Among all the announcements made at Reliance Industries’ annual shareholder meeting on June 24, one that piqued Indian netizen’s interest was about the launch of the Jio Institute. As Nita Ambani announced that the multi-discipline university would start its first session in 2021, Indians flocked to Google to find more details about the institute.
“Jio Institute website” had breakout interest on Google in India for at least two days after the announcement. However, the portal was nearly impossible to find.
The top search result with the domain name Jio-institute.co.in is a bare-bones WordPress page that’s not even run by Reliance Foundation, which is building the 800-acre university on the outskirts of Mumbai. And despite being an unofficial page of the institute, it’s still the one that has more information than the real formal website, which is obscurely named jievents.com. This official website doesn’t even show up on the first page of Google search results.
Such a shoddy tech job is only the latest in a long list of technology faux pas for the nearly 50-year old oil-to-telecom conglomerate led by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. And it stands out now because the Reliance Group has been trying to establish itself as a leader in internet and new-tech businesses.
“India is the third most attractive destination for investors interested in technological investments. Therefore, without a doubt, India’s legacy businesses need to maintain a tech presence so that they can attract foreign companies and investors,” said Rahul Kumar, CEO and founder of digital marketing firm Rank Soldier.
Over on Twitter and Facebook, the conglomerate has set up different handles for all its entities and is relatively active in tweeting out announcements and promotions. However, it’s not been able to build a massive following nor does it have much engagement. Most of Reliance’s brands, except Reliance Jio, have a minimal social media presence. And even the telco upstart, which boasts of over 400 million subscribers, has less than a million followers on Twitter and Facebook, each.
The problem lies in a lack of vision, experts believe.
“Legacy businesses need to be more flexible. They appear to be too restrictive and don’t seem to communicate with their consumers on social media much,” said Rank Soldier’s Kumar. “They should try to create awareness regarding the latest business trends, update their followers about their latest ventures and investments, or use the platforms to bust any of the myths about any of their ventures that may be circulating on the internet.”
Moreover, tailoring an online presence is not a problem you can simply throw money at. A sound judgment is equally, if not more important.
“They (Reliance) do invest a lot of money, but the processes and approaches of the agencies sometimes fail them,” said Boni Satani, head of marketing and partner at IT firm Zestard Technologies. “The decision-makers are not educated and do not know what they should be looking for in the team. They are mostly riding on the need that yes, we need a website, and we need a social media presence, but they don’t understand the overall picture on why they should be online and how they should be communicating their message.”
Experts argue that it is important for businesses, big and small, to quit being lacklustre about their social media presence.
“Digital platforms are here to stay and an escapist attitude is not an option for a brand or a personality who has to survive in today’s competitive world,” Raghav Bagai, co-founder of digital marketing agency Sociowash, told Quartz.
Of course, there are cons to being on social media like customers taking to Twitter and LinkedIn to file negative customers reviews instead of lodging complaints via helplines and email. Companies may struggle to reply to such tweets since it often becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
But still, the pros far outweigh these inconveniences.
Social media channels create a direct line of communication between customers and brands. Their presence on social media and constant updates are perceived as a sincere attempt at transparency, says Sathvik Vishwanath, co-founder and CEO of crypto firm Unocoin. “Being able to follow the companies and personalities they are willing to stay updated about makes the common man feel empowered,” he added.
One problem that does need immediate attention, though, is the customer experience.
Besides websites, the user experience on most of Reliance’s tech platforms is also subpar for users.
In 2016 Ambani’s group launched a digital services arm Jio with the promise of becoming India’s next tech bastion, even promising to lead India’s 5G revolution. But its products have turned out to be underwhelming. Last year, the online grocery app JioMart was launched with a poor interface, where people’s orders got jumbled and they couldn’t find a way to contact customer support. Its video-conferencing platform, JioMeet, was ridiculed for ripping off Zoom completely.
Some say Reliance’s approach to user design and experience is not entirely carelessness. It may just be a function of how recently the incumbent started developing a web presence versus, say, an Amazon.
“We have to understand the basics of digital platforms and how they function, and how are they made glitch-free. Contemporary technologies are AI-driven which requires data, which comes from frequent usage and feedback, to improve their performance,”Bagai of Sociowash said.
For now, some of the attempts to keep the design simple may even be deliberate. “The target audience for these indigenous platforms is different from the global ones,” Bagai added.
But skeptics feel enough effort is likely not being made.
“In Indian companies, the ‘chalta hai‘ (anything goes) attitude is quite prevalent. We are happy being “okay” and having a few bugs here and there,” said Zestard’s Satani.