, by educators, by parents, by history. And they live every day like it is their last. Husband-and-wife teams quit their jobs to start a company. So, there is the desire to be an entrepreneur and it is a badge of honour to be one. They understand the need for customer validation. Initially, when you’re creating something for a global market, you must understand the market you are creating for.

In India – and here is the difference – we’re not encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Risk taking is not encouraged. Parents will not encourage you whatsoever. Educators do not encourage you, nor do they teach anything in this space. No one really knows what it means to be a start-up here, and they should. And, because of all this, we don’t like to take risks.

The other part is population. There are a billion people here. It is great market to create products that solve problems. But Indian entrepreneurs are focussed on solving problems in the US, building apps for the US, and not even thinking of solving local Indian problems. Here, many start-ups are creating engineer-led products or apps. They are focusing on markets they don’t understand. They are going after the US market v/s doing customer validation in India.

So what we did, at Microsoft Ventures, is said there is a reason why this ecosystem lags behind. And that is because you don’t understand the customer you are going after. We need to bring in a mix of entrepreneurs, we need to bring in more women because women think different from men. There are more women designers than men in India. We need to start blending these teams together. We did that and had some interesting things happen. We saw some start-ups emerge from our accelerators that are focussed on Indian problems that are actually growing. And they provide really unique value propositions. We can actually help these companies go into similar markets in Africa, Brazil, and China, and that is exciting. So, in order for India’s start-up ecosystem to evolve, they need to focus on Indian problems, and a more balanced approach. And parents, educators and the government need to encourage entrepreneurship.


How can technology be better used to combat social issues? 

You can really do a lot with technology like cloud computing and data collection. Today, any piece of hardware you create needs to be connected to the cloud, and that cloud needs to be intelligent and be able to gather and analyse data, and produce results that you might not think about.


What are the top three tech trends to watch out for? 

Security is number one. Privacy is less of an issue. As the next generation grows, privacy will be zero. Everyone will know who you are, where you live, everything about you. So, security will be everything, both in the real, physical world and online. Security companies will create an online persona that will follow you around (online) and be your guard. Security will be a huge, huge area.

Number two – education, I think, will completely change. The more we open source it, the better it will become, and the better our societies will evolve. The idea of open source education is a big trend.

Number three – wearable technology, like smart fabrics. Things like Google glass, Nike Fuel bands. In a world of connected devices, where all hardware connects to the cloud, I think you will be able to extract data about everything about us from it. As a result, our lives will be extended. We will be able to live longer lives through technology. I think people will be able to live to a hundred and fifty, with some of the technology that is coming.


What is the future of journalism?

The future of journalism is crowd sourced. The best writers will always rise, people will read them and follow them. People who began blogging f years ago are becoming famous now. They’re building big brands and big companies. They just started writing on their own. Look at Om Malik. He has come such a long way and Giga Om is such a big brand. That is the future. People who write well and influence people in a big way will disrupt the traditional journalism business.


What is your advice to young entrepreneurs? 

The first piece of advice I will give them is to figure out their motivation. You have to have the motivation to want to be an entrepreneur. Because, being an entrepreneur is hard. You are not just going to become the next Facebook or Instagram. You first need to know why you want to be an entrepreneur. If your motivation is monetary, forget about it, because if you are going to chase money, you are not going to make it. Money should be the last thing on your mind. The first thing that should be on your mind is that, as an entrepreneur, you are passionate about something, and want to solve a problem in that space.

The second thing is about brand. It is not just a logo on box. It is the outcome of building a great product, having a customer base. The customer base becomes your fans. If you want to build a community, you have to get social, write, get engaged with your community and create a vibrant community where people will give you feedback that you will share with each other. Once you do that, it becomes the soul of your company, combining with your culture. Essentially, when you have those elements, when you have a great team with a great culture, a great product, a community that is writing and evangelizing about your product, then that becomes the soul of your brand. Then the outcome is the logo and all that stuff you created around the product. You just can’t go and create a brand. Brands grow.


Rahul Sood is GM, Microsoft Ventures, which looks at investing in tech start-ups. Prior to that, he was founder of VoodooPC and the CTO for Hewlett Packard.

Harini Calamur is Head of Digital Content, Zee Media Corporation.

Oct 162013

My column in the DNA on the 3rd of October

The biggest show on Earth replete with drama, emotion, backstabbing, direct attacks, strong personalities, devoted squealing fans hits the road. Elections 2014 is just around the corner, and it is impossible to go outside without being assaulted with hoardings, posters and buntings. On television news too, the looming elections have begun dominating the discourse. And, given that the real world and mainstream media is brimming over with chunaav-related posturing, it is hardly surprising that the battle is carried forward into the social media where we have variants of “my neta the bestest”. And, while that line may sound cute on a six-year-old, it is quite something else coming from seeming adults.

It is not just India, where the sort of fan behaviour more associated with film stars, football players and rock musicians comes into play with relation to politics. It is everywhere. Follow the discourse in the US, in Russia, in parts of Europe the tendency is the same. Group around strong personalities, build them up, put up the barricades to keep non-believers out, savage the agnostic those who say “hey, wait a minute … but”; and finally from behind the barricades make war on the ‘other’ side.

There is strength in numbers for the most ludicrous position and the new media allows one to gather those numbers from across the networked world to demonstrate a seeming show of strength.

There are superlatives attached to individuals, their personalities, their individual attributes, and the sum total of these attributes positive or negative are transferred to the parties and their policies. And, if this is the case with politicians considered to be boring by most can you imagine the hype associated with musicians and film stars? These fan groups are bound by a dominating personality, bask in reflected glory, look to each other for validation, and create little symbols and codes that define their groups.

Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communication theorist, most famous for the quote “the medium is the message” predicted this sort of behaviour way back in the 1960s. According to him, both print and television are highly individualistic media that make the consumer passive recipients of content. These may direct them to buy a film or a bar of soap, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to gravitate towards people with similar interests.

In a way, the huge fan clubs for film stars that grew in South India, was as much about the star as it was part of the need of the audience to assert a common identity that of being fans. McLuhan predicted that an era of ‘electronic interdependence’ would come to pass in which people of the world would move from individualism and fragmentation of identities to collective identities. McLuhan calls this the creation of a tribal base.

He says that unless we are aware of the nature of this beast, it is highly likely that we, collectively, or as part of our new affiliation, will fall prey to the inherent tribalism that is an outcome of electronic interdependence. His great fear was that as with tribal life, there would be a tendency towards a “phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence”.

(McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy:The Making of Typographic Man). We have seen this in the past with the global panic on the SARS virus spread by the internet; or the panic caused by the Boston bombings that led to an innocent man being identified by a bunch of netizens who took it upon themselves to play anti-terror cop.  We have also seen the coming together of the ‘tribe’ in the way the Obama campaign was mobilised online, or indeed the way the faithful are rallying behind Narendra Modi (and the BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (and the Congress).

We are seeing the drawbridges go up, the faithful huddling together and excluding everyone else. We are seeing every message being amplified by one side, and every little gaffe being augmented by the other. And, while it is greatly entertaining as a bystander, it also reveals the manner in which the tribes are forming, and keeping the faithful together.

But panic terror and tribal drums foretelling war are not the only aspect of tribal behaviour. There is another which we often overlook. That is coming together to solve problems, working together for a greater good, supporting each other through good times and bad. Helping others put up their houses, or help them with harvest or the hunt.

This part of ‘tribal’ is also enabled by the new digital age. We see support groups for parents with children with rare ailments; there are people who get together to put up shelters for homeless or for working with deprived kids; there are groups for aged singles and more. Tribes work for good, too.

Of late, the digital media has become a convenient whipping boy for all the ills in the world. From riots to sexual harassment; from bullying to breakdown of marriage, it is all the fault of the share button of social networking. But technology is neither good nor bad. It is the way we choose to use technology to create our little ghettos or exploit it to encompass the world, with the belief that there is so much to learn and so much to share that interacting with others, who are different, will only benefit us.

Throughout history both sets have existed those who took pride in their ‘purity’ and their isolation, and others who reached out to beyond their comfort zone. Unfortunately, most of those who chose to remain isolated have been forgotten. Those who chose to reach out have left behind a legacy.

Apr 182013

My column in today’s DNA

The 2008 American elections — also called the Facebook elections — were different from any other that was held before it. It was the first time that candidates across the board attempted to connect directly with the voter-using technology. Facebook, Myspace and email — twitter was not that popular — were all brought into play in the attempt to woo the voter. None of the candidates used the technology as well as Barack Obama did in connecting with the young, technology-savvy demographic. Obama, then an unknown minor representative from Chicago, used the power and ubiquitous nature of social media to interact, to put out messages, to raise funds, to organise and to campaign to an audience that did not watch television, and was not interested in the discourse of the older generation. That audience — the under-25 American voter — in turn voted overwhelmingly for him. The rest, as they say, was history.

Since the 2008 US elections, the promise of social media impacting elections has been held out in India. But, a parliamentary election is different from a Presidential one. Mr Advani tried to use social media in 2009, but internet participation was still at a nascent stage, and it really did not make any difference in the elections. Since then the Indian-right has effectively used social media to counter views, put forth opinion, and build credibility. The Indian National Congress has woken up to the fact that there is a social media audience that speaks a very different language from those of traditional campaigns, and has begun participating in the discourse. It seems like there is a battle on for the hearts and minds — not to mention votes — of those who inhabit cyberspace. But, unlike the US, the internet is neither as pervasive, nor as well utilised.

There are approximately 140 million internet users in India — about 11% of the total population. Facebook is increasingly popular with the Indian audience. Most of us have a story of an office boy or a grocer who has a Facebook page and has sent us an invite. According to leading social media monitoring agency, Social Bakers, Indians are the third most populous nationality on social media — the US is number one, and Brazil is number 2. In March this year, there were 61.5 million Facebook accounts out of India. By April this figure jumped to almost 64 million accounts — 76% between the ages of 18 & 34, and 75% male. While the numbers in absolute terms are impressive, this represents 5.44% of the total Indian population.

In the last general elections, there were 716 million registered voters and 417 million of these (58%) chose to exercise their right to franchise; 28% (200 million) were below the age of 25. In the coming elections, it is estimated that there will be approximately 800 million voters. It is also estimated that 110 million will be first-time voters — for whom old equations of caste, class and community do not matter, and who are more worried about jobs and law and order than labels. These statistics are what are going to make a major difference to elections — because no one knows how the young voter born in a liberalised India is going to vote.

So will social media make a difference in the 2014 general elections? A recent report seems to think so. A study carried out by the Iris Knowledge Foundation and the Internet and Mobile Users association seems to think that the 64 million Facebook users (who will swell to approximately 80 million by 2014) will have a considerable impact on key constituencies — 160 of them — across the country. They study has an interesting methodology and that is to look at victory margins in the last general elections and correlate it to the number of Facebook users from that constituency. They call those constituencies in which the number of Facebook Users is greater than the victory margin, or where the number of Facebook users is over 10% of the registered voters as High Impact constituencies. Medium impact constituencies are those where ‘a Facebook user can influence one other voter who may not be on Facebook” and more than 5% of registered voters are Facebook users a — 67 constituencies fall under this category. The rest are low or no impact –where social media will have little or no impact.

The report is excessively optimistic about the role of social media transforming electoral apathy into involvement. There are two major issues. The first is that not everyone who has a Facebook account and is eligible to vote is registered as a voter. The second is that not everyone who is registered to vote exercises their franchise. What is not evident in the study is whether there is a correlation between Facebook users in a given “High Impact” constituency, and whether they are even registered voters in that constituency, or even interested in voting and politics. Also important is that a large proportion of this Facebook population lives outside the constituency in which they may be registered. Furthermore, the view that one politically motivated person on Facebook will influence another — as suggested in the study — is far-fetched. They may act that way on issues that directly impact them — jobs, careers, security — but there is no evidence to show that it translates to voting for one candidate or the other at a constituency level.
Is there a role for social media in the forthcoming elections? In a roundabout manner, yes. It is possible to use the power of social media for two very important things. The first is a campaign to get voters to register and the second is to get them to vote on election day. It is only when GenNext registers and participates in the voting process that it can impact elections.

Maybe that should be the focus of social media — to motivate GenNext to participate. Because without their participation there can be no change.