15 March 2018 05:05:04 IST

Rain of tweets gives Anand Mahindra monsoon update

Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group

How the tycoon crowd-sources data from rural India for his auto business

When Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra wants to ascertain the progress of the South West monsoon, which drives rural demand for his automobile business, he doesn’t tune in to the weather bulletin.

Instead, the social media-savvy businessman takes to Twitter and crowd-sources information direct from the grassroots.

Last week, Mahindra tweeted: “Would like to get some direct feedback from twitterati around India about the monsoon’s progress. Good progress in sowing in your area?”

This 135-character tweet prompted a heavy downpour of responses from his 3.34 million Twitter followers around the country.

Enthused by the feedback, Mahindra tweeted the same day: “Thank you all. Appears that so far monsoon has been benevolent in most parts. Bihar, part of UP yet to see good rains.” He followed it up the next day: “So the accuracy of twitterati crowd-sourcing appears to be pretty good!”

The ‘monsoon progress report’ from his Twitter followers came from Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal and Bihar. They gave a vivid picture of how the monsoon had played out so far: good, bad or indifferent.

For Mahindra, who has been active on Twitter since April 2009 and has put out 12,300 tweets so far, the social media platform is proving a useful barometer of the state of the monsoon. Which matters to him because apart from making tractors, the Mahindra group has a series of activities targeted at the farm economy such as distribution of branded seeds, micro-irrigation, supply of farm equipment and provision of crop care solutions.

In response to an e-mail from BusinessLine on why he chose Twitter to get the feedback, Mahindra replied: “Twitter gives me access to the views of millions of Indians across the country in different locations and circumstances. In the past, we have run weekly monsoon progress surveys amongst our customers (primarily farmers) and found that the predictions are typically much more pessimistic than the actual rainfall levels. I have seen that the Twitterati tends to express their views instantly, from all over the country and in a fairly accurate manner.”

Accurate response Mahindra added that he compared the responses with meteorological reports published by the media and “found a fairly high correlation.” “This only reinforced my view that Twitter is a fast, convenient and scalable way to collect instant information from remote parts of the country. Of course, there is a perception that views on Twitter are skewed towards tech-savvy youth in urban areas. Frankly, it is quite surprising how many on Twitter are from a variety of demographic segments today and also from a wide range of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. There are also a number of young affluent farmers and rural residents… active on Twitter to keep (themselves) abreast of what’s happening to their urban ‘cousins!’”

The responses were fairly reflective of reality, he said. And crowd-sourcing data and information from Twitter, he added, was not new to him.

A couple of days after his first tweet on the monsoon, Mahindra cautioned against complacency on account of a good monsoon. “My great fear: That we grow complacent with better rains this year and slacken efforts towards rainwater harvesting.”

Asked about this, Mahindra replied that India needed to make itself “monsoon-proof” and that such a large economy could not let the rainfall dictate its fortunes.

“This year’s Budget, I believe, has a strong focus on irrigation with the target of irrigating eight million hectares in five years and the doubling of the crop insurance to protect farmers. This was mainly driven by two consecutive drought years. But good rainfall can indeed make our country complacent. As a group, we are taking several initiatives to encourage rainwater harvesting and improving irrigation,” he said.