Home > India, Life, Media > Tweeting to save face in public negotiations

Tweeting to save face in public negotiations

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This week has borne witness to an amazing development here in India: the use of social media (specifically Twitter) for negotiation.  The parties in question are Bollywood’s leading male movie star, Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk),  and a regional political party built on provincial/linguistic jingoism, whose star has waned for a few years now, called the Shiv Sena (SS). Without taking sides in the argument, I wanted to showcase how Twitter started the row and also ended it, in a way.

For context, India has a lucrative cricket tournament called the IPL in which international players are also drafted.  The most recent draft saw IPL team owners  avoid picking Pakistani players (unlike earlier years) and this has sparked a political and social row between the two countries.   The way I understand what transpired since, SRK who happens to be a team owner, first used Twitter a few weeks ago to express his support for inducting Pakistani players in the IPL and in doing so referred to Pakistan as “a good neighbor.”  This created an opening for the SS to stoke anti-Pakistani fervor and make a cause out of calling SRK unpatriotic.  Its leaders were on a mission to make him retract his statement.  As luck would have it for the SS, a major new blockbuster movie with a $60M budget was to be released this weekend and they decided to enforce a boycott of the movie in the city of Mumbai using their cadres of supporters.  The boycott was to be lifted if SRK would apologize and retract his support of Pakistani players participating in the IPL.  This set off a very public standoff between both parties and the ruling Congress party ministers got busy trying to mediate a compromise.  The stakes are high for both parties since the Mumbai market alone can account for a big chunk of the movie’s returns and the SS desperately needs to energize its base in a crucial election year.

If you have taken a quality negotiation course or read one of many books on the subject (like “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”), my breakdown of the situation below will look familiar. For those who have not, the acronyms I use below are: BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) and  WATNA (worst alternative to negotiated agreement).

  • Shah Rukh Khan
    • Interest: wants to see his movie succeed in the most lucrative market
    • Position: I did nothing unpatriotic.  I have nothing  more to say.
    • BATNA: Hope for rave reviews of film elsewhere and for fan support to deface SS.
    • WATNA: Riots and bloodshed
  • Shiv Sena
    • Interest: wants to score points with its dwindling base
    • Position: SRK has been unpatriotic, he needs to retract his statement and apologize.
    • BATNA:  Create enough of an embarrassment for ruling party and energize base
    • WATNA: Riots and bloodshed

There exists a ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement): SRK renders an apology, SS rattles its sabre and effects some delays in the opening of the movie and both can claim to have achieved their goals.

It so turned out that the movie did open this morning to great reviews in most of the country and in a few theaters in Mumbai under tight security.   SRK turned to Twitter to constantly update his fans and one particular tweet  expressed regret for the “hurt caused.”   The SS promptly used the media to issue statements claiming victory based on apologies received via Twitter.   SRK countered via Twitter and the media that his tweets are for his followers on Twitter and his fans and not for expressing regret to the SS.

Question:  Is apologizing on a public forum like Twitter, albeit to your own followers, the same as an apology to everybody who can read your tweets?

Epilogue: The medias “breaking news” updates claim that the SS is backing off and SRK meanwhile claims victory as his movie heads into record box office collections worldwide.    There was no ostensible agreement within the ZOPA and yet it seems that is exactly where we ended up.

Twitter wins!

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Categories: India, Life, Media
  1. Avanish
    February 16, 2010 at 2:46 am

    Please accept my compliments on your write up. I followed this controversy albeit from a distance. Your take is hatke and highlights the application of social media in business. I have been trying to understand the VP of twitter and minutes before coming across your article i decided to become active on twitter to better understand this phenomenon.

    back to SS-SRK, from my distant vantage point i failed to understand why nobody in the media discussed the real issue, i.e., SRK breaking ranks with his fellow owners of IPL who apparently made a business decision to pass Pakistani players. Wasn’t the ultimate business objective behind the decision (shareholders wealth maximization part)? I guess IPL hasn’t banned twitter like many NFL teams have for precisely reasons like this. Nevertheless I believe this controversy was a win win for all:
    SRK – Guaranteed a blockbuster opening for the movie. A great example of any PR is good PR.
    SS – perhaps energized the base, definitely revived attention from various parts of the society including media. Off late it was the other cuz getting all the coverage.
    Media – Another nonsensical controversy that provided valuable content.
    Indian economy – I am sure it led to a GDP growth through media sold and the incremental sales of the movie tickets attributed to the controversy.

    I am just glad that nobody got hurt, which usually accompanies such idiotic controversies.

  2. Shyam Kamadolli
    February 16, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks Avanish, very kind of you. On your point on media coverage, in India the media did cover the business reasons but it is such a passionate issue that nobody pays attention to that. And SRKs point was that despite the risk to their participation, Pakistanis should be welcome in the IPL. The movie was pretty good I thought even if too long , and will do well. SS is coming out bruised again as far as I can tell especially after Rahul Gandhi hoodwinked them into looking silly recently.

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