In Conversation With Shel Israel

In Conversation With Shel Israel


It’s not every day that you get a chance to meet Shel Israel and also get to talk with him. The task becomes near to impossible when he is at an event like #NASSCOMPC. On the second day of the event after waiting for thirty minutes, I found him standing alone in the line for coffee. That was it and I grabbed that moment before somebody could involve him in discussions. Initially Shel was a bit hesitant but he agreed to spend ten minutes with me.

Shel and I grabbed a corner seat in the speaker’s lounge.  After making myself comfortable, I was all set to listen to some insightful gems from this great conservationist, Shel Israel.

Shel, let’s start from your book Twitterville which I must say I liked reading. Apart from that you have been a great speaker and helped startups, organizations to achieve business objectives with social media. Today I find you at #NASSCOMPC in India as a speaker and mentor. So how has been the journey and what brings you to India?

There are two parts to that one. First thanks for reading my book, Twitterville because I am aware that not many people in India know about my books. The story that brings me to India goes back to the days when Robert Scoble and I wrote a book called Naked Conversations in 2005. After that I changed the name of my blog to Global Neighborhoods with a perception that social media will help people all over the world to interact with each other without the intervention of governments and any other gate keeping authorities. I spent lot of time talking to people in the US and also all over the world. Today that’s why I am here at #NASSCOMPC to speak at and help in building a nascent entrepreneurial community. I am also here to put pieces together and tell startups that you have an amazing idea or product kudos! but you need social media, online conversations, etc. to reach out to people locally and globally. So that’s what I do and that’s why I am here in Bangalore at #NASSCOMPC talking to people and mentoring them.


I must appreciate your efforts and even I believe that startups or SME’s should embrace social media with open hands. It’s not rocket science; it’s about being genuine and ready to listen. Twitter has been such a great tool to meet this objective and that also reminds me your fondness about Twitter. So let’s talk more about it.

The time when you wrote Twitterville I guess not many people knew how Twitter works but today with time there has been a big shift. People are enjoying the challenge of 140 characters, history and controversies are created more often on Twitter. With this there are huge brands on Twitter who are busy with Twitter marketing. So how do you see all this?

It’s a tougher question than it sounds. When I started writing Twitterville and by the time it got ended that is 2009 there were around seven and half million users on Twitter and now probably more than 100 million. When I first started writing the book it was people talking to each other and now brands are pushing their message on Twitter which doesn’t please me. But I also find lot of value on twitter. Everything I have written in the book or I am talking is constantly encroached upon by the brand managers or marketers. The important thing to me is not what Twitter continues to be what it was. Important thing is that people everywhere can converse with people everywhere across boundaries. I am here in India now, three weeks later I am going to Israel. Six years ago if I had heard this and was invited to countries like these to speak then I would laugh. I have been to South Africa and  addressed students there. By the time I reached there I knew few of them via Twitter and I had real good time with them. These things are happening all over the world and the point is that we can talk and learn with each other. For example when the atrocity happened in Mumbai while ago I started talking to people from Mumbai whom I didn’t knew at all. Suddenly I had Pakistani talking on my timeline and who were also talking to Indians. They were telling that they are sorry to see such thing happen but at the same time there was anger and insults too. I was sitting there and observing the whole conversation happening on my twitter stream. This couldn’t happen if government got involved in this as the conversation would be reviewed by communities and analyze them. But these conversations also lead to find out lot of new things and after a while people whom I thought are bad are not so bad. So gradually conversations evolve in a positive way and that is the power of social media which has been possible by a platform like Twitter.


Well said Shel, the powers of Twitter are amazing - it depends on an individual how he or she uses it. In fact, I have lot of friends from different places on Twitter and I have known lot of things which could not have been possible otherwise.  Over time I have also had my learning’s on Twitter so would like to know what have been your learning’s on Twitter as a user and any advice to brands on Twitter.

Let me start how traditionally brands were recognized. It was simply a logo and not the person behind it. Today if I hand you my business card to you then it begins with how you feel about me and then my company. Same way brands who are on twitter I would advise them to start with listening and by not opening their big mouth and talking. I would advise them to join conversations and keep your dirty marketing pitches out of Twitter. It’s something like you walk into a store and the salesman barges you with “Are you going to buy something”. Think for a moment how would you feel about it? The same situation can also be like this. Suppose you walk into a shop and the salesman starts a conversation asking how your day was and about the nice bag that you were carrying. Definitely you will feel good. So begin with conversation and not with salesman pitches is my two cents to your question.


That’s the essence and even I share the same thoughts with startups and SMEs who talk to me but most of the times we are busy talking about ourselves and forgetting others.

However Shel, it is also true that social media is not a new thing. The technology is new but the underline powers of social media were always there. US have been quite innovative in terms of social media marketing and India needs to catch up. So according to you what could be the lessons that India needs to grab from US?

Social media has disrupted all institutions. Entrepreneurs now have the opportunity now to collaborate, converse and market to people all over the world. Agreed that US has the edge due to its tech community, the valley, etc. but India is moving extremely fast and has the amazing bunch of young enthusiasts who will turn the table. So I am going to say that the next century is all about India, China and US. However, US being the established one is moving slower and India is getting bigger and faster.


Yes, India has been talked about and I believe #NASSCOMPC is all about supporting this entrepreneurial eco-system.

Finally, Shel lots of SME’s are jumping on social media these days which is really a good sign. Would you like to share some advice with them too?

As I said before it doesn’t matter whether you are large or small, the golden rule of listening and then talking applies to all. However, SME’s do have large opportunities on social media and one may also remember that the cost to enter the global market is zero but takes lot of hard work. Let me share with you a small story about how I met this man - Gautam Ghosh. I met Gautam via Twitter and he was the first Indian and also the first Asian to talk with. Over a period I knew a lot about him, he helped me in my book and today I am meeting him here at #NASSCOMPC. He is introducing me to people and we all know that he is the India’s social media guru in human resources. This wouldn’t also have been possible without his interesting conversations, great content and eventually making me his friend. Now picture that for an SME in Bangalore who has aspirations of reaching global markets. As Gautam ended up working with a British company due to social media, the same story is replicable thousand times for SMEs as the cost of entry is zero but it takes lot of time. So remember, always start slowly and ear’s are more important than your mouth. That’s the power of social media and it has immense opportunities for SME’s.


Thanks Shel for talking to me, really appreciate it.

The talk was supposed to be for ten minutes but ended up being more than thirty minutes. I learnt a lot and look forward to meet Shel in the future too.