Social networking sites can be used to nail rumour mongers.
On June 17, shares of ICICI Bank fell 3.5 per cent in intra-day trade following rumours that a $1 billion lawsuit had been filed against it in the US. Within hours, however, the share price recovered. On June 18, business was back to normal for the bank’s scrip at the bourses.
ICICI Bank is known for its alacrity in responding to, and scotching, rumours (eg. it responded well when there was a run on the bank in October 2008). The Bank has also almost mastered the art of tracking gossip online — on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Orkut, besides blogs and websites. It, then, takes appropriate action to tackle the rumours.
Consider this tweet (online conversations which do not exceed 140 words) when the rumour came to light and was later reported by TV channels: “@gulpanag: ICICI committed 3k crore fraud in US.sebi fined 1 billion dollar on ICICI bank as the news goes.. 2:12 PM Jun 17th via web in reply to gulpanag”. Now check one of the replies: “@sandeepgeetla These r baseless rumours abt ICICI Bank, request u to not pay heed to them & also not spread them further…”
ICICI Bank monitors around 3,000 to 5,000 such tweets or conversations daily on its twitter address @icicibank_care. Experts familiar with the development point out that the Bank uses a tracking system “to listen to online conversations like Tweets and blogs and react accordingly”. So it was easy for the Bank to trace the conversation to the rumour-monger’s email ID and confront him — all in a matter of hours. ICICI, then, filed a complaint against the person with the cybercrime cell of the police (since the IT Act 2000 is much more effective than slander laws in the country) and market watchdog SEBI.
The reasons to “monitor online conversations” are compelling. India has an estimated 4-4.5 million users on Twitter and over 15 million Facebook users while Orkut users are pegged around 16 million. Besides, a large proportion of ICICI Bank’s customers transact online; that number alone is in millions.
But with nearly 900 twitter followers, the bank is simply a case in point. In February 2009, education services provider Educomp faced a similar situation with bear cartels spreading rumours about it. The company used social media tools effectively to regain investor confidence.
Tweets — and comments on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut besides blogs — can also be (and are being) used as a tool to provide customer service, generate sales (taking leads by tracking tweets that are scouting for a product) or directly sell a brand. Thus, companies, banks, TV channels and even marketers and advertising agencies are seeing value in having a presence on micro-blogging and social networking sites.
For instance, India’s largest IT services provider Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has slightly over 4,200 followers while Channel V (India) has nearly 5,100 followers. And companies are willing to spend money on new media initiatives — anywhere between Rs 150,000 and Rs 800,000 per month on an average on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and some blogs.
There a host of new media agencies like Pinstorm, Social Wavelength and Avignyata which have built domain expertise in this space.
“Even things like not having enough cash in an ATM, for instance, get reported in tweets. It is extremely important to react at the earliest to such problems and the tweets give enterprises ample opportunity to take quick action, remedy the situation, and preserve their brand image,” notes Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of Pinstorm. His team helps corporations respond to multiple tweets daily to either thank a twitter for a complimentary remark or to “correct a perception”. The other tweets are ignored but stored for future reference if needed.
Pinstorm uses a “customised tracker” which can understand local jargon like khoka, etc., “and red flag the conversation”. The company has built a tool called ‘Buzz Meter’ which is basically an automated tool to perform such actions. It also has a ‘Social Tracker’ which listens and intervenes in conversations. “Our company has tracked 800,000 conversations till date for a single client,” says Murthy. These millions of conversations (for all clients) are “searchable, can be revived and audited too”. This implies that if a person spreads a rumour online, “his actions can be compared in real-time to past conversations to trace any patterns that can identify him/her as a habitual offender”.
So the next time anyone thinks of spreading rumours online, s/he may well remember that online eyes are also looking for mischief.