When Firefox made Tamilians happy!

This tweet is remarkable for a reason.

I need to explain some context, for non-Tamilians, though.

The first tweet is a nice pun, from the incredible world of Tamil memes. An old Tamil song featuring MG Ramachandran, from the 1956 film, Alibabavum 40 Thirudargalum goes, “Maasila Unmai Kaadhale…” (Maasila means pure, without blemish and ‘unmai kaadhale’ means ‘real love’, in Tamil. So, ‘pure, real love’ is the full meaning of the first sentence of the song). The meme turns ‘Maasila’ to the phonetically similar ‘Mozilla’ and adds, ‘When Chrome is stuck’; meaning – when Chrome is stuck, Mozilla is the real love 🙂

It’s a simple, clever pun that makes sense for most Tamilians given how iconic the old Tamil song is. So, when another person retweeted the pun tagging Mozilla and Firefox’s Twitter handles just for a lark, no one really expected any response.

But Firefox not only surprised by responding from the official handle (with 2.6 million followers!) but went one step above quoting a relevant, newer Tamil song (from A.R.Rahman’s ‘I’; to imply that real love is between @tparavai—the first Twitter handle that shared the meme—and Firefox) and adding a contextually relevant plug for Firefox browser! As a result, tons of Tamilians are on a guessing spree that the admin (of the Twitter handle) must be ‘our boy’ (a Tamilian) 🙂

I was reminded of my time at Flipkart when we were trying a lot of interesting things using Flipkart’s Twitter handle, as a way to enhance positive sentiment for the brand and to make it more conversational.

For example, see how even Twitter is trying to get more conversational and interactive… perhaps assuming why brands should be the only ones having all the fun on its platform!

(One big move at Flipkart towards this was to delineate the brand handle from the customer service effort; to create a new Twitter handle for support. Even though people continue to write to the main handle, at least based on consistent responses and action, the idea was to build the perception that the brand handle is not for day-to-day customer care).

We got a lot of small wins on a weekly basis and one such occasional attempt was to try responding to people with a context in one or more regional Indian language (using English text), particularly when we can clearly identify a language bent in the source tweet. We knew clearly that it is not scalable – after all, how many language folks can we have on the team, and for what purpose? Plus it was difficult to find a person in the extended team/office who not only speaks a regional language well but also knows a slightly nuanced level of pop-culture within that language. For instance, at one point, we were looking to respond to someone in Telugu, and were looking for someone who can help us with a popular (easily identified) Telugu film song featuring one specific item in the first line – that level of nuance!

It doesn’t make broad business sense to have a multilingual team to manage the generic Twitter responses, even though it perhaps makes sense to do that for customer care. It’s easier for customer care too, given the list of sentences one needs to (and can) build by thinking like a customer. But broadly, English has been understood to be the de facto language on Indian internet and it has been that way too, for a long while.

Now, there are minor changes towards adding other Indian languages to the mix, like Amazon’s Hindi website and the many language options in few of the mobile wallet apps.

Our effort at Flipkart didn’t go beyond random attempts, that too when a right language person was available at the right possible moment.

I presume that’s what happened at Firefox too – a Tamil-aware person happened to be around at the right time when the Firefox Twitter admin team was going through their at-mentions and he/she made a one-off attempt to respond contextually using a Tamil narrative. And to think Tamil or Tamil-speaking audience may not be (in terms of sheer numbers; in comparison to much larger sub-segments of languages) that big a group to pander to this way, using customized context. But see the amount of joy it has bought to a few people (could become a lot more as time goes by, and as more Tamilians discover this).

Language-based identity (and state-based, as an extension, in India, given many states’ close tie-in with a particular language) is an incredibly personal theme for most Indians. It extends even to getting soft-hearted when one is outside the home state and notices a vehicle with the registration number of the home state! Firefox’s attempt is clearly not scalable, but even one-off random efforts like these easily stand out and make the brand all the more admired and loved by a set of people who get the effort.