We know this not from any interview or biography but straight from the horse’s mouth — in other words, their Twitter timeline. Yes, billionaires do live in a rarefied world and some of the richest, such as Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji continue to shun social media, but there are quite a few who use it with a deft hand, just like their global counterparts. And these social media-savvy uber rich are using it to connect with people directly, including customers, share their views on “shoes and ships and sealing wax” and even give us a peek into their personal lives.
Among Indian billionaires, Anand Mahindra, Harsh Goenka, Uday Kotak and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw are largely self-driven in their use of social media, according to image consultant Dilip Cherian. Brand consultant Harish Bijoor too names Mahindra and Mazumdar-Shaw as those who use it most effectively. With 1.6 million followers and over 8,900 tweets, Mahindra’s known to use social media both for his business and his interests outside it, as well as for causes he supports. For instance, he recently tweeted about his company’s acquisition of e-commerce portal Baby Oye, leaving his communication team scrambling because they were yet to put out an official press release! And his personal intervention on behalf of customers with complaints is now legendary, earning him more goodwill than any PR campaign.
Mazumdar-Shaw, who has tweeted 12,800 times and has 213,000 followers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweets about a host of subjects outside work, particularly civic issues, urban development and politics and the economy. She has no qualms about airing her views, and even when she tweets articles, it is usually with her opinion about it. Her forthrightness on Twitter has got her in trouble as well, like the time S R Patil was appointed IT/BT minister for Karnataka, and she tweeted that she was “ surprised that younger tech savvy person not picked” or when she tweeted that she was impressed with Rohan Murty’s presentation to the Infosys board, both of which she subsequently apologised for. But even mistakes, says Bijoor, help make billionaires appear more human, just like the rest of us.
Somewhat surprisingly, the billionaire with the most number of followers is Mallya, at 3.5 million, perhaps a throwback to the era when he was the king of good times. These days, though, he uses his @TheVijayMallya, handle mainly to retweet news about his Indian Premier League and Formula 1 teams, events sponsored by United Breweries and United Spirits or about his son, Sidhartha, now trying to make it in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Since Twitter also creates a level playing field of sorts, his tweets attract their share of criticism and trolling. When he retweeted his son’s tweet thanking fans of his YouTube show, saying “all good things must come to an end”, a wit replied: “Just like KFA?”
The billionaires-turned-politicians, too, are active on Twitter. Former MP Naveen Jindal (144,000 followers, 9,600 tweets), tweets articles, news about his company, and sometimes his wife, Shallu, and engages with others, such as congratulating Leander Paes on his recent victory (Paes replied). Infosys founder and unsuccessful Congress candidate Nandan Nilekani (249,000 followers, 935 tweets) and Jayadev Galla, MP and head of Amara Raj Batteries (55,400 followers, 1,848 tweets), are also in this list. After his defeat, though, Nilekani seems to restrict his tweets to a weekly quiz, where he asks people to identify pictures of monuments and places he posts.
Corporate honchos too use social media to clarify news about them in the mainstream media — for instance, internet entrepreneur Sanjeev Bikhchandani retweeted Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal’s tweet denying an article on fundraising. Bikhchandani is an investor in Zomato. Harsh Goenka went one better and tweeted, “Our financial newspapers are very good at predicting the last twelve months of the stock market.”
There are also the occasional tweeters like Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal, who is barely there with 39 tweets and Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy who has a grand total of eight tweets. His most popular tweet was the one welcoming Vishal Sikka to Infosys, retweeted 484 times. Surprisingly, ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has only 135 followers, though he tweets about his portfolio and the economy. In contrast, his parody account, @jhunjhunwala, has 86.8K followers!
Asked whether he thought billionaires should be on social media at all, Cherian says emphatically, “Without a doubt.” The reasons are many —“If your product is in the public space, people want to hear from you, and you need to step outside the corporate veil. That’s what customers, the public in general and those making policy expect. If you’re not on social media, you’re unwittingly giving the impression that you are not geared for the digital age.” Cherian adds that it also allows you to respond effectively, and is possibly the best listening post to those leading a company. “Not being on social media is like not using a lever you have in your hands.”
However, Bijoor points out that there are worse things you can do than not having a Twitter presence, such as getting a PR firm to manage your Twitter handle and not revealing that. “Twitter is a very personal medium and if your name is there, you jolly well be that person... Many outsource their Twitter handle to a PR agency, and this is smelt out fast,” he says.
Using promoted tweets, where you pay to have your tweets reach a bigger audience, can also earn you the ire of fellow-tweeters as Raymond Chairman Gautam Singhania might have realised. Singhania’s tweets, often “inspirational” quotes, would pop up on your timeline even if you did not follow him, evoking snarky responses like “This festive season, wish you all a year without Gautam Singhania’s promoted tweets.” He (or his team) may have seen the light because of late, his inspirational tweets seem to be interspersed with the personal.