Bihar elections: Parties go big on digital campaigning

Fortified with an increasing number of internet users and a bulky digital budget, the state is well prepared for the fight online, say analysts

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 18, 2020 1:03 PM

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s virtual rallies set for this month is just the beginning. More of this will follow with the Bihar legislative assembly elections at the end of this year as the poll battle fought more on social media than on the ground.

As most public meetings, rallies and campaigns will have to go online to adhere to social distancing norms in the wake of the pandemic, new platforms, micro influencers, user generated content and a hefty digital spend will be the backbone of the elections in Bihar this year.

While BJP is holding virtual rallies from the beginning of June with the help social networking platforms, its ally JD(U) has also started hosting chat sessions with district level workers on live chats. The political discourse has begun, only this time the graphitis are more on Facebook timelines than on walls and the slogans are on Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, ShareChat and other platforms.

According to Amit Raj Singh, Founder and CEO of Coceptual Media, digital media is no longer just an option in campaigning, it has become a necessity for every party and every candidate in Bihar.

Singh is working on the digital campaigns of several candidates in the state and has worked for the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi elections this year, Bahujan Vikas Aaghadi in the Maharashtra elections and the Nationalist Congress Party in the past. He said while campaigns are done across platforms, votes come from mass platforms where content is not just informative but also has a healthy mix of humour and sarcasm.

“Boring press releases have been replaced by blogs and vlogs and many other formats because most of the voters are now on the internet,” Singh said.

Fortified with increasing internet users and a bulky digital budget the state is well prepared for the fight online. Sunil P, Associate Vice President – Client Services, Dentsu Webchutney, says: “As per Google’s political advertising transparency report for India, more than Rs 14 crore was spent on political ads in the state of Bihar in 2019, a non-election year for the state. If that kind of money has been spent in a non-election year, only on Google ad buys, I would guess in an election year where holding huge rallies isn’t possible, the spends are bound to increase multi-fold. However, spends on establishing and managing digital communities (on WhatsApp, Facebook and Share Chat) will be a bigger expense than the actual ad spends in this election.”

Interestingly, Bihar has registered the highest growth in Internet users across both urban and rural areas, registering a 35 per cent growth in 2019. “With social distancing in place and the scare of COVID-19, and 58 per cent of Bihar’s population being under 27, digital will be the most effective way to reach out to the core audience for all political parties,” Sunil added.

Talking of digital spends, in the last 30 days the Baat Bihar Ki Page on Facebook has spent Rs 9.27 lakh on 241 ads, according to Facebook ad library. The Bharatiya Janata Party spent Rs 4.95 lakh on 10 ads in the same period. The Indian National Congress in Bihar has spent Rs 40,408 on eight ads on Facebook in the last 30 days. Other allied pages like Nitish Cares is also investing in Facebook ads. Overall, the total spends from Bihar in these last 30 days has been Rs 1.31 crore.

According to Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO, TheSmallBigIdea, political parties will rope in all digital guns to reach out to the younger generation who are first-timers or early voters and most of them wouldn’t have yet fixed their political loyalty.

“Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok will lead as the platform choice for Bihar elections. Beyond their ad networks, Facebook Lives will be used to connect with the voters, with the change narrative and the mud-slinging machinery working double time on Tik Tok and Whatsapp. Song and dance is an important aspect of the Bihar culture, which align well with Social media habit. It would be interesting to see how the parties tie this along,” Pillai said.

Sharing more insights on platforms, Singh said: “There are a lot of new entrants at the platform level. Instagram leads the chart and the fact that it is connected to Facebook makes it a complete package. Then there is WhatsApp followed by Helo and Tik Tok for their local connect.”

The platforms undoubtedly play a very important role in the campaigns. While some would be used for generating votes, others would be dedicated for branding and opinion building. With the huge number of options on the platform front comes the next challenge of creating accurate content. The focus will now be on videos, said experts.

According to Dr Rakesh Ranjan from the Centre for Empowerment and Development studies, in Patna video conversations will be generated on three levels-one to one, one to few and one to many.

Anup Sharma, an independent PR and Policy Communications consultant who has been working with few senior political leaders including Chief Ministers and Union Ministers, mainly on key messaging and behaviour change using social media tools, says that the digital dialogue has shifted from likes to views. “So videos and especially the ones in the local language will have more impact than any other form of content. Audience engagement will be another important area that parties will be looking at. E-conferences will be used where more and more representatives of common people would be involved to add a personal touch to the campaigns. This is where the micro influencers would come in. This elections will be more about ground level influencers that celebrities.”

Migrant workers moving from metros to their hometowns have increased the number of smartphone users in Bihar at the moment and political parties are expected to make the best of it. Detailing on this was Shudeep Majumdar, Founder at influencer marketing platform, Zefmo Media Private Limited. “The stay a home traffic is at an all-time high and screen time has peaked too. Political parties will do everything to grab the attention of voters and micro influencers play a major role in states likes Bihar because they have the local connect which is the most valuable asset of a hammering campaign.”

Finally, with regards to the last-mile impact, Dentsu Webchutney’s Sunil P said: “Digital is the only medium designed to have last mile impact. While the election commission can stop parties from advertising and campaigning just before the election day, family and friends groups on WhatsApp are active even on the election day to increase top of mind recall for parties, which have effective communication strategies for digital.”

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