Kumar Mangalam Birla’s social media trial-run

Kumar Mangalam Birla is one of the few billionaire industrialists in India who is yet to join any social media platform officially. He doesn’t even have a LinkedIn profile (not that he needs one anyway), so forget Twitter or Instagram.

But his words on assorted, safe topics have been propagated by the corporate Twitter handle of Aditya Birla Group. These views (tweets) get minimal, occasional, and sporadic reactions and responses – nothing in the category of Anand Mahindra, of course. Understandably so, given that this is a corporate handle sharing his views, not him directly talking through his own handle.

But, something unusual happened on December 31, 2020. The Aditya Birla Group corporate handle shared a video with Kumar Mangalam Birla’s voice-over where he was heard reciting a semi-poem of sorts reminiscing over the bizarre year that was and offering some positive thoughts about the future.

Besides his voice-over and the script, the first thing that caught my eye was that the video, as an accompaniment to THE Kumar Mangalam Birla’s voice, was a very crudely put-together effort featuring stock images of foreign models, much like Allen Solly ads. There were hardly any Indian faces in the video. But my personal view of the quality of the content is not the point here – how the video and message were ‘received’ is.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the corporate’s Twitter handle, scores of people lauded Kumar Mangalam Birla’s message! Not just replies, but quote-tweets, going into rapturous applause of the message!

Here’s a sample (click on the image to see the larger version – so you may be able to read individual tweets).

Now, there are multiple ways to understand this rousing reception.

One, these people have genuinely liked, loved, and adored Kumar Mangalam Birla’s message and they have honestly and enthusiastically reshared the tweet.

Two, Aditya Birla Group employed an “online influencer” agency that offered a fee to all these people to say good things about the message, and they honored the monetary transaction by performing the necessary action. That this is a possibility is evident because many of them use a “MrBirla” hashtag when the original tweet from the corporate handle doesn’t even include that!

(click on the image to see the larger version – so you may be able to read individual tweets)

It’s possible that the “influencers” wanted to perform more impressively and added it, in the hope that “MrBirla” may trend. It may or may not have, I don’t know.

Both these are plausible and perfectly legitimate. There is nothing wrong with the second possibility too – it’s a simple transaction employed to offer broader visibility to something. Rather, “buy” broader visibility, like advertising.

It may be a slightly different thing that many of them who shared their highly-impressed sentiment about Kumar Mangalam Birla’s message also expressed their heartfelt allegiance to Reliance days after them being impressed with Kumar Mangalam Birla’s video.

A sample of the tweets where the same people have supported both.

Again, this is not to pass an opinion about what they are doing, but only to show that both may be paid attempts at influencer marketing in order to generate the illusion/impression that the topics/content have a LOT of supporters and a LOT of people like them. But, given that these are both paid efforts, the result is only an illusion. They are simply delivering a piece of content based on a fee – it doesn’t matter what they are asked to support or show love for. This is not very different from politicians paying to get a large gathering/crowd for their offline speech because a large gathering makes a better photo in the newspapers the next day.

But my post, once again, is not about these ‘influencers’. It is about Kumar Mangalam Birla.

Here is one of the top industrialists from India testing waters on social media. Unlike Anand Mahindra who got his hands dirty by joining a platform (Twitter) and trying to share his content to see what works, how, and what doesn’t work, Kumar Mangalam Birla seems more tentative in his approach.

His test-rum seems to have included making a new year video and float it online to gauge the reaction.

But, in their zeal to show ‘great engagement’ for their boss, his team may not have chosen the most prudent approach to promote the video.

For a non-entity, any support would be good enough. The quality of who supports the non-entity’s content is immaterial – support from anyone would be welcome.

But Kumar Mangalam Birla is not a non-entity. He is one of India’s top industrialists. Who fetes his content and shares it matters, IF there is an organized process behind it. If people organically share his content and comment on it, he or his team cannot be engineering that.

But, in this case, as is clearly evident that the team has engineered the social ‘virality’ of his video, what kind of people share and celebrate his content matters.

So, would it be appropriate that people who support and share ANY company/content for a fee also share Kumar Mangalam Birla’s trial-run content on social media? I do not think so. The team’s promotional effort could give them numeric metrics – so many replies, so many quote-tweets, so many impressions, and so on. But on the quality front, they may not be so sure.

This is also apparent in the kind of views the full video received on YouTube – observe that number vis-a-vis the Likes and Dislikes. It clearly shows that the team has promoted the video adequately. But YouTube doesn’t show who viewed the video – it simply shows a number.

Compare this scenario, for context: Kumar Mangalam Birla writes a book. Who would he/his team go to, for writing a review or a foreword? Wouldn’t they choose such people with incredible care and effort? His new year video is not a book, definitely‚Ķ but it is HIS content. To rope in completely random online influencers who are simply doing their job as paid-influencers and sharing the content of any and every brand in order to spread the illusion that Kumar Mangalam Birla’s video was a great watch is not the best way to go about it.

Instead, if the team/Mr Birla himself had spoken to a couple of well-known people in the industry and requested (not paid-for!) their support in sharing his content, they may first look at the quality of content to decide if they can, in their hearts, perform the task.

Or, if they need a favor from Mr Birla later, they may comply. But, at the very least, Mr Birla and his team would be handpicking the kind of people who would support the content. If that handpicked selection spurs in more people organically discovering the content and re-sharing it eventually, that’s beyond the team’s purview.

Or, consider this scenario: corporates/brands choose the kind of channels they would like to be seen in, even when they are paying for it. Most brands instruct their media agencies with a clear set of guidelines on the kind of media vehicles to avoid – those that incite hatred, disharmony, showcase violence, adult content, and so on. Why? Because where the brand communication is seen matters as much as what the brand says.

The online equivalent is, at one end, the linear equivalents of those kinds of media – people who spew hate, share adult content etc. But the second consideration, that too for a well-respected industrialist’s trial-run on social media should be, what kind of people endorse my content? Rather, what kind of people do other people see as endorsing my content? If it is those that endorse any content and are seen generally as people with no credibility in this activity, doesn’t that affect the perception/reputation of Mr Birla?

If Mr Birla’s objective with the trial-run on social media was to earn the support and sharing of people, his/his team’s plan behind it has failed.

If Mr Birla’s objective with the trial-run on social media was to spread the video far and wide and gain numbers to showcase as metrics, he/his team has achieved it very well.

There is no right or wrong in either objective.
In the first one, his perception/reputation gets built too.
In the latter, he only gets numbers to showcase as metrics.

In the end, these are conscious choices that may define how he is perceived and decide on his own course of action on how to use social media.

When it comes to personal branding, Mr Birla already has one that he has built offline. When he tries to enter social media, he needs to take a conscious approach that builds on, gains from and accentuates his pre-existing brand, along with other, newer objectives that he could gain from the medium.

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