Shaktyavesha Avatara Das, a London-based book distributor originally from Moscow, has devised a new way of following up with people he gives ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s books to on the street.
His project, “Fortunate People,” uses modern technology and social networking through Facebook, one of the most popular websites in the world with over 1 billion users.
After four years distributing books, Shaktyavesha Avatara was appointed a “sankirtana” (book distribution) leader, and began to look for new innovative ways to distribute books and especially to follow up with “customers.”
The answer came during the Prabhupada Marathon of December 2012, when Shaktyavesha Avatara and his colleagues took nearly 300 photos of people whom they had just sold Prabhupada’s books to.
“All the people who were holding Bhagavad-gitas in their hands were just shining like anything,” he says. “Just by looking at them, you could feel that something had happened to them: they had become fortunate.”
Shaktyavesha was sure that the positive vibe of these photos would encourage others who saw them to buy books on spiritual life too.
So in May 2013, he started a Facebook page called “Fortunate People,” and added the photos to it. Then, when distributing books on the street, he would show the photos to people he met -- and they would warm to the shining, happy faces so much that they’d take a book too.
Shaktyavesha Avatara realized that the Facebook page could be the answer to a major problem in ISKCON book distribution -- follow-up.
At a recent convention, ISKCON guru Jayadvaita Swami had commented, “We are sowing so many seeds, but we are so poor at harvesting them.”
“We’re distributing hundreds of thousands of books,” Shaktyavesha adds, “But we don’t see, at least in the UK, that many people are coming back.”
So Shaktyavesha proposed to ISKCON London president Jai Nitai that he use Facebook to keep in touch with customers.
In October 2013, Jai Nitai gave the project the go-ahead. And while it’s already running and has 100 users, Shaktyavesha Avatara plans to launch it full speed during this year’s winter book distribution Marathon in December.
As dozens of devotees distribute Prabhupada’s books on London streets this holiday season, they’ll also invite people to “Like” the Fortunate People Facebook page on their smartphones right on the spot.
People who don’t have smartphones will be handed Fortunate People business cards with information on how to Like the page on their computers later.
As soon as they do, an “online care team” of mature devotees will very gently connect with the newcomers, make friends, and try to make the book they just bought relevant and appealing to them.
Part of this will involve tailoring the posts people see on the Fortunate People page.
Each day of the week, new posts on a different aspect of Vedic Culture will appear, introducing people to a very broad, contemporary image of Prabhupada’s books and Krishna consciousness, without straightaway applying religious connotations.
The posts will be on Vedic art such as Mehndi; facts from Vedic science, astrology, history or archeology; vegetarian recipes; spiritual music and films; yoga and ayurveda; and philosophical perspectives on modern day issues.
“In this way, we will connect to new people who might not otherwise visit a temple straight away, or even want to be associated with a religion,” Shaktyavesha says.
As well as attracting likes through street book distribution, the Fortunate People page will also advertise on Facebook itself, and through other groups with a crossover audience such as the Kirtan London project
In the future, Shaktyavesha Avatara also hopes to promote Srila Prabhupada’s books and the Fortunate People page in a big way, with advertisements on Oxford Street buses and in the London Underground stations, following the Mormons’ recent similar promotional campaign.
Once the project meets with some success in the UK, Shaktyavesha plans to invite book distributors all over the world to participate too.
“Before, Sankirtana devotees would light the spark in a person on the street, but then we’d never heard of them again, because there was no follow up,” he says. “Now we want to make sure that we do not just sow the seeds, but we’re also there to look after those little creepers, to give them nourishment, care, and love through the Internet. And then naturally, at some point, we will invite them to a temple or program.”
“So that’s our big mission,” he concludes. “We’re quite enthusiastic to see how it will go!”
To find out how to help Fortunate People by providing posts or joining the online care team, please visithttps://www.facebook.com/fortunatepeoplesmileand send a message.[ bhaktivedanta-book-trust ] [ book-distribution ] [ book-review ] [ facebook ] [ london ] [ uk ]