When Companies Are Allergic to Status Updates

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Mumbai, August 8, 2010


CNN recently fired senior journalist Octavia Nasr for lamenting the death of a Hezbollah leader on Twitter

When companies are

to status updates
When companies frame a ‘social media policy’ for their employees, is it really to protect confidential client information, as they claim? Or is it driven by a desire to prevent negative press about management decisions from popping up on Facebook and Twitter? Uttarika Kumaran finds out
n July 16, 2010, the same day it announced its social media policy the first of its kind for a ma, jor IT company in India, Infosys was already on the back foot. “This is not meant to be a gag on employees. It’s about protecting IP [intellectual property] and client confidentiality,” it tweeted in vain, as a volley of negative press from both within and outside the organisation spread across the social networking world. The company’s recent career restructuring policy iRace (Infosys Role and Ca, reer Enhancement), which was initially conceived to avoid layoffs during recession, had subjected thousands of employees to demotions and pay-cuts instead. The growing resentment was publicly aired on the company’s internal online forums and external social networking platforms.


An internal affair
Another IT behemoth Google Inc., has also had its own social media demons to contend with. Rumours about Google’s ruthless laying off of employees who’ve leaked information about upcoming products keep circulating, but are substantiated neither by Google (the company refused to comment when contacted by DNA), nor its tightlipped staff. Last year, when the company gifted all its employees the much hyped G-phone, it encouraged them to blog and tweet about the soon to be launched product. But one employee in an overseas office took it too far. “The company hadn’t yet communicated the launch date to the media. But she tweeted about it, and next thing you know, she got fired,” says Rohit Parikh, a former Google employee. Parikh, however, also mentions the presence of a vibrant internal discussion forum at Google. “Internally there’s no cen, sorship — you can say whatever you want, but not so externally And most employees . understand the difference.” Ironically enough, Infosys, which has enthusiastically spearheaded the use of social media in creating a free and fair atmosphere for employee interaction, has quickly had to face its unflattering consequences in the Indian context. While declining to refer to a specific case, Nandita Gurjar, senior vice-president and group head, HR, Infosys, says it’s more the possibility of employees not perceiving the difference between internal and ex-

ternal platforms of communication that necessitated the creation of a social media policy “This policy is to make them aware . that even if you’re talking to someone who works in the same project as you, you can’t discuss client or company confidential information,” she adds. Infosys employee Rajat Jhaveri believes that if such an instance had actually taken place, the ruckus created wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. Instead, he feels exchanges between Infosys employees in recent times belie a far more discernable trend since the recession. “If you go through both the internal forum and online discussion boards on Facebook and other websites where Infosys employees have vented their anger, you’ll see it’s frustration with policy which is the predominant emotion, and it has nothing to do with the disclosure of client data.” Clearly, controversy regarding senior management creates the most fertile ground for a full frontal social media backlash, as another Indian IT company, Satyam, discovered in recent times. After Ramalinga Raju admitted to corporate fraud in January 2009, in the weeks following, Facebook, Twitter and Orkut accounts across the world were inundated

with millions of jokes and jibes directed at the Satyam founder. And while Satyam employees contemplated their fate on social networking websites, the absence of a centrally located online discussion forum, insiders feel, only contributed to the subsequent confusion and hasty resignations. As former marketing and communications manager in Satyam, Prasanna Kumar reveals, just before the scandal broke out, the IT company was actually planning to launch a brand new internal social media platform. “We were developing a social networking tool that combined Facebook and Twitter, along with other elements, to enhance employee interactivity After the .” Mahindra Group took over, the tool was finally introduced but internal uncertainties and severe attrition rates meant that the platform never took off in a big way .

My space vs office space
At the other end of the spectrum, Infosys officially has an employee redressal system, an extremely active internal blog, and a policy discussion forum Myvoice, which purportedly sees 3,000 to 4,000 hits a day .

But that’s not necessarily a good thing, says Anil P, blogger and IT professional. “The idea that internal forums are very active is usually a PR gimmick. If it does happen, like in the case of Infosys currently, it’s only because attrition rates are rising and there is a strong anti-policy vibe.” In fact, Santosh, an ex-Infosys employee reveals, “There were instances where the blogs have been shut down because of the intense anti-Infosys sentiments.” Consequently, for a majority of disgruntled employees, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Orkut are a safe refuge from the prying eyes of their employers, many of whom place a high price on confidential client information. This is especially the case with MNCs who have clients in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector. So how does Infosys intend to enact the policy given that it’s impossible to trace employee online behaviour outside of the company intranet? Denying the possibility of monitoring social networking websites through online surveillance tools, Gurjar says, “It’ll be through employees themselves that such cases will be reported. But once you create awareness, it will be very unlikely that it will happen.” Vikram Thakar, IT Head, Hutchison 3 Global Services Pvt. Ltd, offers a clearer guess, “Lots of companies are on social networking sites today through Facebook groups and such. I’m thinking people from HR or the audits department who’re already members on such websites, will use it as a means to monitor status updates and comments.” But for now at least, this may not deter most employees from continuing to enjoy the greatest privileges that the Internet offers — freedom of choice and anonymity . Social media experts, on the whole, believe a bit of respect and trust on the employer’s part can help corporates reap the benefits of social media without having to constantly combat its negative effects. Some names have been changed on request
[email protected]

For disgruntled employees, social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Orkut were a safe refuge, away from the prying eyes of their employers, many of whom place a high price on confidential client information

Illustration by Ravi Jadhav

Poor customer service? Don’t call, just tweet
Savvy consumers are discovering that raising a stink on Twitter works better and quicker than dialling a call centre and being put on hold forever, reports Arcopol Chaudhuri
ble-checked the tickets himself. The icing on the cake happened when the couple was upgraded to business class on their return flight. Almost a year after the incident, Hrush Bhatt, founder and director (product and strategy), Cleartrip, recollects, “In terms of customer care, that episode was challenging, not because we could not fix it, but because of the number of people to whom the incident was exposed.” Bhatt is probably right. Shankar’s tweets are read by about 56,171 followers, and every tweet could be influential in shaping or damaging reputations. Twitter in particular, is allowing customers to cut through the bureaucracy at big organisations and inject a sense of urgency into the customer support process. An irate tweet is likely to become more of a nuisance than an irate complaint letter, and organisations are struggling to respond to complaints in real time, in public.” Manoj Damodaran who works with an online media agency, shares a dilemma he faced with a telecom company once, when he wanted his credit limit on his cellphone connection to be extended. “Repeated calls to the customer care helpline went in vain. It was annoying because the customer care executive did not understand the urgency of my situation. I tweeted to the company’s Twitter handle explaining my situation. They took about five days to respond, but when they did, I got a call from their headquarters and they solved my problem immediately .” the onus of responding to Twitterbased complaints.” Shankar says there are lessons in all this. “It’s natural to screw up. But it takes courage for a company to admit its mistake,” He adds, “A prompt response and phone calls help. I haven’t stopped booking tickets on that website.”
[email protected]



hen noted blogger Kiruba Shankar had a harrowing experience booking an air ticket on a travel website, it threatened to spoil his wedding anniversary — a short vacation to Malaysia with his wife. While the ticket got booked, it was yet to be a ‘confirmed ticket’. When he and his wife landed at the airport, officials continued to pass the buck, and eventually, after running from pillar to post, when he did get the tickets, the couple was the last to enter the flight, five minutes before take-off. “I was panting and awash with sweat. My wife was really hassled. This is NOT the kind of experience I wanted to give her on her vacation,” he wrote later on his blog, livid with the travel website. He eventually posted a tweet venting his frustration. “That’s when I realised the importance of Twitter. You get to say what you want in quick time.” Soon after, the co-founder of the company in question, Cleartrip, not only sent him an apology email, but also confirmed his return tickets, calling him up to tell him that he had dou-

Brand manager’s nightmare
The episode probably sparked off the first amongst many such customer care exercises on Twitter, when companies took note of what a single tweet could do. Today brands like Kingfish, er, Cafe Coffee Day, Parle Agro’s Hippo, Vodafone, Bajaj Allianz, Flipkart amongst several others in India have warmed up to answering customer queries on Twitter. The time taken to solve each query might be different, but with India showing the second highest number of Twitter users in the world — approximately 3 million out of an active internet population of 52 million — it is acknowledged that a consumer’s frustration about a certain brand is only 140 characters away from becoming public. Gaurav Mishra, CEO, 2020 Social, reasons, “Social media in general, and

Twitter is too open
But not many companies will warm up to dedicated customer care on Twitter. Experts say that Twitter is too open and brands are insecure of customers washing dirty linen in public. Sanjay Mehta, who heads social media agency, Social Wavelength, says, “The only companies who’ll handle complaints better are the one who choose to do so. Most brands fear that their response to a complaint on Twitter may end up creating a storm which they may not be able to cope with. So estimating the resource demands, creating a protocol, all these have to be in place. Only then can a brand take on

Frustration with a brand is only 140 characters away from becoming public

Hrush Bhatt, founder of Cleartrip checking the company’s Twitter account on an iPad —Vipin Pawar.DNA

ust how Indian is English? In this headline from a leading national daily it sounds very nearly Greek. , ‘House collapse kills 4: Owner built three floors after marrying her three sons.’ That’s almost Homeric. Maybe Oedipus was one of triplets, the Greek version of Amar Akbar Anthony. The truth is a little more prosaic. A Hindi transliteration explains all. It’s just Apni Angrezi. Only Angrezi isn’t apni. It is French. , Europe’s first appearance in Indian memory is as Farangistan, the land of those marauding Franks who sustained the bloody crusades next door for two centuries. We knew the word Firangi long before Vasco da Gama made landfall at Kappakadavu on 20 May 1498. The many Europeans pampered in the lavish courts of sultans and rajas were all firangis. Whether their postcards home were in Italian, Portuguese, Russian or Slavic, we, with our inherent xenophobia, only knew them as firangi. But the Englishman was subtly different. The first to admit this were the indignant firangis whose ships were ambushed by British pirates. They labelled the pirate as Anglaise or Inglese. And when he made land here, in far more gentle guise, he was quickly naturalised as Angrez. Historians have overlooked the irony of Angrez. In the metaphor of Indian Ink, it is onomatopoeia. Ang in Hindi is limb, rez in Urdu is to erase or destroy . That’s four centuries packed into one word. Angrez — a self-descriptive history of British India. If A is for Angrezi, then B has to be backpacker, a neat description, as every word carries its very own knapsack of story . I began this column while eating brinjal. Now that’s a word distinctly dated. The purple emperor hitching a ride in your biodegradable shopping bag cannot possibly be a brinjal. Your weekend fix of food porn should set that right tout de suite. Brinjal is strictly for the proles,

Travels with a brinjal J

gourmands who glut on bhajiya and bharta. Haute cuisine demands nothing less than aubergine, a word easily associated with a quaint little village in Provence or our villa in Tuscany. Aubergine oozes olive oil, fabulous stuff, not to be confused with the crisp baingan bhajiya of the nukkad fry-out. If street cred is what you crave, nothing works like eggplant. Only somebody with a severely restricted acquaintance with this vegetable could have named it after an egg. There are egg-shaped white brinjals, or I would have diagnosed colour-blindness too. Brinjal is a purple tribute to those vagile botanists, the Portuguese, who got it from the badinjan of the Arabs who got it from the local Indian words vartaki, bhantaki, vaingana, baingan. Badinjan became Spanish la berenjena, and from there it was a short step to aubergine. Our brinjal, like most things extensively Europeanised, is a Bongobashi, a fruit of Vanga, Bengal. The travels of the baingan can be matched only by one other backpacker. Haji Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al-Lawati Al-Tanji Ibn Battuta. Reading his Rihla, I’ve pondered his name time and again. Name and origin are simple enough, but what of the patronymic? What could Battuta mean? In Italian, battuta is line or stroke, and our traveller’s father was a scholar in Islamic law, and perhaps the only writer in the Malilki ‘hood of Tinji — sardonically nicknamed ‘Lines.’ You think that’s far-fetched? In Tangier, circa 1304, the with-it language was Lingua Franca, a mixture of Italian, Turkish, French, Spanish, Greek and Arabic. Clearly not Babel enough for young Abu Abdullah, who set out on a quest for diversity that would last 24 years. Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena imagined the moment: Ibn e Battuta, pehenke joota, chal pada toofan mein… Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed write as ‘Kalpish Ratna’

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