About Harsh Goenka on Twitter

When someone asks me whom I recommend as a model/example to look up to in the use of social media among Indian CEOs (CXOs, broadly), my usual first name is Anand Mahindra. Having written one full chapter specifically citing the reasons for that in my book, I wouldn’t spend more time on it.

Quite a few people have asked me about Harsh Goenka’s use of Twitter since he is a comparable example of a CXO being active on the platform with million+ followers, and I have honestly told them why Harsh’s Twitter style does not work for me, personally, and also why I wouldn’t recommend his style of using Twitter from a personal branding point of view.

Why? Allow me to explain.

Now, before I begin to explain the reason, as I illustrate in my book in great detail, social media, or being active on social media is a performance. The better you perform, the more ‘popular’ you become based on social media metrics like Likes, Followers etc. That ‘popularity’ could also help you gain real-life benefits – a better job, more offline connections, more work (if you are a freelancer) and so on, depending on how you decide to make use of the attention.

But this performance is unlike an act in a film or a play. Those are crafted towards a fictional script and actors play those parts that are different from their own personalities. The social media performance is different in the sense that you magnify or accentuate your own personality into a performance. Consider it like say, an office presentation or a talk in front of a class. You are yourself, but you have a heightened awareness about people watching you, and you also throw your voice to sound more impressive than when you are seated in the audience.

So, it is a performance that is within the purview of our own personality. Your personality’s intricacies are blown up on the platform’s fully-public glare and attention. The more you ‘act’ or move away from your own personality, the more the chances of a visible mismatch between the 2 selves when people meet you offline or for work… which affects your personal brand significantly.

The only reason why I do not recommend Harsh as an example to look up to, within the spectrum of Indian CXOs on Twitter is his complete, blatant and almost arrogant disregard for content that does not belong to him.

I completely understand that perspectives and opinions can be different, so I wouldn’t cite tweets like these that have traveled far and have been panned publicly.

I’d simply put them under, “That’s his sense of humor. It’s not a crime to have that kind of a sense of humor – it’s just not for me”.

It’s not as if criticism does not affect Harsh – he is human too. His ‘Hidden replies’ indicates the kind of criticism that bothers him, for instance.

But, on content ownership, crediting and originality, I find Harsh to be completely uncaring and unapologetic. Over many, many tweets and examples – there are way too many to list. It’s almost like Harsh uses Twitter as an extension of WhatsApp where such blatant credit-appropriation is the default behavior. In comparison, Anand Mahindra actually bothers to add a hashtag called ‘WhatsAppWonderBox’ (for instance) to cite the source in the absence of him knowing someone direct to credit.

Even within that limited subject, content owners have famously called-out even Anand, and understandably so. But even this could easily be argued in a way that nobody would assume Anand to be the owner of the content – he’s merely the owner of the perspective added on top of the content.

To some extent, I’d explain Anand’s behavior as him giving credit to the last-mile source of sorts, like the last-mile attribution in digital marketing – ‘whatsappwonderbox’, or ‘forwarded to me from a friend’ and so on. He doesn’t take credit for those pieces of content himself, as much as I have observed.

Harsh, on the other hand, seems insistent on taking credit for any and everything and making people assume that he came up with everything he tweets. And wants people to believe that those sparks of wisdom and humor are his own.

It could be something as simple as a cringe-worthy quote that fits into a WhatsApp good morning forward like this.

One Google search and you know that this is WhatsApp material.

But it manages to impress people into believing that these are directly from Harsh’s vibrant mind.

Considering we are all so used to such ‘forwards’ on WhatsApp, I think we are more or less immune to such credit-appropriation.

How does it work to benefit Harsh? Here’s a good example.

It starts with a follower being impressed with “Harsh’s sarcasm”. When pointed out that this is someone else’s point of view, the response moves away from it being Harsh’s pov, and into thanking Harsh for being a curator, completely ignoring the fact that Harsh was just given credit for HIS sarcasm. Incidentally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a curator of content via Twitter. Harsh does that really well, but for the credits.

Allow me to showcase another perspective of this crediting idea.

Here, the discussion veers towards calling out a question about the source as ‘negative’, to simply enjoying what was tweeted as a ‘positive’. The simple response here to ‘no one knows the creator’ is to clearly mark it as ‘not by me’ (or, as people usually do: “I read somewhere”, “Recall hearing this somewhere”, “Found on Whatsapp”, to clearly declare the fact that the person is playing the role of a curator, and not creator).

When called out pointedly, Harsh sometimes chooses to confront that with, ‘I never said it is original’.

There is a difference between not saying it is not original and taking credit for the thought/articulation by voluntarily avoiding to mention whether it was his own thought or not. In the absence of any categorical mention, most followers naturally presume what is tweeted to be the tweeter’s thoughts.

When asked pointedly with the tweet and a source, Harsh seems to choose either belligerence or delete the plagiarized tweet silently and move on.

An example:

Or, this:

As for deleted tweets, there are way too many, like this… where the allegation stays in a thread that has no head.

A LOT of people have pointed it out to Harsh across the years.

But nothing explains credit-appropriating content more like the one Harsh shared recently.

Ixigo’s Aloke Bajpai and Aashish Chopra cried hoarse in response, only to be blocked by Harsh!

Now, what is the right thing to do when someone accuses you the way Aloke or Aashish did?

A simple response could be found in Anand Mahindra’s behavior in a different context (not about plagiarism, but about perceptions). Take a look.

Similarly, what do you think Harsh would lose if he were to offer a simple apology and perhaps add, ‘I had no idea that video belonged to you, Aloke. I shared it as I received it on XYZ. Apologies’. It could be his ego (we all have one, so this is not a crime; just being human).

More than losing anything, I’d think that Harsh would gain immensely. People would look at him with respect, of being large-hearted enough to acknowledge a (small) error in public.

What happened, instead? Harsh blocked the people who accused him. Not just Aloke and Aashish, but hundreds of others too!

And he silently deleted the incriminating tweet too. The deletion and blocking indicate that criticism bothers him, as it was evident in hiding replies. But instead of thinking through the right way to deal with the situation, he seems to be doubling down on his own annoyance.

All these are not a crime. They are normal and simple human traits that could be found in all of us. Every one of us makes such mistakes. But when called out, that too in public, how we respond says a lot more than the original act.

The irony is that Harsh has also demonstrated many times that he is capable of self-deprecating humor!!

For someone who is willing to say that, I’d have assumed that he’d have no issues whatsoever to offer a ‘sorry’ to Aloke! But look at what kind of turns it took! I guess we should just file this under ‘being human’.

I have heard at least one person telling me that the main reason why she follows Harsh is that he seems very human on Twitter… and that he speaks his mind out without any filters. That perhaps explains his immense popularity and million+ followers.

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