An invitation to gupshup over biryani:)

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what is happening?” This famous song from Jesus Christ Superstar really fits the bill when it comes to discussions about customer engagement in social media. Especially when Jesus sings, I could give you facts and figures; Even give you plans and forecasts; Even tell you where I’m going,” it’s almost reminiscent of presentations Marketing teams make to their Boards. 

Fact of the matter, though, is Marketing pros are quite like the Apostles when they seek the Holy Grail to Social Media success asking, like the Apostles “When do we ride into Jerusalem?”  The answer to that, as of now, seems to lie in Jesus’s retort, “If you knew the path we’re riding; You’d understand it less than I.” 

The song does proffer an answer to marketers seeking success in Social Media, amongst all the gupshup* of the Apostles. So, come let’s gupshup over a plate of biryani** and discover a successful social media engagement recipe. 

The song “What’s the buzz” ends when Mary Magdalene offers to cool down Jesus’s face and he sings out, “While you prattle through your supper; Where and when and who and how. She alone has tried to give me; What I need right here and now.”

And therein lies the answer – social media content can only engage the consumer if it contains an appeal that either interests the consumer or fulfills an overt or latent need. No different from conventional marketing communication with one key exception.

Marketers have to be aware that social media networks are personal in nature. Brands can, at best, facilitate conversations. Think Tupperware tea parties! Brands cannot directly engage consumers in a conversation other than responding to consumer feedback on the brand’s product or service. Anything else is more or less wishful thinking.

The challenge for brands lies in creating platforms for community conversations, which are related to the core business of the brand. In the case of Tupperware, the tea parties were relevant to Tupperware’s business and served to generate brand goodwill. What do homemakers do over gupshup and tea? Why, they exchange notes on domestic affairs, of course!

The principle established by Tupperware long ago was brought home recently when a Facebook post from Sterling went viral, beyond our expectations. But before I talk about it, some background is important.

Food is an important part of any holiday experience. Food, fortunately, is also a trending topic on the Internet and other media. Recognizing this, the Sterling social media team has always run with food themes in the company’s social media history. We began with Sunday Special Recipes created by our team of Chefs at our resorts, which were promoted both on Facebook and on the Sterling blog site – These posts and blogs got attention more or less on the same level as other popular themes on Sterling’s social media channels (relative to Sterling).

A couple of months ago, we realized that fatigue was setting in and we had to do something to give the food theme a fresh boost. At around the same time, Sterling introduced new menus at all our resorts. These menus incorporated a ‘Cuisine of the Land’ section in an effort to deliver a local food flavour in the holiday experience being delivered.

The Social Media team at Sterling, along with the team at our agency, Isobar, picked up ‘Cuisine of the Land’ from the resort menus and created a series of posts promoting India’s varied and rich culinary offering.

The first of the posts featured gol gappas or varieties of pani puri in India. The post got a fair amount of traction but it was the second post which made us sit up and take notice. Featuring biryani variants across India, this particular post received 62,890 clicks, 4522 likes, 1574 comments and 1359 shares. Is biryani more loved than pani puri? No, that can’t be it. Thinking about it, I think the only conclusions that could be reached are (a) the campaign began being optimized and perhaps, (b) regional biryani dishes triggered fierce feelings of loyalty to ethnic cuisine.


Gupshup over Biryani
Gupshup over Biryani


Or, maybe, there is something extra special about biryani. Because the post was picked up by Highway On My Plate, Eat Treat and other foodie forums. We were thrilled, to put it mildly. But what really sated our appetite was the quality conversations that sprung up around the post.




A plate of biryani had now whetted our appetite. So much so, I sent a mail to my agency simply saying, “Yeh dil maange more” (A famous line from a Pepsi campaign translated as ‘my heart asks for more’ or in this case another serving).

Isobar, my agency obliged. And today’s post seems to be picking up really well too. Featuring Indian desserts.


Sweet tooth anyone?
Sweet tooth anyone?


With apologies to Shakespeare, if likes, shares and comments be the food of love (read customer engagement), all I can say is – play on! On a more serious note, these posts have served to remind the team at Sterling, and the folks at Isobar handling our account, of some key principles when it comes to Social Media:

  1.  The objectives for Social Media must be clearly set and those objectives must be in line with overall business and marketing goals.
  2. Social Media strategy and campaign execution must be developed on a foundation of consumer needs and behaviour – related to the business category and the medium. While developing strategy or evaluating creative output, it helps to ask the age old question, “Why should the consumer be interested and pay attention?”
  3. Social Media campaigns should have an insight if they are to fulfill consumers’ needs or appeal to their interests. It helps if your business is in what I call a trending category. If not, objectives for social media need to be realistic within the framework of the business category you are operating in. Some smart marketers are using social media to build a community feeling amongst their dealers, for example.
  4. Social Media is a demanding medium, requiring far more attention to detail than conventional marketing communication campaigns and that too, 24*7.

As a couple of professional peers remarked in a recent DMAi Unwind session, “Social Media is not new. It’s been around since the Stone Age”; “The principles of marketing and marketing communication remain the same. Social Media is another medium and needs to be treated accordingly.” The former comment was by Vivek Bhargava of iProspect-Communicate 2 while the latter remark was made by Alok Saraogi of Ashok Leyland.

I couldn’t agree more except to point out that Social Media is a more demanding medium than any other. Because it’s 24*7. And because, one needs to work at relationships if they are to work. It’s no different from making the effort to stay in touch on a meaningful level with a friend, or running the risk of drifting apart!


*gupshup is a colloquial term in the Hindi language which means social conversation. Taken in the derogatory sense, the word means gossip.
**biryani is a rice-based dish made with spices and chicken, mutton, fish, eggs or vegetables.
***gol gappa, pani puri is a popular street snack in India.

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