Paid influence: How Tata & Wadia can trend on Twitter for less than 15K/hour
The fallout of Cyrus Mistry's firing doesn't seem to end. Since the news that he was no longer in charge of the Tata Group broke, accusations and counter-accusations have flown thick and fast. However, while the battle has chiefly been fought behind boardroom doors and within the pages of pink papers, the spat entered the twilight zone a few days ago when it shifted to Twitter.
A tale of 3 hashtags
But this fight wasn't between the protagonists themselves - Ratan Tata has a sparsely used Twitter handle while the key figures on the other side, Cyrus Mistry and Nusli Wadia, have no Twitter presence at all. Instead, it all began, as things often do on Twitter, with a poorly articulated hashtag - #Cyrus4governance.
The existence of the hashtag is bizarre. That the unassuming and reticent Cyrus Mistry commands legions of supporters, enough to make the hashtag trend nationally is implausible. But things got even stranger when #Support4Tata popped up to take the sheen off the Mistry support. Things only got zanier when Nusli Wadia got involved in the whole fracas and #WADIATRUTHSTATALIES suddenly popped up.
A look at the tweets from each trend show people with surprisingly strong feelings on the issue, despite no evident involvement in the proceedings.
A closer examination of the trends, however, made one thing clear - none of them were organic in the least. Instead, they were, as most Twitter trends in India are, the result of paid 'influencers' retweeting garbled, poorly articulated statements of support, usually with a link to an article espousing their side's argument.
Paid influencers are easy to identify. Their Twitter bios are usually an agglomeration of 1-word descriptors. Their timelines, meanwhile, have little in the way of personality. Instead, the vacuum is filled with an endless stream of endorsements in sync with the days trends. From a car to demonetisation to, as in this case, warring businessmen, they will endorse anything for a price.
In this case, just to make sure, we tried recruiting some of Ratan Tata's "supporters" ourselves, just to see how easy it was. The replies didn't take long. From Rs 7 to Rs 100, influencers were willing to do our bidding for a pittance. One influencer, who'd been fairly active in the #Support4Tata trend, informed us that he controlled a network of influencers, and offered us package deals. A top-10 trend, he informed us, would cost between Rs 10-15 thousand per hour.
One influencer, aghast that we were individually approaching influencers, passed up the opportunity herself, giving us the contact of a man who commanded an influencer network. "I believe in good deeds!" she informed us when asked why she'd pass us the chance.
Her contact, as it turned out was the real deal, proving it in a series of messages.
Influencers aren't even a shady secret anymore with companies like BlogMint proudly boasting their ability to manipulate Twitter trends through influencer networks.
All of this made it adequately clear that Twitter trends have been gamed to the point where they are nothing but vanity projects. None of this is news to big corporations, who use these methods routinely to provide their ad campaigns with visibility or at least the inflated numbers that allow them the pretense of success.
So why then would the camps of 3 well established, intelligent and erudite businessmen waste their time and money in such silliness?
A game of no winners
This lame attempt at one-upmanship was bound to end only way - with 3 losers rather than a winner. Twitter trends in this country have long since lost all value, meaning there's little to be gained in terms of PR mileage. Worse, activities like these make these trends even less valuable.
They haven't done a thing to really affect the perceptions that matter either. No serious Tata shareholder is looking at the tweets of @prerna_sugababez and her atrocious grammar or a terribly unoriginal hashtag for guidance when it comes to picking sides. If they wanted to change those perceptions they'd have better luck with conventional media where their shareholders actually look for advice.
What these trends have done, however, is reflect poorly on 3 otherwise well respected businessmen. Even though it's fairly obvious none of them would have directly orchestrated these laughable campaigns, their existence makes all three - Tata, Mistry & Wadia - look insecure. From stoic, rational-minded businessmen, their involvement in something as meaningless as a trend war makes it seem like their egos are fragile at best.