Posts, tags, views, shares on popular social media platforms are fuelling the political debate in the country today. Not a single day gone by, when a tweet from politician has not become trending topic, even controlling the day agenda whether it is newspapers or in TV debates.The politicians jumped to the bandwagon of Social Media in the last one year after the hype created by Narendra Modi’s (NaMo) social media campaign and the mainstream media highlighting it. Most of the politicians still have no clue on how to make the maximum use of power of Social Media except few likes of union minister Shashi Tharoor, among the first to be active on social media platforms & former central minister Ajay Maken who is now spearheading Congress response to Modi on social media platforms.The only thing that most of the politicians understand is the number of likes that they have on their Facebook page or the number of followers on twitter, etc. For them it’s just a number game, but in reality its counter productive as most of the numbers that you see for politicians are the numbers that are bought through countless sites selling you fans & followers.
Modi’s Social Media Foot Prints
Modi’s social media setup was done in May 2009 when FB just started penetrating in India and he and his team had the vision to build it from that instance. The major spurt in NaMo social media has come in last 9-10 months, where from a million fans in November 2012, he is now at nearly 3.2 million fans on FB alone. Twitter has 2.16 million followers which has again increased by nearly 1.2 million in last one year.
His social media footprints are omnipresent- Be it Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Stumbleupon and also specially designed downloadable android, iphone & ipad application. His official promotional website video in succinct tone invites users to have a ‘direct connect’ with him through social media platforms.
Modi’s social media strategy? Personalized & engaging tweets. He tweets in English & Hindi and in 12 other different languages including Urdu. Regular Face book post updates. Connecting on Google Hangouts. And his very own YouTube channel with over 17 million views. Today, Modi is aiming for the highest office in one of the largest democracy. And he is leaving no stone unturned to connect to billion plus India, majority comprising of young population. More than half of 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25, and two-thirds are below 35. According to an estimate, 85 percent of young India is connected through social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.
The Politics of Tweets & FB Posts
Youths & their issues are focal point & recurring theme of all Modi’s political speeches since his elevation as BJP Election Campaign Committee Chief. For example, Modi for his Pune speech requested through Social Media platforms for ideas and suggestions for that speech.Modi is utilizing & exploiting social network platform as a means of encouraging youth engagement, direct feedback system —has allowed him to create a conversation, and often times an open dialogue, with the public. However, whether this click of mouse for ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ on Modi’s popular post or tweets will translate into crucial vote for him or BJP during upcoming General elections is yet to be seen.
Juggernaut of the Political cyber Warriors
According to sources-The NaMo Social Media campaign is headed by an Officer on Special Duty(OSD) under direct & close supervision of Narendra Modi and an entire team is set up at Chief Minister Office in Gandhinagar for creating content, tracking responses, selecting the best responses, ideas, etc. and sharing with Narendra Modi. The team uses latest tools to shuffle through the enormous responses generated to Narendra Modi’s posts and tweets and tracks each and every moment that is happening online related to Narendra Modi.
Apart from the in-house team, NaMo has thousands of dedicated volunteers spread across India, who spearhead his campaign and make it go viral or if there is an attack on him, then create the counter attack and spread it across the Social Media Channels. One of the young volunteers who is part of clandestine social media gatherings apart from core team who wished not to be named stated it is more to do with “emotions than monetary benefits”.
As one of the close associates quips that the next phase for NaMo is taking the likes to convert into votes through major interaction online. Others are still juggling with numbers forget about the interactions. To support the claim, there is a clear comparison between the comments that each post or tweet receives and no other politician in India is even remotely close to Narendra Modi’s interaction level.
The Most mentioned politician
In the recently released June edition of ‘Blogworks India’s Most Mentioned Political Leaders’ -Narendra Modi continues to be at the top with contrasting conversations happening on having ‘maintained law and order in Gujarat since 2003 resulting in the state remaining riot-free’, and ‘about his alleged role in the 2002 riots and criticized his communal image’. Blogworks analyses online mentions of the top 20 political leaders in India. Modi comes across as a polarizing figure on social media platforms too. There are only two kinds of people exists online who debates on & around Modi- One die-hard Modi Fans and other Modi bashers. There is no middle ground.
Whether Like & Share Converts into Crucial Votes
India’s large population and increasing tele-density, especially in urban pockets, has spurred an impressive jump in the number of people online. Moreover, a recent report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IRIS Knowledge Foundation has revealed that of India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies, 160 can be termed as ‘high impact’ — that is, they will most likely be influenced by social media in the next general elections. As the report explains, high impact constituencies are those where the numbers of Facebook users are more than the margin of victory of the winner in the last Lok Sabha election, or where Facebook users account for over 10 per cent of the voting population. The study then goes onto declares 67 constituencies as medium-impact, 60 as low-impact and 256 as no-impact constituencies.
The fastest growing market for FB is India and currently there are around 88 Million users in India and out of that nearly 76 Million users who are eligible to vote. These figures are what is pushing Indian politicians to the frenzy and everyone wants a big piece out of the Social Media cake.
The major focus of the NaMo team is to generate offline activism from the online interaction and nudge the online community to start offline campaigns too. The focus is to generate buzz for maximum youth participation in the coming election as that is what can be a big game changer. As on online front, Narendra Modi has clear edge over all the politicians in India. In fact his online fan base on FB is more than the combined strength of top 10 opposition leaders in the country. His messages generate response, his messages are shared, discussed, interacted and this is helping him to add to his fan following in big way. There is also a strategy going on where lots of popular Narendra Modi pages are getting merged with the official page of Narendra Modi, which is also resulting in increase of fans and also it helps in consolidation of the online structure.
Internet, a Rarity & Privilege in 1.2 billion Strong India
However, in a 21-nation survey conducted by the US-based nonpartisan fact tank- Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in 2012, quote – ‘India ranked near the bottom in use of social networking sites, along with its neighbor,Pakistan. Just six percent of respondents in India said they use social networking sites. An overwhelming 89 per cent said they do not use the internet at all. Notably, a majority of Indians who use the internet are using social networking sites. Just 13 per cent of Indians use the internet, according to International Telecommunication Union. The internet still remains a rarity in India’. The same study says, that 65 per cent American adult has an access to internet.
Apart from Social Media, Narendra Modi is also setting trends in use of digital technology to the maximum. His own mobile app is getting regular downloads now and it’s a clear case that he is leading the way in use of technology while the rest are trying to replicate what he is doing.
Another team member of Narendra Modi said, “I think with traditional media you used to get just one message out to the public and it didn’t have that feedback response; with the social web you can see how those conversations are actually happening and it’s an opportunity for them to engage. Social media has a great potential in bringing democracy to every citizen’s home, but we first need to motivate people to participate.”
NaMo has given a clarion call during his Hyderabad speech, with co-opted lines of US President Barack Obama- ‘Yes we can. Yes we will’. Can NaMo do a Barack Obama ? Only 2014 parliamentary election results will tell. Till then enjoy the social media political war games !
Featured in Sunday Spotlight Section of Deccan Herald- August 25, 2013
By -Kumar Manish(@kumarmanish9), Communications & Social Media Strategist & Co -initiator of Open Hours.co.in, a social initiative to bring diverse views on future of social media and Akshay Sethia Chief Executive Officer of a digital marketing firm based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat .