The anti-social argument

A few years ago, I was witness to a joint venture in hospitality, which predictably went phut after a few months. The launch of this JV, amidst great fanfare, paraded an equally great promise – of talent on one side and capital on the other. I was curious to know what had triggered the meeting of these two entities. When I quizzed one of the directors on the capital side of the table, albeit privately, I was aghast at what they were putting their money on. “So what made you sign up with these guys?” I asked. And was told… hold your breath: “They have an amazing Facebook presence! The number of followers this brand has built on social media, in such a short time is worth the deal.” I was left with my mouth open.

It wasn’t long before the act – of being left with their mouths open – had been passed on to the investors. For that was all there was to this brand – great social media presence!

We live in times of perceived reality. Of happiness brought in by likes on Facebook and Instagram, followers on Twitter, connections on LinkedIn. But then life always catches up in business. Like on the first day of the month when you have to pay your salaries; or on the day when your EMI is due; or when your supplier insists on being paid in advance; or, worse, when your banker sends a curt reminder that your account cannot be in more red than it already is. This is, ironically, the beautiful actuality of business. The numbers are out there in the cold (unless you have dubious intentions of duping banks and heading to the Caribbean islands).

Perceived reality also means that you are not pushing hard enough/not convinced about your product and, therefore, you remain in beta/stealth mode. You are not making sales, but generate eyeballs (akin to window shopping). Do you remember the times when walking into a store just to check things out and not actually buy them would make the store owner look at you condescendingly? Why wouldn’t he? He just wanted your business. But today, in the virtual world, you can ‘wish list’ the ‘to-buy’ item and, at some algorithmic level, someone may attribute ‘real time value’ to this non-purchase.

We are victims of jargon; we delude ourselves about the reality of business prospects. And, worse, take cover under a canopy of make-believe – social media.

When you see businesses and influencers with thousands and millions of followers on social media, it is not entirely wrong to assume that social media has made them what they are. The content that they post, and the way they post it, makes it even more perceptible to believe that social media must be the defining edge. Although, this may be very true in the case of bloggers, and for whom social media marketing is business. For other forms of business, this is just one of the many channels available to market their wares.

The number of followers on social media has little to do with the strategy of people or businesses which get liked and followed by millions. Most people or businesses that are successful on social media got to where they are mostly because they were out in the real world, doing things worth talking about. The “talking” happens on social media, but that’s not where they derived their success from.

In the world of startups and mind-blowing valuations, it is not entirely foolish to believe in the power of ‘make-believe.’ It all depends, whether you are creating a business model for profit or for eye-balls. The eyeballs may be winning the battle for the day. But conventional wisdom is bound to catch up. It is the sales register and your market performance in the real world that is the ultimate arbiter in business

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