Last Sunday, Financial Express ran a piece titled ‘Brands, not celebrities, hog social media in India‘. The first two paragraphs go,

In a clear departure from the global trend in which celebrities top Facebook page ?likes?, corporate brand pages dominate the social media in India. When one considers the top 50 FB pages in the country with regard to page likes, 33 of them belong to enterprises. Globally, 15 of such highly popular pages belong to the corporate world and the rest belong to celebrities from the fields of music, sports and films.

Twitter also shows a similar trend. Globally, only six of the top 50 handles on the site having the maximum followers are corporate brands, while in India 32 of them are corporate brands.

Facebook? I can understand – both anecdotal and based on data available freely online.

But Twitter? Dominated by brands? In India?

The article does not attribute the numbers (top 5- Facebook pages in India… and 33 of them belonging to brands; top 50 Twitter handles in India… and 32 of them belonging to brands) to any study.

Not just anecdotal, but even if you take 2 free, online lists of top brands on Twitter – Social Brands, by Media2Win and Pinstorm’s India Influencers list, the topĀ  Indian handles on Twitter look like this, based on followers (the only metric the article takes into account).

NDTV – 6.65 lakhs
MTV India – 6.38 lakhs
The Times of India – 5.20 lakhs
Twitter India – 5.09 lakhs
IPL – 3.66 lakhs

… and so on.

The list on Media2Win has just one change – instead of Twitter India, it has Hindustan Times, with 3.14 lakh followers, in the top 5.

Now, compare this to celebrities (individuals) on Twitter, in India, on the Pinterest list.

Amitabh Bachchan – 38.21 lakhs
Shah Rukh Khan – 30.82 lakhs
Priyanka Chopra – 30.81 lakhs
Aamir Khan – 29.70 lakhs
Salman Khan – 29.39 lakhs

… and so on.

On a quick count, there are 36 individuals (celebrities) with followers more than the highest Indian corporate brand handle – NDTV, at 6.65 lakhs.

So, how can the article make a sweeping assumption that,

  • Social media = Facebook alone, and not Twitter or any other tool
  • Brands ‘dominate’ Twitter in India

It quotes Mahesh Murthy from Pinstorm and Social Wavelength’s Sanjay Mehta, but I assume they haven’t been told about this title, else they’d have raised at least a mild objection to the nature of conclusion in the heading.

Why is this important?

Because, the trends seem to be different for Facebook and Twitter, not to forget Orkut.

Orkut was adopted big time by movie stars’ fanbases in India. A Google press release from 2009 mentions top communities on Orkut and most are either actors’ communities or groups based on some cause/purpose (however silly they may be).

Facebook has a strong reason to encourage brand adoption – it is now public and it needs revenue streams. And brands have money. It has gone to such an extent that Facebook seems to be asking brands to pay to get the attention of fans who have already volunteered to get information from a brand they ‘liked’.

That’s like Facebook building a large room, asking a brand to take over that room and letting anyone who likes the brand to enter the room and stay there. Then, when the room is stuffed, Facebook puts up barricades in the room and asks the brand to pay up so that some fans can come and stand in the front to listen to what the brand is saying. Conventional wisdom would lead you to think that Facebook would give the brand a larger handspeaker to amplify what it is saying and to shout better so that most people in the room are able to listen. But no. Facebook has different ideas, it seems. In the face of a lack of a credible alternative, brands can’t do much but oblige.

Twitter, on the other hand, clearly seems like a personal voice. If you take the Pinstorm list alone, there are actors of all sorts who completely dominate the Indian list, far more than brands. Brands’ use of Twitter does not seem to be working as it does on Facebook.

The brevity in Twitter seems ideal for stars to throw juicy bits at fan groups and relish the attention. Brands perhaps do not enjoy such fandom in India, on Twitter, unlike what the Financial Express article wants us to believe.

One could argue – aren’t the stars brands by themselves? Of course – but they are individual brands, not corporate brands.

The lesson here is that brands need to work with Facebook to ensure better reach with fans. But on Twitter, they need to work with individual celebrities and their managers for reach.

It is already happening sporadically in India, and much more in the US – brands add a tweet (or a series of tweets) as part of the promotional package with a celebrity. Sometimes they stand out like a sore thumb amidst other tweets by the star, but if the brand and the celebrity are intelligent about it, they can find a great fit and make it work both ways.