A few months back, with just a few days to go for Diwali,Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn went on ‘Periscope’, Twitter’s live streaming video app, with a unique offer. He wished his fans the best of the season and gave them a shot at being a part of the first day of shooting for his movie.Shivay, Devgn’s movie releases sometime towards the latter half of 2016, but discussions, offers and debates are already raging on Twitter. Periscope was launched worldwide in March 2015 and has been pushed aggressively in India ever since. Take Aamir Khan, Bollywood’s ace movie marketer; there is more than a year for his movie Dangal to hit the screens but #Dangal has been active for several weeks. Aamir on the set, Aamir taking on his critics, Aamir talking about wrestling –Dangal has been tweeting about all this and more.
In 2015, every Bollywood release (budgets of Rs 5 crore upwards) has used Twitter as a marketing platform and videos are among its favourite forms of promotion. In the last year, video consumption globally has grown dramatically, with video views up 150x across Twitter, Periscope and Vine. According to analytics firm ToTheNew which tracks stars in social media, Amitabh Bachchan is the most popular movie star on the platform, in September 2015, he had 17.3 million fans and Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Kapoor follow with 15.7 and 14.3 million fans respectively.
Twitter India has responded to Bollywood’s overtures with features specially cued to the needs of the movie stars. Periscope, Mirror, Shout-outs and of course, the all popular #feature have become default modes of promotion not just for the mainstream Hindi film industry, but also for regional films. That is also one of the driving forces behind Twitter’s vernacular thrust; in July this year, it added four Indian languages (Tamil, Marathi, Kannada and Gujarati) to take the tally up to six (along with Hindi and Bengali).
Pratiksha Rao, who heads the Bollywood and entertainment division at Twitter says, “Bollywood celebrities can interact with their fans and followers and this provides an aspirational twist to the engagement.” Clearly nothing draws in the crowds like Bollywood and for Twitter which has 22.5 million users in India and wants to take that to 39.5 million by 2018, the industry is a critical ally. According to a report by e-marketer, Twitter has been growing at a phenomenal pace (47.5 per cent in 2014 over 2013 and 30.4 per cent in 2015 over 2014), but it still has just 17 per cent of the country’s Internet users. Facebook and its photo sharing tool, Instagram are more popular.
“Twitter has become a platform where people come to connect with their interests, with the people who you identify your interest with. Bollywood is actually leading the wave in how a lot of these conversations are happening,” says Rao. The fact is that a star’s tweets have a near magnetic pull and when fans see their idols responding to their comments and requests, it serves as an enormous boost. Rao gives an example: “There was a guy standing outside Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan’s house in Mumbai. He tweeted asking Khan to step out and wave to him. Within minutes, Khan tweeted back. ‘Hold up a green leaf in your hand so that I know who you are.’ That fan could not ever have imagined this kind of an exchange with any celebrity.”
But what makes Twitter so popular with Bollywood? One reason of course is that it is free and easy to use. And Twitter has been associating with producers and studios, guiding them in the different ways in which they can increase the reach of their campaigns. No fees are charged for this service according to Twitter. Production houses are therefore using Twitter to create a buzz around their films long before the release.
Twitter’s rising popularity among movie stars says Rao is partly because, “it helps create or propagate a personality which may be different from the on-screen roles they play”. Twitter becomes an extremely effective marketing platform. It is not just film stars, sportsmen – Virat Kohli, Ravinder Jadeja and Rohit Sharma – have also become Twitter veterans. But, according to one who works closely with the platform, “Many sports celebrities in India find it difficult to be open and free in their Twitter interactions . While there is no blanket gag the confidence that a comment will not get them in trouble with the board still needs to be developed.”
Contrast this with the uninhibited interaction that several movie stars have perfected and there is no doubt that Bollywood will be calling the tunes at Twitter India for a long time to come.