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A virtual wave

Priyanka Joshi & Aabhas Sharma  |  Mumbai/ New Delhi 

Want funding for your film, a buyer for your doughnuts, or eco-friendly clothing? Do you need the services of a cosmetic dentist, or a mate for your dog? Priyanka Joshi and Aabhas Sharma track down a few people who will not forget in a hurry

If you think is a waste of time, good only to keep in touch with friends, or, to use jargon, ‘chat and poke’ — think again. Onir, the director of and Sorry Bhai, has used to raise money for his next film, I Am, which will release in October this year. An avid Facebooker who spends at least two hours a day trawling the site, it was in between updating his status messages that Onir realised there were many people who wanted to invest in films but had no idea how to go about it. “They were looking for answers and I happened to have one,” says Onir, who jointly owns production house with actor

Onir and Suri collected around Rs 90 lakh, most of it from 400-odd Facebook users, and the rest from Twitter.”Most donated around Rs 1,000 and some above Rs 25,000. The donors get to be co-owners of film and a pro rata share of the profits,” he says. When he overshot his budget in the last six months and needed an extra Rs 5 lakh to complete the film, Onir simply updated his status message and his ‘friends’ chipped in with the funds. “Now, as a ritual,” says Onir, “I send day-to-day updates about the film to my co-owners.”

Not just the funds, even the technical crew and I Am’s cast, largely freshers from film schools, were recruited through Facebook. “It’s going to be hard,” says Onir, “to make commercial movies the traditional way after this kind of democratic film-making.”

Onir is not the only one of the 12 million or so Indians on Facebook who uses it for commercial purposes. A growing band of independent professionals (artists, freelancers, consultants) a few small businesses, and even established brands are finding that Facebook is a great way to find an audience and get up close and personal with it. As Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 26-year-old founder, recently blogged when the site crossed the 500 million users mark, “I could have never imagined all the ways people would use Facebook when we were getting started six years ago.”

Take Sona Jain, a documentary film-maker whose first feature, For Real, premiered and did the rounds of film festivals across the world, but did not release in theatres in India because she could not find a distributor and did not have the funds to release it herself. “So I started diaries on Facebook, posting behind-the-scenes clips from the movie,” she says. Within hours of posting the first, Jain’s Facebook friends swelled by about a hundred, and with every new clip she added, grew by another 500. With close to 15,000 members on her page now, Jain is happy. “I know that these 15,000 people will bring in more friends when they watch the movie. This is the power of social media — it accelerates on its own,” she says. And all this at a cost so low that it “amounts to nothing in the real world”. Jain now plans to release her film on September 3.

Facebook is especially effective in the marketing of of niche services, products or ideas. For instance, Dogsvilla, an ethical breeding platform for dog owners to find a mate for their pets. Fifty days since its launch in May, Dogsvilla had gathered about 1,100 fans on Facebook. Says Anis Khan, Dogsvilla’s owner, “Over Facebook, I can initiate interactions with other dog lovers, exchange notes and gather value-added information, which is not easy to find. This will help the business when we launch our website next month.”
 

Did you know?
Indian users spend an average of around 15 minutes on every visit to Facebook. Globally, half of Facebook’s 500 million users access the site every day, spending over 500 billion minutes a month networking, browsing applications or uploading pictures
20.4 million unique users visit Facebook’s India site every month 
80 per cent of Facebook’s users in India are male, 37 per cent are graduates, 54 per cent of them earn less than 2 lakh, 44 per cent are aged between 15 and 24
35 per cent of Facebook’s users in India connect from home
Among the metros, Facebook gets the most traffic from Mumbai and Delhi, followed by Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai
There are more than 100 million active users globally who access Facebook through their mobile phones. Interestingly, people who use Facebook on their mobiles are twice as active as non-mobile Facebook users
Source: Vizisense

Dr Shantanu Jaradi, a dentist, is another who found a market through Facebook. The director of Dentzz Dental Care Centres used Facebook to spread awareness about cosmetic dentistry among younger patients. He has over 18,000 members on his Facebook page now and has even created an app — Rate Your Smile, which allows members to rate their friends’ smiles. “We can then advise people on what they need to do to get that perfect smile,” says Jaradi. It’s helped his business too: many patients have walked into his Mumbai clinic based purely on Facebook recommendations.

As Hareesh Tibrewala, joint CEO of Social Wavelength, a social media analytics company, notes: “On Facebook you can really blur the lines between professional and personal.” Not that Facebook can replace a website for businesses, but it can be a great way to drive people to the website, says Tibrewala.

That’s what The Nature’s Co, a brand of ‘natural’ beauty and wellness products with stores in Mumbai and Delhi, realised. The brand has a customised mini-site on Facebook with around 400 members who actively write about products, discuss them and also make recommendations for other members. “It’s an extremely effective medium as one can update the ‘real’ consumers regularly, saving both time and money,” feels Ami Gupta, brand manager. “Moving forward, our digital strategy will encompass other networking sites as well,” he adds.

DoUSpeakGreen, an online retailer of eco-friendly clothing, uses Facebook in a similar way to reach out to its customers and their friends in India and abroad.

Even established businesses are starting to seek an audience through Facebook. For Lokesh Bharwani, owner of Mad Over Donuts, Facebook was the perfect window to tap the potential of the world wide web. “A large part of our consumer base is the youth who are also avid users of social media, Facebook in particular,” says Bharwani. The response was equally gratifying — the Mad Over Donuts Facebook page ‘friends’, numbering around 35,000 currently, have come up with suggestions for menus and outlet locations. “All events and offers are communicated through the Fan Page,” he says. The plan next is to launch an application to engage Facebook fans.

Even government agencies have joined Facebook now, presumably in order to reach out young citizens. Delhi Traffic Police, for instance, has a Facebook page with more than 16,000 followers who actively provide the cops with updates about traffic woes around the city, as well as report policemen who demand bribes. Incredibly, suggestions and feedback on the page are duly answered by a representative of Delhi Traffic Police.

Will Facebook now please help clear the traffic jams?

GAMES BY THE BOOK

Over 15 per cent of Facebook’s 500 million users play games. Farmville is the most popular of these games, with 85 million users as of June 2010 — far, far more than any game on any other platform.

A rather silly game of growing vegetables and fruits on a virtual farm, Farmville’s popularity is partly explained by the fact that, on Facebook, it has become a community exercise where you can brag to fellow Facebookers about what crops you grew and what animals you own, and also gift farm produce to your friends. No wonder it earned Zynga Games, its creator, revenues of close to $200 million in 2009.

As Alok Kejriwal, CEO of Games2win.com, puts it, “Social networking has lured many more gamers. When you put games on a platform where you spend at least 10 minutes of your day, suddenly the time spent [on gaming] goes up.”

Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames.com believes that casual gamers spend no more than five minutes on a game. “So games on social networking sites are ideal for such users,” he says.

Crazytaxi (5 lakh players) or Mafia Wars (another game from Zynga) are two other popular Facebook games. Indian gaming site Zapak, too, has launched its Facebook application with 40 games on Facebook. Deepak Abbot, vice president, product, Zapak.com, says, “Many of our users visit Facebook frequently. This application will offer them their games even when they are not on Zapak.com.”

Not that every Facebook user plays these games, or even likes them. There’s even an “I don’t care about your farm, fish, pork or your mafia” group on Facebook, which has about 6,285,496 fans so far.

But Facebook and Zynga aren’t complaining.

PICTUREBOOK
It’s not all fun and games on Facebook. The social networking tool is the virtual world’s leading picture management and storage site. Over 3 billion photos are currently uploaded on Facebook all over the world. Earlier this month, Vizisense, a web analytics firm, revealed that over 18.7 million users from India upload photos on Facebook every month. In contrast, only about 1.8 million photos are uploaded on Yahoo’s Flickr and 1.6 million on Google’s Picasa. Such has been the impact of Facebook that photo-sharing sites are now building their own capabilities. The latest version of Picasa, for example, allows visitors and album owners to share photos with users on other social networks.

First Published: Sat, July 31 2010. 00:09 IST
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