Ever seen social media taking center stage during elections? That was exactly what happened to the world’s largest democracy – India in its 16thgeneral elections. Social media become instrumental in reaching out to the masses. The country has witnessed several elections, but none that was so interesting. This is the first time that social media has played a crucial part in shaping the opinion of the masses.
What is commendable is how all these parties have adopted Social Media and the results such widespread campaigns have brought.
To begin with, the virtual landscape in India has seen significant changes in terms of internet usage over the past few years. Statistics show that, of the 1.22Billion population, around 213Million people are internet users. This goes on to affirm that India was one of the fastest growing online markets in 2013. By 2014 the stats were as follows:
- 90 Million FaceBook users
- 893 million mobile users
- 4 hours 54 minutes average time spent on the net through laptops/desktops
- Mobile internet penetration of 11% of total population
Social media was picking up pace and in Jul 2012, Google and Facebook topped the charts with 59.7M and 52.1M users respectively. Today, India is what analysts call at the peak of social media boom, and this happens to be just right for the Elections.
The political landscape in India was predominantly composed of two major political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (Congress). But the past few months witnessed a whole new revolution where a newbie party Common Man Party (Aam Admi Party) founded on the core values of eliminating corruption rose to popularity. Though the BJP and Congress are at the forefront of the current political scenario, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has efficiently used Social Media as a key tool to make a place for itself.
These Elections bore witness to some of the toughest social network tussles and here’s how they did it:
The BharatiyaJanata Party’s (BJP’s) Take on Social Media:
BJP as a political party believes in self-reliance, conservative social policies, free markets and a foreign policy that is closely guarded by nationalist agenda. With Narendra Modi as their PM candidate, the party has learnt to effectively use new age media to reach out to the electorate. Today they have interactive websites, mobile apps, YouTube pages, Twitter handle, Facebook profiles and pages, Google Hangouts and even Whatsapp profiles. The party has learnt that no message can exponentially multiply unless put on Social networks. They have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with stats showing that it has the maximum number of fans on Facebook, in comparison with other parties. The BJP also has a handful of other pages like NarendraModi, India 272+, etc.
After having lost the 2004 and 2009 elections, the party focused on connecting with the people through social networks. From 2010 to 2012, the Social media strategy was to acquire as many fans as possible, wherein they came up with interactive ways of connecting to the tech savvy generation of the country. After 2012, they started working on connecting with even more people while at the same time, remained interactive with those already connected.
During the election campaigns, the party mainly involved in interacting and engaging with its fans/ followers pushing forward its key message ‘Vote for BJP’ by:
- Engaging with existing fans
- Sending out clear details about the party’s agenda
- Getting the youth involved in nation-building activities
- Making people aware of the party’s ideologies and future prospects
- Motivating people to take an interest in and participate in the party’s activities
- Effectively use keywords like ‘growth’, ‘development’, ‘change’, etc.
The Aam Aadmi Party – Common man’s social networking though it did not work
A party formed out of the common man’s frustrations with the current political and economic situation of the country. The party is at the helm of a political revolution that hopes to build a corruption free India. Arvind Kejriwal, the common man, who rose to embark on this political revolution, is the PM candidate from this party. Their social media strategy is very precise; in fact, this has been a party that has been able to make the most of Social media to propagate their agenda and gain votes. The AAP has been able to reach out to the youth and the tech savvy generation of India, which is aware of the changes happening around them. A comparative analysis also shows that the party focuses more on Twitter and has been able to generate the most engagement through this channel as it is mainly used by a mature audience (think vote bank).
Their content strategy focused on:
- Speaking to the masses
- Voicing their opinions
- Spreading awareness among the people about the party and its agenda
- Using a common voice which is in sync with the party’s line of objectives
- Connecting directly to the youth
- Appeals for funds, volunteers, etc.
Aam Aadmi Party used motivational and strong content backed by solid stats to shape the thoughts of online users in their favor. Their preferred channel Twitter has atleast 40 tweets per day. They have brilliantly used hashtags to run campaigns where they were able to create buzz for specific time periods relevant to the hashtag.
Their social media strategy was pivotal in tipping the scales in their favor during the Delhi Assembly elections.
The party has been able to uses ‘SMS’ to directly communicate with its volunteers. It sent out messages asking supporters to gather at its office to decide whether Mr. Kejriwal, the Chief Minister, should resign or not. The party’s reach was so effective that it was able to gather thousands of supporters within an hour.
How the Oldest Party – Congress Were Forced to Get Into It:
The Congress has had to deal with dwindling supporters alongside several charges of corruption and scams. Though one of their ministers, Shashi Tharoor, was popular on Twitter as the most followed Indian politician, opposition Narendra Modi has surpassed his following. The party is currently running the show under the guidance of their undeclared PM candidate Rahul Gandhi.
Congress was one of the last parties to wake up to this huge shift in election campaigns from entirely traditional methods to social media. None of its key leaders handle or have pages of their own on social media. Most of its social media activities are outsourced to third parties. However, Congress has managed to rack up some engagement on these platforms.
The social media platforms that drove the Election 2014
Facebook: A very popular medium, all the parties have made use of this medium to connect with the electorate. Using Facebook, huge advertising campaigns can be staged and significant promotions can be bought. The BJP and Congress have doled out large sums of money for the same.
They have used this medium to:
- Discuss development models proposed
- Share infographics, videos, live event coverage, etc.
- Made tributes to legends and greetings to the masses when occasion demands the same
- Managed to spread details and testimonials of people and supporters
- Appealed people for votes
- Engaged people with content like quiz, games and competitions
- Launched popular forums and movements like the ‘Chai PeCharcha’ by BJP
The BJP has centered most of its Facebook posts on NarendraModi, who is the popular PM candidate. They have also used the platform to improve their ‘likes’ through quizzes- Yuva Quiz, MeraSapnoKa Bharat (India of my dreams) and to gain entrants for India 272+ and propagate the NaMo number. These alongside other paid promotions have given BJP the most ‘likes’ on Facebook.
Whereas the AAP has only been replicating the content, they put on Twitter or any other forum over here. They obviously haven’t been using the paid promotions nor have they made a very interactive or engaging platform on their FB pages to gain as many ‘likes’. However qualitative analysis paints a different picture. Engagement levels on Facebook show AAP leading with 155% followed by Congress and then the BJP. Again, the engagement levels include both positive and negative mentions.
Twitter: Twitter is essentially a micro blogging platform and is popular among audiences that are more mature than other Networking platforms. All the parties have been using this network to generate trends and deliver real time information to their fans and supporters/ followers. These profiles require a human touch and the most crucial part to trends on Twitter is timing.
The stats on engagement on twitter clearly show that the AAP has stolen the show. This goes on to ascertain that Twitter is a medium that gives real time conversions and enables users to instantly express themselves.
A clear contrast in the way ArvindKejriwal and NarendraModi run their Twitter profiles is probably the reason for such whopping numbers. Kejriwal uses Twitter on the go, expresses himself openly and honestly on every issue. His impulsive, emotional and rushed tweets often have typos and are sometimes in Hinglish (the blend of two languages –Hindiand English), but that just adds to the human touch to these tweets instantly compelling millions of responses. He is also found responding to tweets and often re-tweeting, making him appear genuine, real and accessible.
Mr. Modi, on the other hand, presents a larger than life picture with perfect tweets that are planned and released more as broadcasting medium rather than an interactive platform.
An example for cleverly hijacking a hashtag trend:
On 8th February, Rahul Gandhi went to Gujarat (The state where opposition NarendraModi is the Chief Minister and the Gujarat model is BJP’s model for development.) the hashtag #RGExposesBJP was trending; the Congress and its supporters were thwarting Modi’s claims. But by afternoon, NarendraModi (NaMo) supporters hijacked the trend by replying and responding to those tweets and soon #NaMoinImphal and #NaMoinManipur started trending.
Also, the huge success for AAP on Twitter is mainly attributed to them concentrating all their tweets around the handle AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP, on the other hand, ended up splitting their support across a number of keywords associated to the BJP thereby showing reduced engagement.
Google Hangouts and Whatsapp: These mediums were used to connect to a large audience and collect valuable feedback. Whatsapp was used to collect questions, queries and feedbacks from the masses on various discussions especially during the ‘Chai PeCharcha’movement. Almost all parties managed to communicate in a streamlined manner through these channels.
GoogleHangouts was used by key leaders of all the political parties to engage with a community of fans and supporters. During these sessions, the various leaders interacted directly with their fans.
The Missed call: This concept was probably the most unique technique used to acquire a database of supporters. You just have to ring up the given number, and wait for a ring to go through and then cut the call. This enables the party to get back to you on your number, and you don’t have to spend a penny! Parties used this technique to collect consent or denial over a decision.
These parties have been able to reach out to a huge audience and directly communicate or engage with them. Such a mass movement wherein the voters are able to communicate or engage with the candidates has put social media at the forefront of election campaigns for the years to come. Social media is a comprehensive package that consists of reputation management, brand recognition and promotional requirements. In India, these have to be backed alongside conventional election propaganda to reach out to the entire population.
The huge success of the BJP in the 16th General Elections goes on to affirm that Social media will continue to take center stage. This is a classic example to show that Social Media can penetrate any vertical – be it industries approaching their prospective clients, SMBs and enterprises keeping their client base updated or in this case, politicians reaching out to the masses. Social Networking will continue to be a medium that gets leaders, celebrities, industrialists, entrepreneurs and ideologists closer to the masses aka clients/customers.