afaqs!

The virus called Facebook

By Kapil Ohri , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | February 16, 2009
Facebook.com, apart from a social networking site, is also acting as a viral marketing machine. The recent Pink Chaddi campaign revealed the true power of Facebook in spreading the word and influencing people

For those who were oblivious of Facebook.com, the Pink Chaddi campaign has served as an introduction to the social networking site. It has also demonstrated the viral power of Facebook to many marketers.

Interestingly, the viral impact of Facebook.com, which has about four million members from India, is not restricted to online boundaries.

The & #BANNER1 & # Pink Chaddi campaign was started as a blog and then extended as a Facebook group. Later, it was picked up by various journalists, who could have been Facebook members. The campaign thus received wide coverage in major newspapers, websites, radio stations and TV news channels in India and abroad.

The awareness created by the Facebook group and media coverage led to the delivery of close to 2,000 panties at the Sri Ram Sene office in Hubli, Karnataka.

Another recent example is of the Mumbai terror attack. Facebook acted as an influential medium to generate buzz for offline activities protesting against the attacks.

Kushal Sanghvi, managing director, Media Contacts, India, says, "Around 50 groups were created in five days after the Mumbai terror attacks. They were either protest groups or sympathy groups and are still live. The groups played their role in generating momentum for the protest march, which took place at the Gateway of India on December 3, 2008."

One of the prominent groups, with 22,401 members, is "One million strong for Bombay - I want my city back, enough is enough".

Post the terror attacks, another Facebook group called "Can u please take Barkha off air!" gained prominence. Facebook members, who were unhappy with the reporting of the Mumbai attacks, started spreading the news about the existence of the group. The group has 4,800 members as of now.

The birth of buzz
The buzz machinery works on Facebook.com mainly through the newsfeed page or the homepage. On the top of the homepage, a text-box is provided where a member can enter any information which will be displayed to all his friends on the network. Members can also write comments on newsfeeds received through their friends.

Pink Chaddi Campaign
On February 5, 2009, Nisha Susan, a journalist with Tehelka magazine, started a group on Facebook.com called "A consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women" as an extension of a blog named Thepinkchaddicampaign.blogspot.com.

The blog was created to mobilise women and men to directly courier pink colour panties to Sri Ram Sene activists on the eve of Valentine's Day. This initiative was a protest against the Sene and its chief Pramod Muthalik, for their misconduct at a Mangalore pub in January 2009.

Within the eight days of its creation 38,298 members have joined the group. Susan claims that close to 2000 panties have been delivered at the Sene office.

Members have also uploaded around 150 photographs and 170 links to newspapers, websites and TV coverage on this controversy on this group.

The newsfeed page also reports about all that a member has done on Facebook, such as joining a group or participation in any event. Marketers have now started using the newsfeed service to generate buzz. Bloggers share the URL of their blog posts through it.

Sanghvi believes that it is an easy and quick way to create buzz. It is faster to key-in information on the text-box on the homepage of Facebook.com and share it, rather than creating a group, which is more methodical and process oriented. "The group only catches the attention if it appeals or is relevant to a large number of people."

Karl Gomes, national creative director, Digital, Rediffusion Y&R points out that, "Facebook is inhabited by real people and by virtue of human tendency, it is natural that they will converse and share information about anything which is relevant and different."

Gomes adds that people like to share information about anything which is topical and related to them. They talk and spread information related to important events, parties, relationships and even generate support for social causes. "Pink Chaddi was picked by women, as they can easily connect with it," he says.

The offline buzz

How does the information created on Facebook cross over to the offline world? Rajesh Lalwani, founder of Blogworks, a social media agency, explains, "When Facebook.com started, only early adopters joined it. Later, the site attracted more users, younger and older people belonging to different types of professions, including a lot of influential people, which has now reached a critical mass."

Among the latter group are traditional media journalists, who pick up relevant and newsworthy information they receive through their friends on Facebook and run it in their print publication or TV channel. So, a small movement of online conversation started becomes big and crosses over to the offline world.

It is believed that anything that impacts a large number of people will move to the offline world. For instance, issues related to the nation, politics and cricket could move beyond Facebook.com.

Is it for brands?
Lalwani says that people are interested in talking about their lives and lifestyles on social media sites such as Facebook.com, rather than discuss things related to brands. They don't prefer to support brands that try to impose messages or sell products on Facebook.com.

He suggests "If brands effectively want to use this growing platform to their advantage, they should learn the art of integrating their brand messages in the lifestyle conversations of the members of Facebook.com."