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Back in May 2008, Afaqs did a story on Shobhaa De promoting her then new book, Superstar India, via social media. WATBlog covered it as well. Hanmer MS&L (a unit of Publicis Group) was the social media agency that was given this task.

Tools used: Facebook Group | Orkut Profile | Blog | YouTube videos

The Afaqs write-up also mentions that the team solicited book reviews from bloggers, but that is something expected out of any PR firm, anyway. So, lets take a look at what exactly happened with the 4 tools above.

The Facebook group, on last count, has 283 members and 6 wall posts. Seems trivially low, but the good thing is that Shobhaa is mentioned as the creator and administrator. That does look authentic and personal, for engagement. The group seems woefully strapped for ideas and this is even more evident in the blog. When the lady has her own URL, why bother creating a blogspot blog, afresh? Worse, why populate the blog with news clippings of Shobhaa De? The section on snippets/ excerpts from the book is indeed a good idea, but is that all?

How about behind-the-scenes stories on how a particular chapters’ thought stuck Shobhaa? How about using the Facebook group to pose questions raised in the book and seek answers/ opinions from the members? The idea is to engage with people based on the book’s theme, which is poignant enough, but for the terrible reviews it garnered. But, reviews aside, a book, that too, of this nature, has immense possibilities in the social media.

The Orkut profile seems to be personal and authentic too, but there’s hardly anything interesting happening even here. The YouTube profile has just one video. A YouTube quality video is dead easy to shoot – all you need is ideas on the content. C’mon, with a book like this someone should have advised Shobhaa to pose a video question about the country and solicit people to shoot responses with their mobile phones and send them to YouTube, and link it to this profile. That, to me, whips up some interest in the book.

The content of the book offers a lot of creative ideas to engage people online and the last thing anyone would want to see is a clipping of Shobhaa De interviewed in some publication. From that perspective, the blog (on blogspot, that too) was mighty pointless – there are no new posts after June 20, 2008!

The Facebook and Orkut profiles/ groups would have been more than adequate, to get people interested in the book, if engagement was the criteria. The approach taken to promote this book online seems very short-sighted, since everything seems tagged with the book (barring the Facebook and Orkut profile, to give credit where due), rather than the author. I’m sure Shobhaa is planning another book, so it would have been prudent to build her profile online than concentrating on the book.

Thinking along those lines, stopping the blog on June 20 is nothing short of harakiri. Social media engagement is judged and rated by people based on the frequency, if not the quality of content. If frequency is not an attribute, it should at least be predictable. One post a month is no big deal, but if that is a solid, knock-out post and it happens every month, it sure is something that people can look forward to. That tack would have been better than posting drivel, more frequently.

Other top-of-mind ideas

1. Shobhaa’s top 10 favorite books – to build resonance with the author and her thought process
2. 10 real life incidents in India that may have spurred her to write this book, as listed by Shobhaa herself. This could create an opportunity for discussion and arguments on some significant incidents in the country and give the book as a larger-than-life prupose and perspective
3. Autographed copies of the book for Facebook members. Perhaps a small, token discount too would help build WoM.
4. Given the relatively frivolous nature of most of Shobhaa’s books, I’m sure people are not going to go ga-ga over her titles. But, this being a non-fiction book about India, the best way to build credibility and support from social media is to give it a serious purpose beyond merely selling the book itself

My personal take on this task is that the effort looks good, but falls way short. As usual, there are limitless possibilities if only someone gave it a thought beyond creating a mere presence via social media tools and sites.

Picture courtesy: Penguin India

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