[Interview] Planning Commission’s Outlook Towards Social Media – Interview with Mr. Vikas Bagri [Part 2]
You might have read the Part One of the interview with Mr. Vikas Bagri from from Office of Advisor to PM on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations. If you haven’t, we would suggest that you read it before you begin here.
Read? Great! Now let us read further about the Social Media strategy that the Planning Commission intends to use. Here is the second part of the interview with Mr. Bagri.
Please tell us more about the recently organized Hackathon and its integration with Social Media.
The objective of doing the hackathon itself was interlinked with social media. We put together our short term social media strategy with the Planning Commission on the twelfth plan, while at the same time making different formats like infographics, short films, presentations and so on. We thought to also democratize this process, by creating the communication material.
We had initially thought that there are a lot of people at the Planning Commission. If we create some material, we can outsource it to agencies, so why not create short films and invest in it? But then we came up with the idea of the hackathon. The core objective of the hackathon was basically two-fold: one, to engage the youth in the plan. When we announced the hackathonm there were almost about 1900 – 2000 odd registrations, which meant that there were 2000 people in the country, mostly young entrepreneurs, students, faculty members, young working professionals who were interested in the twelfth plan and the hackathon. 800-900 of the participants were from various locations.
As I was saying, the first part was preparing the Twelfth plan, while the second part was creating communication material for the twelfth plan. Since we are in the government, our perspective of looking at the plan has been one-way. The idea was to understand how India can communicate with the rest of India. The youth would come together, read the plan, understand it, and then would come up with something that their peers would also understand. That was the main idea behind organizing the hackathon.
The objective of the hackathon was to engage people with the twelfth plan, and then to take their help in creating communication via social media. If you see the hackathon, you will find three categories: Visualization, Short Films and Mobile Applications. We had decided to use interesting material from the hackathon on our social media channels, publicizing them in the process as well.
We spent no money on advertising the hackathon, because we depended entirely on social media to publicize it. We used Twitter and Facebook instead of print ads or television commercials. Twitter users found the tweets interesting, and retweeted it—users starting from Shashi Tharoor to users from outside the country. The Planning Commission’s following had been responding to the Twitter handle as well. Facebook India had also begun to post, and their 7 million followers greatly helped to spread the word.
Further, BBC expressed interest in a Facebook and Twitter chat with Montek and Sam on the hackathon, which was conducted a day before the hackathon began.BBC has a huge following, and more than 1 lakh followers on Facebook. Spreading the word about the hackathon was thus, done at no cost to us.
Lastly, the hackathon was conducted at ten different locations, and open across country to everybody; more information of these different locations was available on the website.
We guessed that using social media would be the only way we can connect to a large number of people. A core team was created to operate it, who were spread over all 10 locations. We had identified 6-7 different subject areas, like agriculture, and health and education etc. Each of these subjects had a group on Facebook, the links to which you will find on the planning commission’s Facebook page.
We intimated to the participants on the first day that they could join these groups, with respect to their interests. Any technical questions about the plan, requiring phone numbers, details or queries could be addressed to the group, which would be answered as soon as possible. Our young colleagues and advisers at the planning commission worked very well addressing all these queries.
We also planned a series of Google Hangouts with the planning commission advisers. If you view the planning commission YouTube channel, you find a playlist on the hackathon. You will find videos of the advisers of the planning commission talking, sometimes with a slideshow presentation, explaining the different aspects of particular subject areas in the plan. This hangout was more visual, followed by a question and answer session on Facebook.
Our Facebook page was running 24×7; you will find queries being addressed at 4am on a Sunday morning. Sometimes different people asked the same question, so those who already had the same query answered would respond to the same query. This made the group extremely interesting and all kinds of information, eg. reminders or deadlines, was being intimated via Facebook.
All the different locations were sending their photographs, letting other people know what was happening, and tweeting about it. The twitter handles ‘twelfth plan’ and ‘hackathon’ were trending in Delhi during those two days, and the fact that all of this happened over social media added to the beauty of it.
How effective do you think Social Media can be in propagating innovation?
Innovation is different; I mean it is a cycle, right? From conceptualizing an idea to feeding the idea – you need a mentor, you need constant monitoring, you need people who can validate and help you develop the idea. Then you need funding, you need access to technical domain expertise, and mentorship. You need to partner with similar people or people you want to work with. And then finally spreading the word and advertising this innovation.
In the whole cycle, I think, social medial plays different roles. Today, if you’re looking for things which are new, there are Twitter lists and Twitter feeds, Pinterest and other channels that can help you understand it further.
They can help you figure out the best people in the field to talk to. Twitter gives you instant information and immense scope of building connections. You can send tweet to anybody and ask a question. It helps you to make new connections, connect with new ideas, get more information about the required field and get updated on the latest news. I think, one, it’s about making connections, whether it is with ideas, with people, with events, and second, it helps you take these connections forward with further communication. After you have developed this connect, start communicating. It’s a two-way communication platform.
Also, before connection, I would like to add another word – Exploration. Social media helps you explore first, then make the required connection, and then communicate. So at different points of the innovation cycle, I feel that social media can help in different respects. And since it is so instant, it feels like it’s always going on and fresh, and a major part of the innovation ecosystem. And finally, I think there is nothing like social media, which can give you viral exposure.
We’ve seen different ideas, it could be music, it could be certain people, who have gone viral simply because of social media. I think, when you’ve got fantastic innovations coming up, it can help you go viral at a minimal cost, at a minimal time. There’s a high efficiency there, in helping you communicate to people and go viral.
Do you think the data and insights generated using social media can be used in creating future 5-year plans?
Well, tough question to answer. We need sophisticated applications riding over social media platforms which would help you do so.
For example, so many people are talking about so many different things. The issue could be of a serious or a frivolous nature. One day, “x” name could be trending on twitter because of some political issue, but on the flip side, a few days ago I found some random thing trending on twitter which was completely frivolous. But either way, the feed tells you that a lot of people are interested in this. How do you gather and analyze their interest or their opinions into something which is as serious as the plan?
If you have a 10 lakh following, you can ask people questions and get their responses. But then on the other side, if you ask me how much budget should be allocated for the defence of our country, I will not be able to answer, considering I am not an expert in national defence. But I will definitely have an opinion on it. So you need a way – and it needs to be more sophisticated than the existing way – of using social media on how to get domain experts involved in this.
Even I know that in India, and usually even around the world, everybody has an opinion on everything. But we may not be the right domain expert to give you the right answers.
Yes, social media can gather opinion but I think you need more pooled in techniques and more minds – both from the government and the citizens to get into a serious thing such as doing the five-year plan using social media.
How much resources (budget, effort, etc.) are being spent on your social media efforts? How many people are there in your team?
Whatever has been done till now has been done by a group of volunteers- about 15-20 young professionals, supported by the seniors at the Planning Commission and the Innovation Council. Various advisers at the Planning Commission, the members, secretary of Planning Commission and Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwaliya have been very, very supportive of this. Mr. Sam Pitroda and Mr. Amit Agarwal, both from the Innovation Council have been really helpful.
The members of the National Mission Council have also been very supportive. The efforts in the last two months by this young team have been immense, considering this concept is so new and happened so fast, that there were not any dedicated resources overall.
Even though all people who were working on something else, they contributed their time. A lot of times it was after or during office hours, but these kids were working for 10-12 hours a day earlier. Now they would voluntarily work for 14-15 hours a day, even working on weekends.
In the last two months, the effort has been huge. The team has worked really hard. We incurred some expenses during the hackathon and on some travel involved, to visit the 10 locations, but that was about it.
How do you see Social Media shaping up the Future of our Nation in the coming years?
I think social media is just starting to gain ground. We need more people using it. Today, it is about 150 million or so. That has to grow. Moreover, the mindset. A lot of people, especially the seniors, still think that the since name says social media so it is about socializing.
I truly believe that it can definitely be used for something besides socializing. In order to do that, you need both the mindset to change from the civilian part and the government part. How will the Government want to use it and how will the civilians help the government using it?
The government is definitely thinking about the other aspects of social media. I think we need to see more and more applications coming in; possibly new platforms coming in which will help you use social medial creatively and usefully. It has become a great way of making noise or screaming your opinion. Then, you are actually putting pressure on the system.
What are your future plans with regard to Social Media and the Planning Commission? Any initiatives on the dock that you can share with us?
Right now, we are now sort of documenting what we did and how we did it.
We had a great experience and the next step now is really to institutionalize this within the planning commission. There are some initial ideas on how we could do it and the discussions are going on. Considering the Planning Commission works with different ministries, we need to take a call on how we should integrate and what our communication protocol should be.
Mr. Sam Pitroda is counted as an advisor to the PM. He might be working on 40 projects but he knows and is aware of what is happening in each project, its challenges, opportunities, etc. He can ask the questions directly. But here it is an institutional account—it is the Planning Commission of India.
The Planning Commission deals with 30- 35 different subject areas. It consists of so many members, advisers, the secretary planning commission, the deputy chairman planning commission. So we are still brainstorming on ways of developing communication protocol because we do not want it to be one way. We want it to be a two-way communication, which is what social medial is best used for. For example, if a question is under the rural division, who will answer it? If you need to do to a conference on education, how will it run? So for different service areas, we need to assign the front people and they need to keep updating themselves on their subjects.
Will there be a central team overseeing the subject areas communicating the relevant information to the different divisions and should they monitor it? Should we have more twitter handles, or should one be enough? It is not as simple as an individual account and we are now actively discussing this. I am sure that within a month’s time you will see action happening on this subject.
Our twitter following has grown pretty fast and I think we have more than 46,000 followers with good feedback coming to us via Twitter. There are a lot good comments coming in on the organization of the hackathon both on Facebook and Twitter. So it is pretty good that way.
— Arif Khan (@arifkhan7) May 1, 2013
— Frederick Douglass (@ThomasWillie) April 15, 2013
Massive Participation for the First Planning Commission Hackathon http://t.co/peuz7BgjC4
— careers-india.com (@careersindia) April 9, 2013
— Arif Khan (@arifkhan7) April 8, 2013
— Melissa Frakman (@MelissaFrakman) April 8, 2013
- And while the media is new, it also requires new formats to communicate, like infographics, even shorter presentations, videos and all of these new, short, crisp formats.
- For Mr. Pitroda, Twitter is a good way of talking directly to the people and the press. It is more widespread.
- Twitter is about making connections, whether it is with ideas, with people, or with events. Second, it helps you to then take these connections forward with more communication. After you have made the connect, begin communication.
- Social Media is instant, in real-time and always fresh, so it’s part of the innovation ecosystem.
- Everybody has an opinion on everything. But we may not be the right domain expert to give out the right answers. It needs to be more sophisticated than the existing way of using domain experts on social media. Maybe Twitter or Facebook can’t do it.
- Social media can gather opinions, but I think you need more pooled in techniques and more change of mindset – both with respect to the government and on the citizen to get into a serious thing such as doing the five-year plan using social media.
- We are still brainstorming on ways of developing communication protocol because we do not want it to be one way. We want it to be two-way communication which is what social medial is best used for.