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Fact-checker websites needed to tell what's true on social media:Suhel Seth

Where social media has made the world more egalitarian, democratic, equal, and anonymous it also has no filters, getting messages a huge amount of amplification. More and more people are engaged in various forms of social media post-pandemic. It is used for buying and selling goods, doing transactions, gathering information, its absorption as well as sharing of information.

However sounding a word of caution, columnist and businessman, Suhel Seth says that social media is also used to propagate fake news and lies and needs for which there is a need for having fact-checker websites to prevent potential dangers  

“The danger is that a lot of things on social media end up being untrue- what is called fake news. The ability for people to sift between what is right and what is not needed to be sharpened. We need fact-checkers and available sites that tell people what is true and what is not. Unless we have that, there is also the danger of herd mentality where people start believing what is not true and they amplify it so much that they start believing what is not true to be true and that is very dangerous.”

He was in a conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, as part of the Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform.

Seth who is the founder and managing partner of consultancy firm Counselage India said, today social media allows you audio and video features to show and share what you are doing. He said, companies should use social media for 3 things- communication, corporate responsibility, and complaint management. “ … now companies think if they respond to complaints it means they are submitting. But the fact of the matter is more and more brands today are being complained against on social media.. and the smart companies are the ones that address grievances immediately. Address cancer in the bud otherwise more and more companies will fall prey”.

On the other hand, he said many CEOs of companies are also on Twitter and doing remarkable things that get traction. “Social media does have a positive side, but it needs to be checked, calibrated, and controlled.. and all this lies in the hands of the user,” he said.  

Seth also said that the traditional methodology of PR (public relations) has changed because of the way people are receiving real-time information and news- today.

“Earlier PR was about whining and dining journalists, planting stories…all that has gone because people are available on tap. People with diverse views can access media platforms or tools and let the truth be known ..in an atmosphere where you and I have access, both to the truth and to the medium, traditional PR then goes by the wayside” he said.

While speaking on news channel debates he said, “The art of conversation and carefully analyzed thoughtful discussion on channels has disappeared. “What we see is a rush toward Breaking News... it's more breaking heads than breaking news.”

On the media doing its own trials, he said, “Consumer is not a moron, she is your wife. The consumer will give leeway but when they realize the water has hit your nose or eyes they will disappear. News and media brands need to be very cognizant of the breaking point. What can be worse is not believing in a brand that is trying to engage with you.”

On being asked about different brands adopting different modes of communication and what has changed he said, post-pandemic, he said, brands have become more aware that social media may be consumed by a very small percentage of user populations but with a large number of influencer population.. “..and that can  have repercussions ..the dangers of things going wrong on social media are pretty high.”

Also, he said that people are recognizing the fact that today more and more people who are using and consuming social media have tools not only to influence but also to force a narrative. Given the example of Tanishq, Sabyasachi Mangalsutra, Dabur Karwa Chauth ads among many others that had to be withdrawn after public outrage he said, we saw how companies that used certain symbols in their ads and they had to withdraw those ads because of the pressure on them was unreal, unbelievable.”…. having said that it shows the brute power of social media and also shows the ability for social media to be misused.”  

He said that brand building has changed substantially over the years because competition has increased in each category almost 12 to 14 times. Besides investing money, today you have to invest in product information and most importantly use everything that is available; technology for better manufacturing, more responsible manufacturing(green) and also provide to the end-user.

“Today e-commerce delivers it where you want. You don’t only create the product and advertise the brand but also worry about the logistics. It is a much more complex exercise. Additionally, due to e-commerce competition, margins are under pressure. So you make money through constant reinvention, reengineering, and reimagination.”

On being asked if brands can be built without having substance he said, brands are about benefits. If the brand does not have the benefits that the consumer needs. “Brands must have tangible and intangible benefits. You can never have hollow or shallow brands. Brands have to have substance.”  

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