2018 saw a rise in the use of social media by Indian political parties

With the general elections a few months away, parties have been using platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to woo voters, especially the youth

by Dolly Mahayan
Published - Dec 31, 2018 8:44 AM Updated: Dec 31, 2018 8:44 AM
political parties on social media

As the world prepares to bid goodbye to 2018, political parties in India have started gearing up for the general elections to be held in 2019. 

In the past one year, we have seen most parties stepping up their game and using social media platforms effectively to woo voters, especially the millennial. Although, the use of social media platforms is not new, its use for political outreach has exploded in the last few years. We first saw the extensive use of social media in the 2014 general elections by the BJP. The party employed social media as a key campaign tool and managed to establish a connection with the Indian voters. Other parties started catching up in 2018 as was evident in the recent elections held in five states. 

Earlier, political parties used to campaign a lot on traditional media like TV, radio and print, but the penetration of the Internet has changed the entire landscape. The media war rooms are filled with volunteers trained in data analytics and communication through digital platforms. Apart from the big parties like the BJP and the Congress, regional parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Shiv Sena and the CPI-M are also leaving no stone unturned to prepare for the electoral battle ahead. 

Politicians have realised that they can see the reactions and opinions of people real time if they post or share information on social media platforms. This two-way communication helps them understand the voters better, which is not possible in other communication channels like TV and Print. 

Earlier this month, a Twiplomacy study conducted by Burson-Marsteller said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with nearly 44 million users, is the world’s third-most followed leader on Twitter after Donald Trump and Pope Francis. Arvind Kejriwal, Sushma Swaraj and Rahul Gandhi are also highly active on different platforms and interact with their followers on a regular basis. 

Major political parties in many states have appointed social media “warriors” to reach out to the public on digital platforms. Recently, Devendra Dev, the social media in-charge of AAP, said the party has appointed a social media manager for each candidate to share their activities on social media. 

Congress President Rahul Gandhi recently put out a Facebook post inviting people to fill out a customised form to improve the party's communications. The party also shared a WhatsApp number and asked users to connect on the platform. 

Earlier, Twitter and Facebook were seen as the two key platforms which could be used for influencing people but now parties have started exploring ways to reach out to voters and party workers. Recently, PM Modi started a video interaction with the party workers during the recently-concluded state elections. 

Brand expert N Chandramouli, Founder, TRA, said, “Social media can be expected to be used heavily by political parties in the run up to the elections. It will seek to influence through fake-user based content masquerading as genuine. In my opinion, direct messaging and digital advertising by political parties is not going to be more than 10-15% of the focus of political parties.” 

A number of political parties have already started creating parodies on leaders of rival parties, which are circulated incognito through Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. 

The true and effective way to understand voters is through the lens of voter propensity – knowing what the voter wants, Chandramouli said. The Indian voter has shown time and again that you cannot ‘sell’ by creating anxiety. Many parties are, however, rooted in their antiquated ways of dynamite communication with the voter – increasing decibels and creating confusion. In such cases, the voter will go for the party that gives most clear messages, the ones that reflect the voters’ own choices, he added. 

According to Jagdeep Kapoor, CEO, Samsika, all forms of media need to be used for any brand campaign and it all has to be integrated. Only one media, whether social, print or TV may produce sub-optimal results. “Any content on any media needs to be credible, benefit-oriented and interesting,” he said. 

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