How social media has impacted public discourse

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Hate it or be hooked to it, social media has revolutionised the communications industry. While some people say for the better, others point out its various flaws. We bring together expert views from a cross-section of influentials – actor Gul Panag and social media strategist Hareesh Tibrewala, brand expert Harish Bijoor, former Member of Parliament Milind Deora and journalist-columnist Ranjona Banerji — to tell us more. Dyanne Coelho listens in—

Do you think social media has really revolutionised the communications industry?
Gul Panag: For starters, it’s two-way communication, which was missing earlier, because you had people talking at you. Now you have people who talk, and those who speak back to you. That’s the one big change social media has brought in, and it’s revolutionary.

Would you say it has been a gamechanger in influencing public discourse in India?
Gul Panag: Political discourse has gained a lot because of social media. Never before in our history have so many people, and across socio-economic strata, discussed politics as they did during the 2014 General Elections. Also, people and issues that never got attention earlier, now have more of a chance of this. For instance, the North East was never a part of mainstream public discourse. But thanks to social media, the Manipur blockade from a few years ago, got attention. It was already in its third week when some of us posted about it on Twitter, but once it started trending, it made it to the front pages of most newspapers as well.

And while social media has given new voice to people, how do you think has it changed the way brands, marketers, politicians and journalists communicate with their stakeholders?
Gul Panag: Brands need to realise that it is not just a one-way conversation where they talk at consumers. It is not only about talking to your target audience, but getting your target audience to talk about you. Brands like Redbull don’t employ direct marketing. They sponsor an F1 team, or an aerobatic flight squad for air shows, and that makes people think Redbull is cool. It is rewarding for a brand to have people talk about it, rather than it talking to people, because that also comes at a very large cost.

Conversations have now moved from the coffee table to a social media platform. What do you envision for the future of the communications industry?
Gul Panag: In the future we’re going to see periodic, disruptive changes. For example, the first round of disruption came with Twitter, then Pinterest and Snapchat. You will always find a disruption the moment we settle into a status quo, and you can either evolve yourself, or you will be forced to evolve because of the disruptions that will happen. Instagram began as a photo-sharing medium, but it also has videos now and that’s enabling people to put their stories across in a manner like never before. So that’s disruptive change.

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