I came across this Economic Times piece titled, ‘Farmers using Facebook to discuss prices and plan strategy’ via Dina’s blog. It has a perfect social media buzzworthy headline and follows it up with a very meaningful piece too.
But, more than anything else, the one sentence that really stood out, for me, was part of the quote from Gartner’s Asheesh Raina. It went,
‘Community concept has always been prevalent in villages. Earlier, a village sarpanch would sit under a tree and discuss certain issues with villagers before taking a final call. Facebook and Twitter are an extension of this concept’.
I’d have loved the see the same piece explain a bit more on this critical point. Since it doesn’t, let me try.
That social media helps in collaboration between multiple parties is not news – it has always been like that. But consider how these farmers would have done the same had they used the phone as a tool. It’d mean one or more farmers getting the numbers of all relevant farmers and call them one by one to announce their prices/decisions. This would have been massively time consuming and cumbersome.
Where social media tools like Facebook help in this situation can best be explained using 3 points.
The sarpanch example is perfect because it talks about farmers landing in a place close and familiar to them to listen to the sarpanch and discuss the price. Similarly, Facebook (and Twitter) may be places online where farmers may already be doing things like chatting up with friends, sharing their kids’ pics etc. It’s a familiar place and is easy to access, if you use it via a smartphone, in particular. More than the frivolous things like photo sharing and chatting, if the tool could aid in something relevant about their profession, why not?
This is something that is incredibly cumbersome in the real world. A farmer’s cooperation may need to release a print ad in a national newspaper to announce the decision to boycott the local auctions. Or, one local group needs to get in touch with other local groups to pass on the decision to boycott the local auctions across the country. The way this may spread depends on how efficient the local groups are, in spreading the message. What Facebook enabled is that it gave voice to farmers to talk amongst themselves and share the update. Only when you compare this to real world equivalents, would you realize that this is massively efficient in ensuring that the message spreads virally. How? Take the last point – like a PR pro being connected to at least a few other PR pros, a farmer would be connected to at least a few other farmers, online. Even if one of them gets the message, they would share it for the benefit of their community. That’s where viral magic happens.
Take the same sarpanch analogy. What if each participant in the meeting had the power to drop in to the meeting whenever they wanted – when they had the time? And what if whenever they dropped in, the meeting was on and relevant? That would mean a sarpanch with a very, very annoyed wife/family, but that’s precisely the nature of social media. It allows staggered participation depending on time availability of its participants.
This is all fairly obvious. But it is surprising that very few people understand such obvious benefits of social media and assume that it is all about pointless chatting and friending. It could be a lot more only if we want it to be. And funnily, this need not be about Facebook alone; it could be even on Yahoo Groups, for example! The only issue there is with accessibility – one would need to subscribe to the Group’s messages via email and access email every time to update and participate. From that perspective, Facebook and Twitter make it really simple to participate.
The 4th possible angle that may not be entirely relevant in this story is the public nature of communications on social media – one-to-one vs. one-to-many vs. many-to-many. I have addressed this part before, anyway.
Photo courtesy, The Hindu.