Effective Use Of Social Media By Politicians

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UntitledPolitical campaigns have always been a source of creative marketing and strategic planning. The direct immediate correlational cause-effect patterns prove to be an effective gauge in understanding the effectiveness of the communicational tactics employed by the new-age politicians. Today, what is happening in India is not a new phenomenon either historically or geographically. Political conduct has always been associated with mass propaganda and disseminating information and misinformation via the preferred and accessible medium of communication of the present day. The conventional methods of communication up until just yesterday – print media, radio and television – though widespread amongst the masses, are not necessarily today’s heroes of communication. In the present day, a certain set of patterns of usage of interaction and communication have come into use. This recent surge in use of digital media for ideology propagation by almost all major political parties has given an insight into the future of political rallying. The digital world also acts as a two-way street with social media administrators utilising analytics to measure the response of the target audience as well as tailor make future promotions to the need of the many.

The recent social media campaign by the Electoral Commission has proved the efficacy and ease of access of this strategic digital system by drawing record levels of voter registration and turnout in elections held in New Delhi and other areas, in November and December 2013. Below are a few honourable mentions for the politicians who have been using new age technologies to communicate their campaigns, to boast about their achievements and to woo their voters to vote for them.

Narendra Modi in his nationwide campaign incorporating almost all possible channels to reach to the ‘common man’Untitled did not leave out the digital media avenue. Going further, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was one of the first politicians to effectively utilise this channel to propagate ideologies and also to reach out to the millions of ‘netizens’ of this populous country. Whatever his political background or ambitions may be, recognising the potential of the social media has definitely brought about a change in the course of the Indian political history. Apart from just gaining popularity and visibility amongst the Indian youth, the BJP aims to draw funds from the public for its welfare through the Modi4PM fund, where active Indians and NRIs are encouraged to deposit funds for a better tomorrow for India.

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The grand old party of India- the Indian National Congress, too, has put its best foot forward by employing a cyber-army to counteract the efforts of BJP in promoting Narendra Modi as the only visible face in the social media world. A glance into the INC’s Facebook page for instance, would give out a detailed description of their recent on-ground activities along with the photos and sometimes video clippings of speeches or visits. The below-15 percent penetration of internet users in India may be a low percentage point, but still enough to make parties spend vast amount of capital and resources into polishing their social media interface and also to develop effective analytics to stay in tandem with the pulse of the Indian youth. Today, Rahul Gandhi, with the help of the Japanese PR communication and advertising firm Dentsu, is working towards consolidating his self-image as a young, dynamic leader who promises to empower the common man, leading everyone and the country together as a whole. This move has jump-started his social media image by placing him in the second position, next only to Mr. Narendra Modi in terms of online popularity and visibility as the face of the party being represented.

Mr Arvind Kejriwal is a direct benefactor of the digital media revolution. He has been able to bring about Untitleda revolution in the Indian political scenario aided by extensive usage of the social media and the virtual world to connect and to propagate agendas and ideals. Giving the power of expression to the common man and empowering him, the 2012 protests of anti-corruption spearheaded by Gandhian Anna Hazare and the former-bureaucrat Kejriwal gained empathy and support of the common man. Prior to coming to power, all of the on-ground rallies of AAP were promoted extensively on Facebook and Twitter by both the party workers as well as loyal followers. Photographs of the activist-turned-politician fighting for the common man on the streets of Delhi getting whisked away by the Delhi police has invoked strong feelings of emotional connect to the individual as well as to his party. The growing number of followers as well as ‘online party applicants’ to AAP is a testimony to the effectiveness of this largely untapped resource.

Though there are many success stories citing the efficient use of social media to attract young voter pool and in enhancing awareness of voting, there are some politicians who have been accused of boosting their otherwise non-existent popularity and misleading voters, simultaneously tarnishing the image of opponent political parties. It must also be observed that though there are social campaigns that glorify the achievements of political leaders, no amount of social media brainwash can dilute the assumptions of voters about a political party or their intention to vote. Again, there is the issue of consistency of data- certain politicians who have never been in power or have not made any noteworthy contributions to the decision-making process but claiming to be transformational leaders may raise concerns. The recent riots between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Muzaffarnagar have allegedly been sparked by certain videos going viral on the internet and inciting spurs of violence amongst the involved groups. This is an instance of a good technology falling into the hands of the wrong people, thereby causing chaos.

Such incidents can be averted by bringing in streamlined implementation of regulatory measures such as the 2008 Information Technology (Amendment) Act to increase monitoring and censorship of social media. An incident that caused a stir among ardent social media followers was that of two women being arrested in 2012, after posting a comment about a politician on a social media site that angered a lot of interested groups in the city of Mumbai. Journalists have seen their Twitter accounts getting blocked; and cartoonists have had their social media accounts closed. All these are instances of the Information Technology act coming into application. Since for any law the effective implementation of regulations is far more important than mere existence of the regulation, and the tracking and supervision of the activities of hundreds and thousands of internet users is difficult to keep in check, there are free flows of corrupt practices and tragic occurrences such as these.

In light of all the recent events, it is a welcome move that the Electoral Commission of India has asked social media providers to regularly monitor their feed before and during the general elections to be held in April 2014. However, these audiences and creators of history in social media need to bear in mind that social media has its boons and banes; and as Clarke’s third law states, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – when put to the right use, could work wonders in our democracy.

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Akhil Suresh and Harshitha Neti

The authors of this article are pursuing MBA from NMIMS, Mumbai.

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